Permission to Fail at Coaching

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When I talk to managers about the idea of coaching , I typically get one of two responses to the idea: I don’t know how and the idea of coaching is daunting, or I don’t have time. If you feel this way, don't worry; you're in good company.

Most managers don’t feel they truly know what coaching is and how to make it work. They are also very busy. The idea of coaching can feel like just another thing to do within an ever-growing to-do list.

It’s easy to look at coaching as something cluttering your calendar or another task to complete. Maybe you want to do a good job but don't know where to start. It typically falls at the bottom of the list. To help with both issues, it's good to start by defining what coaching is. There are plenty of definitions out there, but typically in most definitions, you'll find three key components involved:

  1. There is an effort toward learning. This makes sense when you think of coaches on sports teams. They are there to teach or instruct, not to play the game and take the place of a player. Although, that doesn't address why baseball coaches wear uniforms. But I digress.
  2. The trainee is trying to achieve something. Perhaps they are aiming to achieve a goal, learn a new skill, or just fix a problem. They see a problem that needs to be solved and want to involve others.
  3. It involves an element of change. The employee more than likely will have to make a change. Perhaps it is something small or big, but change will be needed from the employee.

By breaking down what coaching is, the hope can then be that you as a manager can know "how" to coach and do so in your already busy schedule.

When in doubt, emphasize the idea of helping the employee

If you're coming at this with too much focus on one component, it won't be effective. If you just want to instruct, you won't be focused on achieving the goal at hand. If you're focused on just the goal, you'll miss the opportunity to help the employee learn. If you're focused on the need to make change, the employee may not be ready for it and will ignore the coaching. Emphasize the idea of helping the employee instead of making it task-oriented. You’ll both find more fulfillment and success this way.

You don't have to have all the answers

Let’s revisit the idea of sports coaches. Most of the best coaches weren't the best players back in their day. So know that coaching doesn't mean you have all the answers. It means you're positioning the employee to find the answer. This can best be done by asking questions. You might not have all the answers—and that's a good thing!

Ensure the issue remains with the employee

Many managers believe that when an employee comes to them with an issue, they as the manager must solve it. Coaches don't play the game; the players do. You need to ensure your employee walks away with ideas on how they will solve the issue, or ideas to get closer to solving the issue. Set your employees up for success in the future by giving them problem-solving tools.

Don't be perfect

In a past Gallup study, employees who agreed that their supervisor focused on their strengths resulted in high levels of engagement and low levels of active disengagement. It comes as no surprise that employees who agreed their supervisor focused on their weaknesses were slightly less engaged and more disengaged. But surprisingly, employees who felt ignored resulted in even lower levels of engagement and even higher levels of disengagement. It’s a reminder that even negative attention is better than no attention at all. Employees will always require feedback, so whether good or bad, it must be done. Or put simply in Nike fashion, just do it.

Don't get overwhelmed by the idea of coaching. Instead of seeing coaching as a large process, step back and see it for what it is: Helping employees grow in to even better employees. Give yourself permission to fail.

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