By Anthony Eaton
I have spent almost my entire career in human resources and have seen many leaders struggle with their role as a coach. This struggle is largely due to the fact that they themselves have never had a successful coach or a coaching influence in their lives, and no one taught them how to be one, let alone a good one.
To be successful at coaching, it is first important to understand what coaching is. By definition, coaching is the act of providing detailed feedback on a person’s observable behaviors for the purpose of maintaining or improving job performance. It is a means of letting the employee know that what he or she does matters.
Good coaching provides five benefits. It:
- Reinforces desired behaviors; for example, catching people doing something right.
- Corrects undesired behaviors and provides guidance, not punishment.
- Establishes clear expectations and defines outcomes.
- Encourages and supports personal development.
- Promotes constructive communication between managers, supervisors, and employees.
To be a successful coach, leaders must be able to:
- Actively listen. Give 100 percent of a person’s undivided attention, including no phone, e-mail, or other distractions.
- Probe. Ask good questions to guide and understand an employee’s thought process.
- Suspend. Withhold judgments and comments until all information is gathered and understood.
- Empathize. Emotional or difficult issues require empathy.
- Communicate technique. Understanding and feedback require thoughtful consideration and the ability to know what to say and how to say it. Feedback is about behavior that has already occurred; therefore, focus feedback on what occurred and how the employee can improve or continue the appropriate behavior.
Providing constructive and effective performance feedback takes time, effort, and skill. Employees who are provided coaching in a positive manner can use the information to compare their actions with their intentions.
Coaches need to learn these four basic elements of the craft:
1. Clarity. Be clear, direct, and specific about what you want to say. Also be descriptive and objective, avoiding such generalizations as all, every, never, and always.
2. Focus. Focus on the behavior and not the person or the personality.
3. Own it. Own the feedback by using “I” statements.
4. Care. Feedback should not insult or demean. It should be sensitive and considerate.
Remember that coaching is a skill that has to be developed, so take the time after you have completed a coaching session to think about what went well, what could have gone better, and how you will do it the next time around.