Where is the Coach?

The sports metaphor of coaching doesn’t always work well in the workplace. In athletics, when a coach makes a change on the team, the result can often be seen immediately on the playing field and more importantly, in the score. It makes it seem as if all a coach needs to do is put in the right player and almost instantly, the impact can be felt. While the athlete gets the camera time, the real hero or heroine behind the team’s success is the person who decided to put the player in the game – the coach.

Workplace reality is rarely like the sports metaphor. It can take a long time to actually see the impact of a change the coach has made in a position or by adding a new hire. Even the most talented novice needs seasoning, experience, a mentor, and ongoing feedback.

Why doesn’t the boss coach more?

Many bosses don’t understand that the job they have is to develop talent – not order talent around.  Managers are often employees who are good at getting the job done so when they see someone unable to do just that – they jump in and fix it rather than cultivate in others the skills to solve problems and reflect on solutions.  Sometimes the best thing a boss can do for an employee is NOT be there for them so that they develop better problem solving skills.

Many managers did not get much good coaching themselves. They managed to excel and gain promotions and now figure “I didn’t need coaching, and look where I am; why should you need coaching?”  The ‘sink or swim’ style of managing people means only those who already know how to swim will do well and it eliminates the possibility that with support and guidance, there could be more high potential performers.  Not everyone learns simply by being in the right place at the right time.

Managers tell me that they don’t have enough time to coach their employees. But if they examined How they were spending their time, they would quickly see that the majority of their time (often up to 80%) is spent doing the operational aspects of the job and only 20% is spent getting work done through others. What a colossal waste of time and valuable resources! The manager’s job is to get work done through others, not to do the work themselves.  Their bosses aren’t providing them with useful feedback about how to improve their organizational skills, time management techniques and coaching proficiency. Coaching shouldn’t be the last thing that gets considered – it should be the first.

It’s not fun to work with the most challenging performers. But a good coach works with everyone on the team, not only the ones who appear to need coaching the most. Because everyone can use feedback and the good performers can become excellent performers with some well placed guidance. In fact, why spend excessive amounts of time with those employees who may not show much improvement? Why not spend time getting the maximum result from the best performers?  And emerging leaders may blossom under a coach’s watchful eye.

In a recent training program,  a client of mine suggested that coaching shouldn’t be promoted as a panacea. Interestingly, a few others in the meeting quickly pushed back, pointing out that coaching might be the most underutilized practice in their organization.

What role does coaching play in YOUR organization’s culture?

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