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Great Leaders Coach for Development, Not Just Performance

boc-original-500What does great leadership really look like? It’s easy to say something vague like “To be a great leader, you must be a good coach.” After all, a good coach has the ability to help team members unleash their potential, and isn’t that the perfect example of great leadership?

While it’s easy to make that claim, it’s harder to really understand what being a good coach actually means. Coaching for performance essentially involves addressing a particular issue with your employee, with the end goal of solving it. Issues at work come up constantly, so there’s no way to get around this kind of coaching — it will always be necessary and an important aspect of your job.

But to really help people learn and grow in their careers, good coaches need to look for ways to coach for development, rather than just performance. Coaching for development involves turning the focus from the problem to be solved and onto the person who is fixing it.

By turning the conversation from a situation to a person, you’re really asking that person to learn, improve and grow from the situation, and not just to simply deal with the issue at hand.

The 3Ps: Project, Person, Pattern

Work issues almost always revolve around a project, person and pattern — the 3Ps. Keeping the 3Ps in mind when you’re coaching will help you narrow in on development opportunities.

Start off by exploring the project your employee has approached you about. This is where you can easily coach for performance — by establishing the pressing, everyday issues revolving around a project and getting them out of the way. Clearing up those issues will help make you both feel less anxious.

Now it’s time to shift gears and examine the people and patterns involved (the two other Ps). First, take a look at any interpersonal challenges. We’ve all had a job where we’ve struggled to work with a particular team member. There are different ways of approaching relationships, depending on the circumstances, and the sooner you figure out what the best way is in each instance, the better. If you leave room for discussion, your employee will hopefully feel comfortable discussing difficulties they are having because of a less-than-perfect work relationship.

Examine the patterns of behaviour that could benefit from change. Often we fall into a vicious cycle where the manager leaves a meeting feeling overwhelmed and the employee feels disenfranchised, all because of a behaviour pattern we don’t even notice we’re stuck in. For example, as managers, we’re quick to jump in with advice and solutions, but doing that can often address the wrong issue, and your employee doesn’t get the solution they need. Indeed, they might have resolved the issue themselves, had you noticed and acted on the opportunity to coach for development. Instead of offering advice (the usual pattern), you could have asked questions that encouraged them to come up with their own solutions.

You’ll find that if you ask the right questions, the real issues your employee is grappling with when it comes to any of the 3Ps will come to the surface. The more often you ask questions of your team members, the easier it becomes for them to answer them, and the less difficult it becomes for you to ask them — and this is actually a good habit to develop.

Start off with the pressing request (project), find out what the interpersonal challenges are (people) and then look at how you can change a particular behaviour for the better (pattern). Asking your employees questions will lead to learning opportunities for them, and that’s what great leadership is really all about.

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