Why Great Leaders Fail At Coaching Employees

by: Stratford Managers

As a leader, an important part of your job is to coach each member of your team. The purpose of coaching is to increase effectiveness, broaden thinking, identify strengths and development needs, and set and achieve challenging goals. When a leader coaches, he or she is helping the employee learn to grow in their day-to-day work. Unfortunately, some of the characteristics of good leaders can work against them when coaching employees. Being aware of how the following four leadership traits impact your coaching can help ensure they don’t detract from your effectiveness.

1. You like to solve problems

Leaders increase their responsibilities in part due to their ability to work through problems and get to a good outcome. In coaching, however, there is benefit to having your employee do the thinking required to solve the problem. Jumping to the solution shortchanges their learning. Research shows that buy-in and retention are much higher when problems are resolved by the individual who owns the issue.

So what’s your role? Ask, don’t tell. If you’re discussing giving someone constructive feedback, don’t tell them what they should have said. Instead ask “How would you feel if you received that feedback? How could you still get the message across without raising their defenses?”

2. You possess a strong sense of urgency

You like to push things forward and move to closure. Unfortunately, there are times when that just isn’t possible when coaching employees. Consider someone who is looking at two different career paths or roles. They will have a lot to think about. They will need to look into the options, talk to friends, family and advisors and make sure they feel good about their decision. You can encourage them to take action and agree on timelines and goals but if you push too hard your employee may feel pressured and unsupported. Sometimes being a good coach means slowing down and working with the timelines that will support the best outcome for your team member.

Everyone is different. We may have different cultural perspectives, language barriers, educational backgrounds, personality traits and value systems that impact how information is processed and interpreted. Some people work well under pressure, others don’t. Some respond best to tough love, others take it personally and shut down. In each coaching session you will need to flex your communication and interpersonal style to get the best results from the person sitting across from you. This takes focus – and time. Be careful not to push people into your way of doing something just for the sake of forward momentum.

On a related note, in the coaching session itself, you may find that your employee isn’t clear on what they want from you or what is causing them stress. They may have to wander down a few paths before they gain insight into the issue they want your support on. Giving them the time and space to gain that clarity is important.

3. You like to help people

Most leaders like to have a positive impact on the people around them, their departments and the organization as a whole. You like to help. Sometimes, however, you have to let people fail in order for them to ultimately succeed. Not fail in a big way, but realize that their way – perhaps a route they were very committed to – just doesn’t work. This can be tough. Rather than tell them to do it your way – using authority as a motivator – let them take their own path and learn from the experience. Caution them but don’t feel that you have to persuade them. Remember, a good coach advises but leaves the actions to the employee.

4. You have great self-confidence

Sure there are things you are uncertain about but in general you have a lot of confidence in your abilities. This self-confidence can work against you as a coach because it may make it difficult to relate to the situations faced by your employees.

Why are they avoiding fighting for what their team needs? What is so hard about giving tough feedback? There are many interpersonal situations that require employees to hold their ground and assert their views. As their coach you need to empathize with their situation and their current level of confidence. You need to help them build their confidence over time to the point where they can tackle anything that comes their way. Be careful not to judge or diminish the experiences of your employees. These are very real to them. Remember, there was once a time when you didn’t have the confidence you needed. Keep that in mind and you’ll have a better conversation – and results.

Even Great Leaders Must Prepare for Coaching Employees

To help you get the most when coaching employees, you may have to take a minute to get into a different gear. Turn off notifications on your devices and give some thought to the upcoming session. What might be on the agenda of your team member? What subject would you like to introduce? What would you like to get out of the session? Treat the coaching session like any other important meeting and be prepared.

Another good idea is to create a break between what you were doing before the coaching session and the session itself. Allow yourself a couple minutes to settle into a new mode, a different one than the action-oriented “get stuff done” one you may have just been in. Get ready to be an active listener and to guide the conversation using well-constructed questions. Body language says a lot. If your employee senses that you are impatient or not fully present, they won’t share as much or open up to you and the session will be a waste of time.

Most importantly, be prepared to put your agenda aside to coach your employee on what matters most to them. This is not performance management time, it’s a time for growth and development in a safe and supportive place. You may need to park discussions that relate directly to performance and focus instead on topics that related to your employee’s career or development as a leader.

Coaching employees is a complex skill-set that takes time to develop and requires great self-awareness. By keeping in mind the needs of the present moment, to ask not tell, and to listen empathetically, you’ll become the kind of leader (and coach) that attracts and retains the best talent.

Ready to take your leadership skills to the next level? Take the Stratford Leadership 360 Assessment to get a better idea of where you stand, then get in touch to discuss how we can help you achieve your full potential!

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