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As leaders, our most important task is growing the next generation of leaders. It's helping our people develop the skills they need to excel now - and that they will need to guide our organizations into the future. Too often, businesses do not focus on or providing training on coaching skills for managers. To their peril. The ability to coach is the single biggest differentiator between average bosses and great leaders. Which do you want to be - and which do you want working in your company?

"7 Habits of Highly INeffective People"

Drs. Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman, the dynamic duo that wrote the seminal Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders, studied over 52,000 leaders. They sought "to understand those behaviors that best differentiated between the worst leaders...versus all others."

In a nod to Steven R. Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Zenger and Folkman created a list of the habits that derailed leaders. Or, as they call them, the "millstones around the leader's neck [that are] most likely to cause them to sink to the bottom of the heap."

#1: the failure to coach and develop others. This, more than any other factor, sinks leaders to the bottom of the heap in their organization and in their careers. The flip side is research indicates the competency that separates the great from the average (and the bad) is coaching.

Why Coaching Matters - Now More Than Ever

Millennials are storming the workforce, and they are bringing new demands and expectations with them. Many want at least monthly feedback and ongoing opportunities for coaching.

And, according to the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School, "They don't view managers as content experts (like their predecessors)." They think they can access all the information they need online., and constant connectivity has made them into continual learners. "Instead," the researchers conclude, "They view managers more as coaches and mentors." Younger employees want, and crave, their support when it comes to growing and developing in their careers.

A study which Google conducted on itself concurs: "Engineers hate being micromanaged on the technical side but love being closely managed on the career side."

But don't forget: the desire for development crosses generational lines and need to grow doesn't suddenly stop at age 30, 40, 50, or 60. Coaching is vital for every employee, and knowing how to deliver is equally essential for every leader.

Coaching Skills for Every Leaders

The Coaching Skills Inventory is an invaluable resource for leaders. Developed by leaders in the coaching and talent management field, Cindy Coe, Dr. Amy Zehnder, and Dr. Dennis Kinlaw, the Inventory is designed for those who want to "identify a coaching gap" in their leadership and to improve proficiency in these skills. It guides users through a questionnaire and self-assessment that pinpoints areas of strengths and areas for improvement.

What is most helpful about the Coaching Skills Inventory is that it breaks down the broad - and perhaps overwhelming - concept of coaching into manageable "shades of coaching":
  • Contact and Core Skills. Informal conversations often yield the biggest gains. Make time for regular contact with your direct-reports - and do not wait for them to come to you. For a variety of reasons, you'll be waiting a long, long time. As always, make sure they feel welcome, validated, and respected. Listen to their views (remember the old proverb: you have one mouth but two ears) and focus on the issue at hand rather than dragging attitudes and past history into the mix.
  • Counseling. No, you're not a therapist, but you can help your people learn to solve their own problems. To do so, listen to the facts carefully and without preconceptions. Again, keep the conversation focused on the issue. Resist the urge to tell them how to solve the problem; we always know exactly what other people should do! Instead, encourage them to pose solutions and serve as a resource to support them in implementing them.
  • Mentoring. Leaders from Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, and Bill Gates to Richard Branson, Oprah, and Mother Theresa have all grown with the help of mentors. As a guide, you can help your people navigate the ins and outs of your organization and their career. For example, developing political savvy is often a must. As a mentor, you can help your people understand political influences and ramifications, develop strong networks for support and resources, and offer real guidance that enables them to open the door to new opportunities.
  • Tutoring. This aspect of coaching involves helping employees obtain, and retain, key knowledge. To do so, identify what they need to know to do their jobs well and help them gain the competence and comprehension they require. Encourage continual learning - as well as the application of that learning - so they can expand beyond that which they thought themselves capable.
  • Confronting and Challenging. One of the most challenging aspects of coaching is providing correction or confronting folks who are not performing up to par. And, as you'd expect, it's one of the most important! To do so:
    • Clarify your expectations to ensure you're both on the same page. Written and shared!
    • Be specific when discussing performance problems. What actually happened? Get concrete.
    • Emphasize improvement. Instead of ruminating on failures, send a positive message for the future. Include specific strategies that they can use to improve. The goal is excellence, not perfection.
    • Push people past the limits they've imposed on themselves. If, for example, a direct report isn't performing as well as she could, challenge her with more difficult tasks. And communicate your belief in her ability to get it done.

Mastering the art of coaching will remove those millstones from your neck and allow you to rise to the top of the leadership heap. Growing and developing your people is job one: learning how to coach them is step one.


Larry Hart

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