Danger! Thinking You’re a Super Coach is Risky Business

Become a better sales coach and sales manager today.

People want to be managed by someone they can connect with. They want to look up to you for guidance and mentoring, they also want to feel comfortable knowing you’re not perfect.

8-Steps to Creating a Coaching Culture by Keith RosenIn my last post which you can read here, I shared a template that any manager can use when beginning the process of enrolling or re-enrolling their direct reports in a coaching relationship. And as I had mentioned, after reading the template, you, like many of the managers who read this, may have one of these three common reactions, which we will explore in great detail here, in order to illustrate a potential trap managers fall into which you can avoid by turning a potential weakness into one of your greatest strengths. To recap, here are the three common reactions to the template I previously shared.

1: “This template sounds great! I can’t wait to use this.”
2: “It sounds good, however, I would tweak it a little bit so it sounds more like my style.”
3: “The message sounds good, however, I would never tell my reports that I’m first learning how to coach or how to do it better and that I learned how to in a course.”

Below, I’ve commented on each of these statements, along with a lesson managers need to be mindful of when leading and coaching their team.

1: “This template sounds great! I can’t wait to use this.”

Clearly, this comment is from a person who values powerful communication :-). The fact is, while this is the way in which I may position how to best enroll people in coaching, as well as those who respond in this fashion, we need to be mindful of each person’s style of communication and align it with who we are as individuals, which leads us to the second comment below.

2: “It sounds good, however, I would tweak it a little bit so it sounds more like my style.”

This makes perfect sense. After all, it is a template. While I certainly endorse refining the message so it fits your personality and communication style, be mindful of balancing this out with your style, while ensuring that the proper spirit and intention of the message stays intact. And isn’t that the essence of true coaching anyway? Honoring each person’s individuality.

3: “The message sounds good, however, I would never tell my direct reports that I’m first learning how to coach or that I’ve discovered how to coach better and that I learned how to in a course.”

This is the most interesting of the three reactions I hear and potentially the most dangerous comment I feel compelled to explore and better understand each time I hear it. Inevitably, what I uncover behind this comment is this. The manager’s ego is getting in the way and there’s some perceived fear about being this transparent with your direct reports. Most often, I find that it’s an assumption that’s being made about what it means to be a great leader and as such, there’s a perceived level of weakness some managers feel they would be displaying to their people if you imply that you are less than perfect or don’t know something that you, as a manager feel you should already know because your people expect you to know it.

When I address this, quite often, managers are quoted saying, “Well, if I let my people know I’m just learning how to coach now, I’m essentially admitting that I don’t know how to coach effectively already, which is something I should already know how to do, being a manager. I can’t let my people know this. They already expect me to know how to manage. Sharing a message like this is a sign of weakness and a surefire path to discrediting me and my value as a manager.”

If you fall victim to this line of thinking, take heed of this warning and insight.

Set Yourself Up for Success Not Failure

Lets follow this initial and slightly warped line of thinking through to completion. So, there you are in a meeting or a one to one conversation with someone. Or maybe you approach your team and you position yourself as the master coach, even though you’re at the apprentice stage. As such, your people now think you’re Super Coach and expect that level of coaching from you. Fast forward to the first coaching interaction you have with them. What might their expectations be of you and the value you deliver to them? And when you don’t deliver on this expectation, or if the first coaching conversation is not effective or less than ‘perfect,’ what message have you sent to your people? What if you made one of the many cardinal coaching mistakes that managers often make when they first start coaching their employees? If you’re now the self proclaimed master coach, you don’t have any margin for error or room to course correct.

Subsequently, what experience have you now created in your staff’s thinking? The collateral damage that ensues is this. Your staff now feels that coaching doesn’t work, or that you, my friend, are a horrible coach! Do you think your people are now looking forward to their next interaction or coaching session with you? Moreover, if a manager truly feels they “know how to coach,” and find the coaching they deliver is ineffective or is met with resistance, I often see managers evaluate this experience, NOT from the position of, “Hmm, maybe there’s more to this coaching than I thought. Time to re-evaluate my approach and skill set” but from the position of, “It’s not me, it’s coaching. Coaching doesn’t work for me, my team, my company, (my country, and so on).” Now, despite the fact that coaching is now perceived as negative or ineffective through the eyes of the employee and/or the manager, the face of coaching is now tarnished and the value of coaching is discredited as a result of faulty positioning, poorly set expectations and subjective, inaccurate assumptions around this less than desirable outcome.

And the damage doesn’t end here. If you perceive yourself to be omnipotent, then what are the expectations you place on your team and the message you’re sending to them? I’m not referring to the expectations you have of them around their goals, position, performance and what they are expected to produce but how they go about producing them and in what type of atmosphere. I’m referring to the culture you have created that fosters or inhibits a breeding ground for success.

Allow Your People to Fail

For example, do you, as the manager allow for your people to fail? To take calculated risks? To embrace their mistakes and learn from them and from other people’s mistakes? If not, do you think your team is getting it right every time? While I hope no manager out there is naive enough to think this, sometimes we act as if our people “should” be getting it right each time, every time! What you may want to consider is this. If you have no tolerance to mistakes, if you don’t model this and create the space that allows your people to grow from each experience both good and not so good, do you think you’re going to be the first person to hear about a problem or challenge? For example, are you the first to know when one of your better performers are leaving or the last? Do you really know why they’re leaving?

Do your people come to you for advice? Do you find that they are fully comfortable being truthful, honest and transparent with you? If not, this comes at a great cost and it’s often the result of the atmosphere the manager created. Chances are, you are battling many fires because your people simply don’t want you to know about the problem until it’s often too late or you now have to get involved. And at this point, the challenge has now become a blazing inferno!

So, how can you begin to change yourself as well as the culture you’ve created? Start with this. Don’t Should On Yourself or Others. What’s a “Should?” It’s the excrement of someone else’s agenda or a costly assumption that’s based in judgement! It’s bad enough when we should on other people (as in, “They’ve been selling this product forever. They should know how to handle every customer interaction by now!) Do yourself a favor and don’t should on yourself, as in, “I’ve been managing for 15 years now! I should know how to do this coaching already.” Well, if you’ve never been exposed to something, should you already know how to do it? I don’t think so. If you’ve never played golf before, should you already be a scratch golfer right out of the gate or during your very first round? When it comes to to learning how to be a better coach, this also holds true.

Management is a tough job to begin with. Coaching, while it makes your job infinitely easier and more enjoyable, is still a learned and practiced skill. There’s no need for you to make this process any harder on yourself by setting yourself and your people up with unrealistic expectations that breeds greater frustration and failure. So, don’t beat yourself up over this. Instead, give yourself a break, recognize this is a new discipline and skill to develop and learn how to coach!

Now, lets play out the other side of how this can go down. That is, you let your people know that you are, in fact, learning how to coach or coach more effectively. You inform them that there may be some ‘wet paint’ on some of your first coaching interactions and that you may not get it perfect the first time. In turn, you let them know that, “My commitment to you is to learn from every conversation how I can continually become a better coach for you and what style of coaching you respond to best in order for you to get the most value from our coaching.”

Subsequently, during that first coaching interaction, when you don’t deliver masterful coaching, haven’t you already set up realistic expectations on the side of your direct report? In turn, they will be more forgiving and understanding of your efforts, where you are at and what you are trying to do for them. They will actually want you to succeed at this because the coaching process is something, as the template I shared with you in my last post suggests, that you are both learning about and going through together.

Being Human is a Strength, Not a Weakness

Not being the best or not having all the answers is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. That is, a sign of being human. People want to be led by someone they can connect with, who’s real, not the perfect robot. Coaching is harder than most managers realize and takes months to get it right, while developing the ongoing and sustainable coaching culture you want within your team. There’s no need to put undue stress on yourself nor your people as you go through this transformational process.

Moreover, those really great managers are bold enough to ask for feedback from their employees on how they can make their coaching even more effective and what they can do to improve every coaching experience in a way that would deliver more value. Doing so also stimulates the law of reciprocity. That is, if I, your manager, am comfortable getting feedback from you, then you’ll be more open and receptive to receiving feedback from me. What does this create? Trust, confidence, loyalty and an all around healthier, more productive atmosphere where everyone can grow and thrive because the manager created the space for this to be possible.

Yes, this second line of thinking – the more honorable, realistic and honest approach – is going to give you the space you need to get it right (eventually) and the opportunity for you to scrape your knee a few times before you do. What does this make you? Human.

Don’t Forget; Managers Are People Too. People want to be managed by someone they can connect to. Someone who’s real, authentic and yes, human. While they want to look up to you for guidance, advice and mentoring, they also want to feel comfortable knowing that you’re not perfect (yes, as shocking as this may seem) and that you, too, can learn every day how to better even your best. Besides, if we model what is possible for our people; not only what they can aspire to achieve but also how they can be as a person, then think about the message you’re now sending to your team? That it’s okay to be honest, to be authentic and transparent, to share your challenges, to share your concerns – all in the spirit of being able to learn and grow from them.

Now, think about what might be possible if you created this type of environment within your team? Imagine how that would affect performance, attrition and results? What would this do to the level of collaboration and the quality of communication as well as output amongst your people?

So, I encourage you to experience what it feels like to remove your big red cape for a while and put aside your alter ego as a super hero. I guarantee you, it’s refreshing and personally rejuvenating. While I know there are some managers who will read this and react with a list of reasons as to why this is impossible to do, that it can’t be done or how hard it would be to create this new culture, remember one thing. Who created the current environment that exists within your team today? No, you can’t keep blaming it on the company and that it’s the overall culture of the company that has to change. Why? Because at the end of the day, your people talk with you every day. In essence, you are the company – in every conversation and during every interaction. This is something that you can influence all on your own. The good news, is, this change does start with you.

Photo Credit: with associates