If you want to be a good leader than you need to see yourself as a coach. It is well documented that the worst leaders are those who see themselves as a King or Queen dictating orders to be followed. There is a big difference between being a boss and being a leader. Ask your self the following question. How often as a leader do you sit down with your employees? The vast majority of poor leaders fall in to one of two categories. They either sit down with their employees once or twice a year to go through a performance review. Although if you are only meeting once or so a year, I question the validity of that performance review. Or they are micromanaging and involving themselves in every step of the process. Either way, they are not coaching their team and therefore not being an effective leader.
Frequent feedback is key
The first thing to remember as a coach, is that constant feedback is key. Note this is different to being updated on every step of a process and all facets of work which is what a micro manager will want to know. This is more about having a regular two-way flow of information between an employee and their leader. This is a great way for an employee to understand what areas of their performance are good and which can be improved. Likewise, it is a great way for a leader to understand the employee, their ways of working, their ambitions and how to help get them there.
This regular feedback should not just focus on what the employee can do better. This is actually a key cause of employee disengagement. If you are only ever telling your employees what they are doing wrong, they are not going to feel that their work is valued. If we assume someone has 10 things to do and they are an average employee, this probably means they do 5 of those things well and have room for improvement in those other 5. That is pretty normal, and an employee is going to be more open to improving in the areas they are weak, if the areas they are strong in are acknowledged. In fact research shows there is only a 1% chance of an employee becoming disengaged if they feel their strengths are valued.
Do not provide your employees with the answers to their problems
There is a big difference between coaching and providing the answers. The aim of coaching is to help somebody to learn a new skill or way of working. As a leader, if you are constantly providing the answers, your team are never going to be self-sufficient. You will end up with a team who will just come to you to constantly get the answers. Now, there is a group of insecure leaders who worry a good employee may one day take their job (one of the worst beliefs any leader can have for the record) who may think this is a good thing. But what happens in this instance, when there is an emergency and you are on annual leave, or even if you are just in meetings for an afternoon? No one knows what to do as they have not had to figure anything out for themselves.
To be an effective coach, one of the most powerful questions you can ask is “what do you think you should do?”. By refusing to provide the answer, you force your employees to figure things out for themselves. They will have to think through all the possible courses of action and their consequences and then decide as to what they believe is the right one. This simple act is extremely powerful, as it empowers them and helps them to feel they can figure things out. The best coaches continue to ask questions to lead their people to the right answers. Questions such as ‘what do you think could be the good or bad points of that approach’ or ‘has anybody else had a similar issue previously, if so how did they solve it?’ should become regular parts of your vocabulary.
Failure is part of the journey
The final part of effective coaching is understanding that failure is part of the learning process. Sometimes, it is better to let an employee try and fail at something, even if you knew it would fail at the beginning. Failure if often the best teaching mechanism. No one gets everything right at the first time of asking, and sometimes you need to learn why one way does not work, in order to figure out another way that does. There may be a time where you may need to step in, because if they are about to make a huge mistake that could bankrupt the company, you should probably stop that. But generally speaking, failure is without a doubt the best teacher. Just do not say I told you so when it does not work out, or we are back to creating employee disengagement. Support them after the failure and encourage them to apply their learnings and try again.
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