If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

In our last newsletter, we discussed the four elements that are required for a person to succeed

  • Clarity and agreement on expectations
  • Resources consistent with those expectations
  • Required skills to fulfill the expectations
  • Desire to fulfill the expectations.

What is often overlooked is that required skills need to be developed. It is nice to think we can hire people who are already capable of performing all the expectations. This rarely occurs.

Why? Most people want opportunities to expand their skills not continue doing what they are already proficient in.

Hence, a key role of leader is to help people grow and develop.  Because most leaders view their job as helping solve problems, they often undermine growth and development rather than foster it.  Instead of problem solving, leaders need to learn how to coach.

A coach allows the employee the gift of struggling to find their way to the solution.  This builds confidence in themselves instead of dependency on you. In other words, you are teaching them to fish, rather than feeding them meal after meal. And after all, don’t you want your employees to be able to solve their problems and overcome their challenges?

One of the areas that helps find the right solutions to a given situation is to know how to frame the challenges and identify the obstacles that are blocking the solution.  A coach asks guiding questions to help the employee frame the situation and identify what the blocks are.  It is in learning to frame and ask the right questions that reveals the best solution.

Another role of coach is to provide feedback, to help them see something about themselves that they are not seeing.  It could be how they are behaving or interacting with others.  It might be helping see a limiting belief that is blocking their path forward.

However, not all feedback is effective.  Knowing how to give feedback that is supportive and enables them to open to their blind spots is a critical skill for any coach.

For people to open to feedback they need to feel safe and supported, not evaluated, or judged.  A successful coach creates a safe space for people to be open to feedback and share their shortcomings, by putting the focus on the well-being of the employee.  They project and communicate a true sense of caring and a desire to support the employee ‘s success.

One way to accomplish this is move out of your world, your needs and put yourself inside their shoes. Understand their world, know what is important to them, why they think the way they do and how they see the issue or problem. When you listen empathically and interact with heart-centered communication, you create that psychologically safe space.

When someone understands that you are there to help them, they will feel safe coming to you. You will be able to develop them to their highest potential.

Remember, what you are doing is for their benefit, not yours.

WAIT A MINUTE!  What do you mean we are doing it for their benefit not mine.  As the leader I am responsible for getting the results we need to be successful.  I am not here to make people feel good.

You are 100% correct.  Your number one responsibility is to get results that drive success.  But don’t you want your people to want to get the results?  If it is not by their choice then what’s left is some form of cajoling, threatening, bribing, or manipulating.

If you truly want to empower your employees, if you want them to be fully engaged to create the outcomes that create success, then you must give them the power of choice.  They need to choose to engage, to choose to improve, to choose to hear the feedback that will allow them to perform to higher levels.

To make a choice people also need to know the boundary conditions of the choice.

A coaching style creates the environment for the employee to know that the leader is on their side.  Using the agreed expectations as the boundary conditions for choice helps align the needs of the employee with the needs of the organization.

Recently we were coaching a person in the order processing function.  His responsibilities were to be responsive to customers while taking their orders.  The issue was he loved to find ways to use the computer to streamline processes.  He felt spending time to write little programs was how he was contributing to the success of the company.  Unfortunately, he also felt that customers were an interruption to his ability to streamline things, which led to low customer experiences.

During the coaching process, we first clarified that he understood the job he was in and the expectations of the job.

“Yes, I do, we are here to process customer’s orders.  And that is what I am working on, developing programs that allow us to process the orders faster and better.”

“I get how much you are trying to help.  I totally can feel your passion for finding solutions to help streamline our process.  It seems you love to automate manual tasks.

“I do, I really do.”

“Yes, I really get that.  And yet, doing so takes you away from the very job that we asked you to do.  How do you want to proceed?”

There are no threats, there is no convincing, cajoling or manipulating.  There is only clarity of the situation and brining him to a place of choice.  Once a choice is reached, we can move forward.  In this situation he decided he wanted a job programming, which we could not offer him.

In another situation, we were reviewing the challenges a manager was having in terms of motivating his people.  We reviewed what he had done to date and began exploring other options.  After offering three solutions, each of which he felt were not applicable I said:

“Jerry, I have given you three options and you had reasons for each one as to why it wouldn’t work.  While I am here to help you develop as a manager; I cannot do it for you.  It is up to you to find the solutions to the challenge we are discussing.

It seems you are at a crossroads.  You can continue to believe nothing we have discussed will work or you can try something you haven’t tried yet.  What do you want to do?”

Again, we were understanding of his challenge, we empathized with his struggle, offered advice and alternative approaches, and clarified the expectations.  The choice of actions to take, or if he even wanted to act, was his.  In the end, he chose to act and combined elements of two of the suggestions to make them fit his style.  He ended up being successful.

Coaches help others make decisions and come to choices that help them grow and develop into bigger selves than they could be on their own.