Gone Wrong—Go Right!
When coaching is done right, the benefits are remarkable. Coaching can lead to empowered employees; stronger, more trusting relationships between manager and direct report; an increase in ownership and innovation; and thoughtful, proactive action.
But implementing any program into your organization is difficult, and a coaching approach is no exception. Coaching is a powerful tool. But when it’s done wrong it can destroy trust, lead to resentment, reinforce insecurities, and foster inaction.
The idea of a coaching program leading to any of these results is daunting. This fear is most readily available for organizations who are trying to DIY their coaching program, but even using a full-service coaching program doesn’t guarantee individual coaches won’t make potentially problematic mistakes.
In order to get the best results forewarned is forearmed, so here are a few of the mistakes you’ll need to look out for and avoid. If by chance, it’s a little too late to avoid some of these mistakes, rest assured that you aren’t done for. You just need to recognize where you are struggling and determine the best path forward for you.
Here are some of the top ways coaching goes wrong.
- Tell them, tell them, tell them
- Seen it all, lived to tell the tale
- Feedback Master
- Coach and Run
Tell them, tell them, tell them
This can be one of the easiest mistakes to make, because telling people how you think they should solve their problem has probably become so engrained it’s instinctual. You know what needs to be done, and it seems far more straightforward and wastes less time to impart that knowledge than to invite those you coach to come to their own conclusions. This is particularly true when they may come to different conclusions than you.
Remember the first rule of coaching: People are capable. The InsideOut Mindset is based on this belief—Everyone has the capacity to learn and perform at a higher level. A refusal to trust in that belief is often what leads to the decision, not to ask, but to tell.
You’re good at solving problems. This is a fantastic talent but that’s not your role as a coach. Your purpose is not to solve your employees’ problems for them. Rather, you are there to support, and when necessary advise, them on how to solve their problems themselves.
Attempting to solve every employee’s every problem is not a kindness, even if you intend it to be. You are enabling passivity, not encouraging growth. It also leaves those you coach to come to the conclusion that you don’t trust them, that you do not think them capable. Any number of things may happen then. They may internalize this belief and their performance will falter, they may find their own trust in you fade—decreasing the likelihood of them listening to you beyond what’s strictly necessary—or, they may simply remain passive, performing, but not at the level they are capable of.
How to avoid it
Trust in the capabilities of those you coach. Do not resort immediately to telling; listen, ask questions, be openly encouraging, support your coachee in the plans they make to move forward, and then make sure to stay available and present. It requires a different sort of effort from you, but it will strengthen your employees, and your organization, more than telling them what to do will.
Seen it all, lived to tell the tale
You start out with such good intentions. You meet with your coachees and you remember to start by asking. But as they talk you recognize what they’re saying as a problem that you’ve faced before. Here’s an opportunity to help!
While your enthusiasm should be congratulated, it may be a bit premature. What may have seemed like an experience identical to your own and a problem you can help to solve, may in fact be something different altogether.
How to avoid it
Keep asking questions. Do not stop the first time they voice a concern, keep asking until they feel like they’ve reached the end. More often than not, the real concerns will lay further back, and you may never realize if you stop asking questions the moment the first one is answered.
The easiest way to ensure you do this? Remember the magic question—‘what else?’ and then keeping asking until they have nothing else to say. Also ask clarifying questions along the way.
Feedback for the Fix
Feedback is an essential component in both employee engagement and improving employee performance. It’s one of the most essential elements of coaching and most employees don’t think they get enough of it. But when done poorly, feedback could actually make your problem worse.
Unsolicited feedback is more likely to push employees to weariness and resentment than toward better results. Unsolicited feedback can, at times, be worse than no feedback at all.
While feedback should consist of both honest critique and sincere praise, it can be easy to forget that praise helps growth just as much as correction. Though praise alone is not enough if it is not specific and actionable.
How to avoid it
Feedback is essential, which is why it’s so important to make sure you handle it correctly. An unsolicited piece of feedback can become acceptable by asking for permission to give it. Chances are, your employee will genuinely want to hear what feedback you have and will happily engage with you.
Leave feedback for designated times, when it is requested, or when those you coach are open to it. Make sure you know fact from assumption. And do not forget that sincere, actionable praise is a much a part of feedback as honest critique.
Remember, when giving feedback it’s important to first establish trust, then establish expectations, and finally remember to use an established feedback framework.
You are a coach. A manager. A leader. These positions come specific obligations—not just to manage day-to-day tasks, but to lead and inspire you employees to bring their best every day. A harried “coach-and-run” approach won’t cut it. You’re team members need to know that you value and care about their success and professional development. Leadership is about more than the numbers.
People can almost always tell when they are cared for, and on the opposite side, they can tell when they are considered as nothing more than tools. When they feel they are tools, they will perform as necessary, but they will never seek to do anything more than that. The best coaching in the world will fall flat if it is not accompanied by care.
How to avoid it
Coaching, at its root, is simply having stronger conversations, and that strength often comes when people feel the care behind it.
Showing you care is relatively easy—be genuine, candid, patient, and considerate in both conversation and action. People will notice.
When it’s wrong, when it’s right
Like everything, when coaching is done wrong it can lead to disastrous results. But the results of coaching done right are numerous, from results as nebulous as stronger relationships between those within your organization to the more solid numbers associated with a stronger bottom line.
Coaching may not always be easy, but done right, it is always worth it. To learn more about how to build a well-made coaching culture, check out this article on the Coaching Culture Framework.