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What if the real issue with coachability lies not with the employees, but with managers who fail to meet the challenges of being great coaches?
When collaborating with our customers on “Building winning teams”, we have noticed parallels between the coaching relationship and team dysfunctions : no reciprocity, no openness and self-disclosure, low trust and vulnerability, and poor action-oriented plans. Coaching is a two-ways conversation and coachability is not solely an employee’s skill. Performance is influenced by the manager’s approach, experience and competencies. Unfortunately, few managers tailor their coaching to each employee’s unique blueprint, establish a foundation of trusted cooperation, or fully grasp what coaching entails beyond mere listening.
Coachability or lack of effort and creativity?
In the age of well-being and self-awareness, few managers really connect with themselves and their employees. Many tools are available to understand psychological traits and the complexity of human beings. Oddly enough, managers often fail to use them to fix their own shortcomings or biases, or to adapt to their employee’s communication and leaning styles. Worst case: they neglect to allocate sacred time to structured high-quality coaching and learning moments and prefer coaching “on the fly” only. That may work. Until the annual appraisal turns into a nasty surprise for both coach and coachee: “it’s not you, it’s me”. Unexpected confrontation, out of the blue quitting, unforeseen termination.
Connecting to yourself and to others is hard. You don’t need to know everything about your employee’s spiritual, emotional or physical well-being. However, it’s your job as a manager to know what to address about and how to address it. While coaching in the moment works well to deal with specific skills, behavior, or attitude, in-depth coaching conversations should encompass personal interest and values, satisfaction with the current role, career progression and aspirations. Drop the big hairy audacious goals. Aim for stretched goals but keep in mind growth happens at the intersection of skills, aspirations, and corporate goals.
Coaching takes time and preparation. Structure, posture and active listening are one thing. Understanding one’s “hot buttons” – specific topics, issues, or profiles that elicit from a strong emotional reaction – and adapting to each individual’s user guide is another kettle of fish. Reserve your periods of proactive attention, when your energy is at its peak, for individualized coaching. Beyond alternating between lecturing and inquiry, use creativity to individualize your coaching approach through “If you were me” role plays or serious games. By freeing yourself from head-on interaction, you should discover that everyone is coachable.
Coachability or lack of confidence and credibility?
Building trust is a key component of leadership excellence and high performing teams. In coaching, trust is the belief in the coach’s good intentions. It fosters a positive environment where coachee feels safe to open up and talk about mistakes and weaknesses, issues and concerns, aspirations, and career progression. Safety is the prerequisite. Trust begins with clear signals of connections that generate a sense of belonging.
Trust can be built simply by practicing what you preach and showing consistency in your guidance and follow through. But it can be destroyed in seconds by a conscious or unconscious lack of respect. When describing performance issues, the tone of voice, facial expressions, or words choice may convey disrespect. Manners are discourteous and your delivery is contemptuous. Trust may also be violated by the absence of mutual purpose. Many managers excel in setting and aligning vision, objectives, goals, and strategies for organizations. They are incompetent to create that link in human interactions while that connection between the present and the future is the foundation of trusting collaboration.
Credibility is often assumed to be based on credentials and accomplishments. Expertise and track record matter of course. But being a subject matter expert can be useless, sometimes counterproductive, if you do not explore alternative ways to persuade and influence. Great coaches are not expected to provide all the answers. They are judged on their ability to create habits of shared risks-taking, set mutual goals, support or challenge opinions with compelling data, or offer a unique perspective through questioning and intuition. Managers‘ credibility not destroyed by the lack of expertise, but rather by inconsistency or unkept promises in the support and value they bring, including their own learning curve.
Without trust, employees waste time and energy managing the interaction, not looking for constructive feedback. Let alone asking for help. They shut down like a clam. Without credibility, all you’ll get are polite nods and hallway conversations about your real contribution. When trust and credibility are both absent, expect pa lot of excuses and get no honest feedback. The problem isn’t coachability, it’s your ability to coach.
Coachability or lack of courage and execution?
Listening alone is a psychologist’s job. Great coaches are great active listeners and intense questioners, which they translate into execution. And execution requires courage, starting with feedback.
We won’t dwell on the lack of feedback. This is either a blatant symptom of introversion, or a sign of total indifference that should be flagged as a career stopper. Providing positive feedback is a much better starting point. It implies defining and sticking to the standards that trigger special recognition. That’s where courage comes in. While many managers resort to perks and waste bonuses to influence behavior, great coaches use a tap on the back. Compliments are reserved for outstanding performance. Rewards are reserved for outstanding performance.
Where great coaches stand out is in dealing with mediocre performance and questionable behavior: they never complain about lack of coachability. They speak up and have both the courage and execution skills to engage in crucial confrontations, highlight consequences, and agree on a plan to get things back on track. They are not necessarily “nice,” but they act and behave in a way that preserve safety and foster commitment.
The main execution problem, however, lies with so-called inspirational coaches. They focus on motivation only when enablement is the real issue and there is no need for inspiring sermons. They encourage people to achieve the impossible, but they remain hands-off. The best coaches aren’t cheerleaders. They know they are responsible for removing barriers and providing necessary resources to achieve success. They craft and implement plans to develop people, top off their strengths or mitigate their weaknesses. They do not focus on people only: from culture to systems, they surface and tackle any obstacle that hinders performance improvement.
It’s your job as a manager to understand that you’re part of the equation when performance doesn’t live up to expectations. Before blaming it on coachability, check whether your coaching efforts and creativity are up to what is needed to unleash the potential of your team. Validate that the trust is strong enough to allow your talents to speak freely. Qualify that they absorb your advice because they believe in you, not because you’re in a position of authority. Examine how you navigate between motivation and execution, and whether you have the courage to speak up and take action whenever necessary. You may find that people are more coachable than you think.
Would you like to find out more about how we help managers get the most out of their teams?
Think. Good coaching.
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