A Critical Leadership Problem Many Companies Don't Even Know They Have
I teach many leadership programs across the country, and one thing that continually surprises me is how many managers in my programs have no idea how to coach their employees effectively. This isn't their fault -- they were promoted because they were good at their old jobs. But when they were promoted to a leadership role, no one taught them how to lead.
Organizations just expect them to know how to coach, communicate, counsel and correct performance. The problem, sadly, is that they don’t know how. In a study last year, the Society of Human Resource Management found that 93 percent of managers surveyed needed training on how to coach the employees reporting to them.
To me, this result should be a wake-up call to all companies in the world -- an alarm bell, a clarion call. Companies should be very worried, because it’s highly likely they have managers who aren't coaching well, or even at all.
How can I back that up? I can cite the hundreds of poor souls I meet every year who tell me their manager never coaches them.
And that's a big problem because of the many people out there who could be so much more effective if they just had coaching. As NFL football coach Pete Carroll has said: “Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen.”
So what can we do about it? What can you do? Here are some suggestions:
As a leader, try to talk to as many front-line people as possible and determine if they are getting coached. Have lunch with employees. Talk to leaders and see if they are coaching. Is that thappening? How often is it happening? How is it working? Do they need any additional resources? What are the biggest challenges they face in coaching people?
Asking is, in my view, a form of accountability. If leaders are asking about coaching, that indicates its importance. As the old saying goes, “People only respect what you inspect.”
As an organization, there should be an expectation set that every employee will get development, that everyone will get coaching from their manager.
It should be a requirement, with no exceptions. This should be a central part of your culture and woven into your values. For example, Zappos, the world-renowned online shoe retailer, has a corporate value, “Pursue Growth and Learning." This is one of its written values. If you yourself have expectations at your company, those expectations should then be tied to your annual performance review.
I often have discussions with organizations whose leaders say this is their top priority; but when I ask if this topic is on the company's performance review, the answer is no. If that is the case, let’s be blunt -- the impression is that it isn’t essential. In only one performance review cycle, people will realize that coaching isn’t important at all, because they aren’t being held accountable for doing it. That news will travel fast.
You wouldn’t throw someone who couldn’t swim into a pool and say, to “Go ahead and swim.” That would be a ridiculous; the person in the pool would be doomed to failure. Yet we tell managers every day to coach without training them how to do that effectively.
Many people I work with in my programs have never been taught coaching skills or techniques. Because they don’t know how, they are reluctant to have coaching conversations. That's why it's your responsibility to teach leaders these skills, to provide training on coaching. This can be implemented as an onsite or offsite formal classroom program, an online course or one-on-one mentoring by leader experienced in coaching.
If you expect people to coach and be coached, you need to model it yourself, every day. You need to be actively coaching all of your direct reports. You need to have someone coaching you and then you need to talk about it -- to show how you are willing to grow and get better.
Ask your managers to do the same. As Linda McMahon, the head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, has said: “My number one philosophy for leadership is leadership by example. If you are not willing to do it yourself, how can you show others how to do it?”
The single biggest asset you have in your organization is the underdeveloped potential of your people -- and it is up you to unleash it by coaching.
As the prresident of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, said, “No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So, for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better -- because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.”