Telling Isn’t Coaching

Do you ever wish you could simply tell your people what to do and then have them actually do it.

We’ve all been there.  Sometimes telling people works.  More often than not, if you want to improve your team, coaching is required.

A lot of people in business like to use sports analogies.  I rarely do that.  Business is different than sports.   In sports, there’s a clear distinction between players and coaches, which is not always the case at work.  In business, the boss (coach) also has their own set of responsibilities.

In sports there’s a winner and a loser, and the match has a set time period.  Business doesn’t work that way.

In his Harvard Business Review, article, Why Sports Are a Terrible Metaphor for Business, Bill Taylor, the co-founder of Fast Company, writes, “In football there’s one Super Bowl winner and 31 NFL teams with crushed dreams and dispirited fans.”

Business, or any organization for that matter, is not a total win-lose game. You may want to beat your competition.  But your performers are on the field every single day.  There’s no big game day; work is constant, lots of daily wins, and some inevitable losses.

In the workplace, the coach does more than teach people how to throw a ball perfectly, or execute a triple lutz.  In the work place, a good coach also delves into feelings and beliefs.

Even if your job doesn’t have the word ‘coach’ in it, chances are, you have coaching conversations all the time.  Like the time someone on your team messed up an order, or got a new customer, or had to pick up the slack for someone else.

Live time situations are the best opportunities for coaching.  Many leaders think of coaching as a big formal process.  When you think about it that way, it’s easy to avoid it.

It’s easier to walk around putting out fires and barking orders.  But true coaching is about giving specific feedback.  Coaching has a bigger long-term pay off.  Your team can replicate top performance even when you’re not there.  Good coaching also addresses emotions.  That combination – skill specificity and tackling the emotional underpinnings – is what differentiates the best business coaches.

Here’s a coaching example, if someone on your team messes up the order.  First, you want to unpack it, find out why things went awry.  Ask, don’t tell, you want their perspective.  Get the specifics, then deal with the emotions involved.  Is the person upset, defensive, in denial?  Whatever it is, get it on the table.  Then ask the person what they can do differently next time.  Provide specific feedback on both the good and the bad elements of the past performance.  Explain very clearly what “good” looks like.  Then ask what kind of help and support the person needs.  Agree upon action steps.

It’s more involved than saying, do better, but good coaching gives you a much more resilient and confident team, and a team that can function even when you’re not there to call the shots.  Coaching isn’t a rah rah moment, or one big event.

Good coaching is about day in and day out incremental improvement in attitude, belief and skill.