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How to Build a Company That Excels at Both Leading and Coaching — and Why It's Important The current landscape of how middle managers are being replaced by coaches and how companies can make the transition.

By Mark Abbott

Key Takeaways

  • Why we should move away from managing employees to leading and coaching them instead
  • Four steps to lead and coach successfully
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Companies, in an effort to be more efficient, are thinking twice about how many middle managers they need. And that makes it more important than ever to move from managing people to leading and coaching so they can do their jobs without the kind of oversight we thought they needed in the past.

Getting it right starts with understanding the difference between managing and coaching.

What happens if a professional football coach puts a player into a game who is underweight, inexperienced and doesn't know the playbook?

Let's think about what might happen. The player could get hurt or get others hurt. Teammates will be scrambling to make up for his lack of experience and incompetence. The team will be mad at the coach. Lots of not-good things will happen. So, coaches try to avoid this.

Related: Coaching Over Managing: Motivate Your Team

The difference between coaches and managers is that coaches know they have to put the right people on the field. Most managers don't worry about that because, deep down, they think they could play the position. That's called micromanaging, and almost no one likes to be micromanaged (besides, do you really want to lead those who do?).

That's why the age of managing is over. I believe we are moving into an age of leading and coaching.

Companies have come to realize they don't need layers of managers, and employees are increasingly — and appropriately — asking for explicit levels of autonomy and authority. A business runs best when team leaders talk with their staff about what's expected, turn those expectations into agreements or commitments (when agreements aren't possible), and then get out of the way. And the key to doing that successfully, without losing some measure of supervision, is taking accountability for leading and coaching.

Leading is straightforward, and it involves: having a compelling vision; being clear about who is responsible for what; giving people the resources they need to do their work; staying connected; making sure there are agreements (or commitments, if you can't agree) — and that agreements/commitments are lived up to; ensuring everyone is walking the talk.

If you think it's all about leading, you're flat wrong. Leaders are playing their own version of Don Quixote if they're unable to provide coaching. Coaches help their teams get whatever they need — resources, training, systems, etc. — to honor their agreements or commitments.

If you think that's a lot, well, maybe it's time to get out of the leadership and coaching game.

There are four basic steps to building a company that is really good at leading and coaching:

Related: 3 Effective Ways to Lead as a Coach Rather Than a Boss

Hire the right people

Effective coaching starts with hiring the right people and giving them the tools they need to succeed. Half of new hires are unsuccessful. That's a dismal rate for hiring "managers" (I don't like the word "managers"). A football coach would be gone with a statistic like that.

A team leader who hires the wrong person often ends up micromanaging them instead of working to "hire right" in the first place. So, interviewing skills are key. Interviewers should be clear about not only the position's roles and responsibilities but also key performance indicators (KPIs) and targets that foster clear understanding of what it means to do the job well.

New hires need to understand the organization so they can get themselves up and running within 90 days without close supervision. That means being very intentional during the onboarding process and then, assuming they meet key requirements, staying out of their way and letting them bring their unique attributes to the organization. Everyone is different, with a collection of aptitudes, skills, experiences and motivations.

Employees need to understand who is responsible for what — they require access to a platform that makes it easy to familiarize themselves with the organization's chart of accountabilities — as well as business processes and company culture. They need to have a sense of the company's ideal client and unique value proposition. After all, they're part of an ecosystem — a complex adaptive system — that is explicit, coherent and resonates with all of what we call their ideal stakeholders (not all stakeholders are ideal, so please don't worry about the ones who frankly don't matter).

Hold effective meetings

At Ninety, our team leaders meet one-on-one twice a week with every new team member during the 90-day onboarding period and once a week afterward. There's a set agenda that includes reconnecting as humans, reviewing KPIs and 90-day goals to make sure everything is working well and is on track, and bringing up and solving any issues.

By onboarding team members properly, including ensuring they have an understanding of what defines the company (the why, who, what, when, where and how), meeting with them weekly, and agreeing on clear goals and metrics — especially those that help us agree on when things are wonky — both sides are set up for success. Employees won't need micromanaging, giving you ample time to lead and coach your entire team.

In short, the way a company views meetings is a clear and unambiguous sign of how well it's run. A great company schedules almost all meetings. Ad hoc meetings are for urgent, unplanned business, and a well-run company shouldn't have to scramble to react to events.

Provide continuous feedback

Well-run companies have ditched the annual review (don't get me started on this topic). Everyone should meet quarterly with their team leader and have a simple, structured conversation about how they are doing as a leader/coach and as a team member.

Consider conducting "stay interviews." Many companies have exit interviews. But asking employees who don't plan to leave what they love about the company and listening to their constructive feedback can be an incredibly positive experience.

Related: 10 Rules for Coaching Your Team to Greatness

Have the right compensation structure

Using the right incentive plan for your company's mix of employees is key. Companies have different cultures. Some, particularly in fields such as investment banking and private equity, have more of a warrior mentality. So, in addition to hiring people with related skills, a company would want an incentive plan that's warrior-based — people who are paid to close deals or complete other high-consequence tasks. Another company might take a more team-based approach, and that company should have team- or company-based incentives.

What you don't want is a warrior-based culture with a team-based incentive plan or vice versa. That won't make anyone happy because your words and incentives are incongruent.

It is possible to create a place where people love going to work. To get there from where you are now, you'll find it's super-helpful to provide autonomy where it's earned and appreciated, and form a culture that is explicit, coherent and resonates for all ideal stakeholders.

Mark Abbott

CEO and Founder

Mark is an entrepreneur, CEO and coach with decades of experience across startups, early-stage, small and mid-size companies. Track record includes generating over $1 billion for his colleagues and investors. Dual passion is teaching visionary leadership teams AND building core cloud-based tools.

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