7 Master Mindsets of Effective Manager-Coaches

“Every action and feeling is preceded by a thought.”

– James Allen

Somewhere in the early 90’s us leader – managers were informed that we need to start “coaching” our people. If you were like me you thought, “I do coach my people, I tell them what to do all day. My office is an open door, if they need me they know where to find me.”

Secretly, I was hoping coaching in the workplace was another management fad du jour that would go the way of quality circles – another “check-the-box” management obligation. Happily, I was wrong.

Coaching and developing in the workplace is not a nice-to-have, it’s now an expected leadership competency for managers (Gallup Business Journal, Why Great Managers Are So Rare). Organizations who are successful creating coaching cultures, versus the “rank and yank” (Deloitte Research: Forced Ranking is Dead) practices of famed Jack Welch, position themselves to attract and retain top industry talent. Fresh product and service innovations come from talented people and enlightened leadership, not clever strategies.

In future blog posts I will share key structures and processes that provide the organizational support and measurements for a sound coaching culture. Hint: HR must be viewed and required to show up as a strong, aligned business partner.

~7 Master Mindsets of Effective Manager-Coaches~

  1. Coaching is a key talent management pillar. Top industry talent is attracted to organizations, and their leaders, who provide skills training, rich development opportunities and a clear career pathway. Effective workplace coaching increases employee engagement and retention. Coaching says – “I care about you as an individual and want to provide you interesting work assignments that stretch and grow you.”
  1. Trust doesn’t exist without agreements and agreements don’t exist without trust. This mindset builds upon #1 by co-creating work pacts that are the pillars of strong ownership cultures. The manager-coach says, “I promise to offer you a rich work environment where your skills and passions can make a difference in the world. Do you promise to do what’s best for the enterprise and our customers?” No skin-in-the-game, no ownership. 
  1. Build trusted partnerships, not boss-subordinate relationships. Today’s multi-generation workforce, with their range of motivational drivers, requires managers to deeply know their people. Effective coaches view their coaching 1:1’s as their single most important driver of business. Why? Because “getting results in a way that inspires trust,” is the definition of leadership (FranklinCovey, Speed of Trust). Skilled coaches help people link their values, goals and aspirations with the organization’s; then operationalize these insights into customized development plans that serve the individual’s aspirations, as well as, the company’s required performance outputs. Leadership guru Ken Blanchard calls these potent dialogues- partnering for performance conversations.
  1. Think like a coach, not a consultant. Many managers struggle with leaving their Mr. or Mrs. “fix-it hat” at the door. Problem solving is a core management capability, but a coaching liability. Your well-intended solutions rob your people of the effort required to solve their own problems. Great coaches, regardless of their discipline, understand the brain science behind “no pain, no brain.” Effective manager-coaches understand that building their people’s capacities to solve problems on their own is smart business insurance against future market uncertainties.
  1. Great questions are the answer. Great questions achieve two important outcomes: 1) As mentioned in #4, questions require your people to to think, to struggle, and to gain awareness of how their current mental maps, or beliefs, are insufficient to solve their current challenges, and, 2) They help unearth current reality, helping ensure that agreed upon actions will have the maximum desired impact. In the book Execution, author Ram Charan declared – “execution is a systematic way of exposing reality and acting on it.” Leadership curiosity invites the input of multiple perspectives required to co-create sound strategy.
  1. Assume positive intent (API). People naturally desire to apply their passions and skills at work and to make a difference in this world. If you have people that don’t, you have problems to fix today. Customers aren’t kind to management indecision. API manifests itself in the leadership skill – “Seek first to understand, then be understood (Steve Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People). Highly engaged manager-coaches have their finger on their people’s pulses, sensing drifts in energy, attitude and focus. *Caveat – many people have never had a great manager so be prepared for your people to charge you with “micromanaging.” Don’t get rattled. Be patient and explain the difference between micromanaging and effective managing. Follow the change management adage- “If leader’s don’t fill in the narrative, employees will do it for them.” Tell your people the story of how collaborative work partnerships are the path to personal and business success.
  1. Send strong signals of collaboration. Tightly linked to #2, coaches seek to leverage and realize the power of collaborative relationships. At the leading innovation company, IDEO, leaders are deliberate in creating a strong “helping culture” that leads to extraordinary results. IDEO leaders understand that collaborative cultures are intentionally built, leveraging both informal and formal processes and roles. The effective manager – coach does not leave collaboration efforts to chance!

Warning: Manager-coaches who are consistent in applying these mindsets report the following workplace side effects:

  • Higher levels of trust and professional respect
  • Increased clarity around strategy, tactics and expectations
  • Stronger alignment amongst teams and across functions
  • Increased levels of accountability and productivity
  • Higher levels of employee engagement and retention
  • Less political noise and conflict
  • Fewer fires to fight
  • More time for long-range planning and innovation

Actions follow thoughts. In future blog posts I will share the effective coaching skills / behaviors that flow from having these 7 right mind-sets!

“In a fixed mindset the cardinal rule is: Look smart at all costs. In a growth mindset the cardinal rule is: Learn, learn, learn.” – Carol Dweck, Mindsets

Building & Leading Teams

“If you want the benefits of teamwork, you have to give the team the work.”

– J. Hackman, Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performance.

Effective managers understand that building strong, capable teams is the bedrock of high performing cultures. Make this a priority development area for you this year. If you are a seasoned leader, you know that this skill set “says easy, does hard,” but the rewards are well worth your investment!

Calling a group of individuals (sales reps, kitchen staff, marketing group) a “team” doesn’t make it so. Rah, rah team platitudes, while sincere, will never make believers out of employees. To be less delicate – your people are smart and have strong bullshit detectors. They know how it is around here.

Here’s a loose operational definition for a team that you can use to measure your leadership skills against, as well as, gauging the group’s developmental progress.

“A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, set of performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”

The Wisdom of Teams, Katzenbach and Smith

Coaching Tip #1: Teams are not a panacea. Be a strategic team leader – does the desired business outcome require building a team (think IPod or Prius)? Poorly designed team initiatives drain people’s mojo at the same rate as crappy meetings.

Let’s sequentially breakdown the required manager skill sets against this definition:

  • Complimentary Skills – Smart managers/coaches know that throwing a group of rock stars, athletes or cooks together rarely guarantees a Grammy album, Olympic gold, or a winning culinary team. Leadership principle – “Cultures get created with, or without, clear and unwavering leadership.” Be strategic and disciplined in selecting your people; it’s the single most important decision leaders make.
  • Committed to a Purpose – Purpose provides the fuel, the passion, the energy, and the spirit to achieve remarkable — not okay — results. If I were to randomly survey your employees and ask them what their “job” is, what would they tell me? Would the bus girl say “to clean and re-set tables?” Or, would she say (with a sparkle in her eyes), “to deliver an unforgettable hospitality experience.” Two different beliefs lead to widely different customer experiences. Leadership Principle – You need to be visibly passionate and strive to over-communicate using all available communication channels.
  • Performance Goals – What do you measure individual and team performance and progress against? Is everyone on the same page? Are expectations crystal clear? Do you provide regular, candid feedback and coaching based on concrete goals? Leadership Principle – “What gets measured, gets managed, and what gets managed gets done.” Be a talent magnet by gaining a reputation as a high-performing leader who brings out the best in others. Trust me, there are worse reputations to have.
  • Approach – These are the clearly understood processes for “how” the work gets done. This includes: standards, behaviors, policies; team meetings, communication methods and feedback loops. Leadership Principle“A true team understands that friction is natural and desired. It’s proof of their commitment to winning. The leader understands that clear processes help manage conflict in ways that produce positive outcomes.”
  • Mutually Accountable – Your performance metric here couldn’t be clearer. Leadership Principle“A group of individuals are a true team when they police each other on their agreements and actions.” Managers who find themselves solving their team’s problems and putting out all the fires have failed in their leadership responsibility. Being the hero-manager is seductive, but it’s a failing path to success.

Coaching Tip # 2: “Teaming,” by Amy Edmondson, or teamwork on the fly (HBR article), is a framework to help teams who must come together quickly to accomplish a project or goal. Think of a pick up basketball team versus an intact team who trains together all season.  

Effective managers understand that a potent team will always outperform a collection of stars. The output of an energized, aligned and committed team is always greater than the sum of its parts. Top industry talent is attracted to leaders who have a reputation of building, leading, and coaching high performing teams. Be that talent magnet. Be that leader!

Pop Quiz – Of all the qualities in the working definition of a team, which single element is the most important according to the authors? In other words, what missing element will most likely will result in a fractured team and sub-par performance? (See answer below)

Keep it simple, keep it focused, and keep it inspiring! – Steve

Answer – COMMITMENT