There are thousands of professionals all across the world who call themselves “leaders.” In reality, the vast majority are leaders in title alone. While they have direct reports and authority over others because of seniority or prior performance, they aren’t actually leading; they’re managing.
One of the ways a leader separates themselves from being a manager is by coaching their people. A coach, by definition, is one who trains and instructs. I define it in Coaching for Excellence as, “Coaching is improving the current and future performance of others to achieve higher levels of excellence.”
Leaders who coach others effectively have never been more critical than they are today because behind every excellent professional is an excellent leader who acted as a coach and refused to settle for anything other than their best.
Behind every excellent professional is an excellent leader who acted as a coach and refused to settle for anything less than their best.
As easy as this is to write, the application of it is complex. John Wooden said it well, “a coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” Managers have countless opportunities, from performance reviews to one-on-one, to daily interactions, to give correction without causing resentment. However, this is precisely where most managers make a significant mistake.
The Worst Mistake Leaders Make When Coaching Their People
Mistakes are a part of life, coaching others included. The key to any mistake is not making it habitually without correcting it in the future. Like virtually everything in life, there are always exceptions. Still, for the sake of this column, the worst mistake a leader can make when coaching others is:
“Consistently telling others how to fix or solve the issues or challenges in front of them.”
Perhaps one could make worse mistakes, like not coaching at all or demeaning someone to make them feel inadequate intentionally. Clearly, don’t do that. Most people can get behind not making these egregious mistakes when coaching. However, consistently telling the people you are coaching how to solve an issue or challenge is not only easy to do; it’s hard not to do.
The Reason Leaders Make This Mistake
The reason so many managers give advice and answers so quickly is typically one of two reasons:
- They don’t have time
- They know the answer
When you are in a hurry and or you know the answer to a question, it’s far easier and more efficient to give the answer and move on. Micromanagers take this a step further. Not only do they tell their team members the answer, but they do it for them because no one can complete a task as well as they can.
Micromanagers not only answer every question, but no one can complete a task as well as they can.
Delivering the answer to a question is quick and effective. However, it rarely does anything to encourage a person’s development.
How to Become a More Effective Coach
Great leaders identify where team members are currently in their development and align their coaching appropriately. The goal is simple: help your people reach a stage of development that exceeds where they are today.
The goal of coaching is simple: help people reach a stage of development that exceeds where they are today.
While there are different tactics, tools, and strategies you should engage in at each team member’s stage of development, there is one coaching tactic that is somewhat effective at all levels. It’s centered around asking great questions. This allows you to pull the information out of your people instead of the other way around.
Michael Bungay Stanier, the author of The Coaching Habit, explained this well. He told me, “Leaders should stay curious a little bit longer and rush to advice-giving a little bit slower.” By taking this approach, you force team members out of their comfort zone and encourage them to be more self-reflective.
Use open-ended questions, free of judgment. Here are some of my favorite examples to add to your arsenal:
- What can I do to help you?
- What result are you trying to achieve?
- Can you walk me through your thought process and what you have tried up until this point?
- What do you think we should do to create the best result for everyone?
- What other approaches might you take next time?
Regardless if you are guilty of consistently telling others how to fix or solve the issues or challenges in front of them or not. It’s never a bad time to be reminded to ensure you don’t make the mistake in the future. As a mentor of mine taught me, “people need to be reminded more than they need to be taught.”
How do you do to be an effective coach to others? Tell me in the comments.
About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.