Workplace coaching, at its core, is a manager and employee partnership committed to improving organizational and individual performance. The critical coaching dialogues resulting from this partnership must deliver two primary outcomes:
- Employee growth and development
- Company results
These outcomes rely heavily on the quality of a manager’s input.
Want Trust? Be Authentic
Employee engagement can be predicted, in part, by the degree of authentic expression put forth by the manager/coach. The manager/coach who risks nothing receives nothing. An employee’s b.s. detector will quickly sense any insincerity in a manager’s professed beliefs or perceived intentions. Effective coaches never confuse an employee’s compliance with commitment. Commitment is the coveted sweet spot of successful coaching.
Fundamentally, a manager/coach must have a base of strong coaching competencies. However, building trusting relationships requires the manager to be vulnerable and put emotional “skin in the game.” Patrick Lencioni, author of the book, Five Dysfunctions of a Team, calls this leadership action “vulnerability-based trust.”
Effective coaching skills, by themselves, yield minimal long-term performance traction if the relationship has a trust deficit.
Three Coaching Sweet Spots
A manager/coach’s ability to mediate, not solve, the tensions of apparent opposites is one predictor of organizational success. By mastering the coaching sweet spots shared below, you’ll build your mental dexterity and develop a deep capacity to lead, develop, and inspire your teams toward greatness.
- Sweet Spot #1 – Develop Partnerships that Define Purpose, Build Trust, and Yield Results
Enlightened managers recognize that today’s workforce wants to work in an environment where the “purpose of work” is embedded in a collaborative and supportive culture. This fundamental, ongoing tension is a core performance zone conversation. Regardless of how your organization is structured—self-managed or top-down; Results Only Work Environment (ROWE); or Zappos-styled holacracy)—both business results and people matter.
Coaching sweet spot #1 encourages you to connect the motivational drivers of each employee with the company’s overall reason for existence. Creating such a connection will foster a higher level of people engagement and alignment, and encourage a pursuit of excellence within your team.
All enduring relationships are built on mutual trust. Enlightened managers understand that to receive trust, they must first be vulnerable and extend trust. Authentic coaches trust their people and will risk sharing their golden circle, a.k.a. their big “Why.” They invite their teams to join them in cultivating community and creating a future of meaning and possibility. By working together, teams can build healthy professional partnerships that value tasks and relationships equally.
Within any partnership, both sides must resist being swayed by false dichotomies. Company results become critical because they animate purpose and provide measurements of success and opportunities for recognition. Extraordinary results are achieved through effective relationships, not because of management authority.
- Sweet Spot #2 – Embrace Employee Autonomy and Accountability
Today’s workforce cares little about org charts and formal titles. Instead, people care about belonging to a dynamic culture that allows them to freely apply their passion, creativity, and intelligence. In business, this freedom comes with a price known as “accountability.” Ultimately, there is no free lunch…not even at Apple.
From the moment of hire, an effective manager/coach begins to extend buckets of trust to employees by establishing lanes of authority and setting appropriate boundaries and expectations. In leadership jargon, this is called “empowerment,” and it can cause managers a lot of anxiety.
For a manager, employee empowerment can feel like a loss of control. In keeping with coaching sweet spot #2, Daniel Pink, author of the book, “Drive,” encourages you to embrace and manage this tension rather than fighting it. Contrary to traditional, industrial-based management styles of the past, allowing employees to have autonomy over their work actually increases accountability.
The self-managed business structure of Morning Star shows us the organizational, cultural, and economic benefits of expecting employees to assume full autonomy over their work.
- Sweet Spot #3 – Be Firm, Confident, Flexible, and Adaptive
Management guru Peter Drucker consistently reminded management of the importance of an execution mindset by declaring –
“The ultimate test of management is business performance. Achievement, rather than knowledge, remains, of necessity, both proof and aim.”
Clarity, a desired leadership capability, should never be confused with command-and-control rigidity.
Coaching Sweet Spot #3 encourages you to express bold conviction around your company’s values, standards of excellence, and performance outcomes. This stance models the leadership truism, “You don’t lead people…people choose to follow you,” and reminds us that success demands that we step into and own full partnerships with our people.
Vineet Nayar, visionary CEO of HCL Technologies, had one priority, which became the title of his book, “Employees First, Customers Second.” Mr. Nayar made it clear that customer value is generated every time an employee and customer interact; therefore, the focus of management is to “enthuse and encourage employees so they can create a different shared value.”
In reading HCL’s inspiring corporate story, I quickly came to appreciate how its robust ownership culture drives customer value. The clarity of Mr. Nayar’s vision puts a noble burden on his management team to serve their frontline employees. Such sturdy professional partnerships demand that managers remain flexible, open, and adaptive.
Leaders with a long view of the future are guided by the adage, “People first, strategy second.” Master these three Coaching Sweet Spots and you’ll be on your way to developing an effective talent management strategy and growing tomorrow’s leaders.
- “Helping People Win at Work” by Ken Blanchard and Garry Ridge
- “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porris
As always, check out the resources page for great information on how you can improve your manager-coaching skills today!