Serve Up, Coach Down, Part 3

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Coaching Employees To Excellence

Today, it is common to hear leaders in the middle and organizations use the word coaching to describe how they serve their employees.  And they’re right: to serve the people who follow you is to coach them. I just find that most organizations and leaders in the middle like using the word coaching and are less interested in understanding what it means, let alone executing a coaching culture. They may want to do it or even feel they already coach. But because more organizations have never taught leaders how to be coaches, they don’t actually coach people; they manage them, just like their predecessors did for generations.

In fact, many leaders in the middle think they’re coaching when they aren’t. The most common example of this is when they and their organizations confuse coaching with feedback.  Feedback is part of coaching, but just a part, like post-mortem questions about how it went and what could have been done differently. Those people share their thoughts, good and bad, and give recommended adjustments, if any.  That’s neither a complete coaching program nor is it even a complete feedback program.. It’s only feedback after the fact and basically useless if no work and feedback happened before the meeting. Essentially, the feedback is about the next opportunity (whenever that is) and is usually forgotten without coaching. In other words, the game was over. Feedback comes nothing more than managing a post-game wrap-up and goes nowhere.

Unless there is preparation and ore opportunity for feedback after the fact, this managing rarely leads to better preparation next time. Coaching prepared the people you lead to be successful before any feedback happens, and whether they failed or succeeded in the situation being discussed, the work afterward continues for days, weeks, and months. The feedback from the previous meeting or opportunity becomes part of the coaching and preparation for the next opportunity. The key is to understand the feedback session and preparation are two different events.

Let’s break it down: a manager watches an employee engage with a customer. After the customer leaves, the manager come to the employee and asks them how it went, what did they do right, and what would they do differently next time. They discuss the answer. They part ways. But what if that manager were a coach serving her employee? What if she walked up to that same employee the next morning and asked the employee to practice the situation from the day before, so when it happens today, they would be even more prepared?  What if the coach and the employee then conducted two or three “scrimmages” of the situation to understand what might happened?

That’s what the best professional coaches do for their teams. Do yours? If your company’s coaches don’t do this: why don’t we do it?

We lead from what we have learned, and old habits are hard to break. Why do you think it is so hard to change your eating habits to lose some weight? It’s much easier to just keep eating those French fries and buy bigger jeans. Ut when life and death are on the line and the doctor tells you to stop, well, even then it is hard for many of us. We’d rather test the limits of what we like to do (and are conditioned to do) – and French fries are really tasty. 

Your business may not be in a life-or-death situation, but if you’re business Is not growing, then it’s dying. Even if it is not losing money (yet), it’s just dying a slower death by being managed to mediocrity.

Managing is the French fries of business – easy to do, mindless, and satisfying as it is happening – but the result over time is dangerous. Managing eventually clogs an organization’s arteries and prevents the body of the organization from being the healthiest and best it can be and achieving excellence (that is, innovation and strong growth).

Those fries are the ultimate comfort food. How can you resist them? Who can show you how? A coach can. She can show you the power of another direction by coaching you.

Leaders in the middle need to demand coaching from those they serve, and serve those they lead by coaching them.

The Coach’s Intent

A coach’s intent is not to hire good people and let them do their jobs; rather, a coach’s intent is to hire great people and make them better. In that way, a coach’s job in business is similar to a coach in sports: 

  • make the players better; 
  • prepare them the best you can for their next opportunity, meeting, or sales call; and 
  • then demand they execute.

And that requires you first and foremost to do more.

Coaching down is not passive hands-off behavior (“Do your job, and I will get out of your way and support you”). But it’s not micromanaging either. It just requires more connection with your team practicing their skills, scrimmaging, and preparing for upcoming meetings or activities so they can own the work and serve you as their boss and the company as a whole.

You must challenge yourself to do more, be better, practice your skills, and demand you have a positive attitude and powerful belief system. 

Early in my career I was the person who knew I couldn’t tell certain bosses that I was out doing something personal instead of my activity for the day. When the boss would call, and I was on the golf course with my peers to give myself a well day, I would say, “Hey, boss, I am just out calling on customers” and make up some report to reflect my activities.  I knew I couldn’t trust that boss to understand. A few years later, I had a boss who was the opposite: he never cared what I did as long as I did my job. But I quickly learned that was no good either. I wasn’t lying, but I also realized I wasn’t getting any better at my job.

In fact, I was becoming bored and complacent.

Then, I got a boss who balanced both sides. I loved his candid and genuine style. He told me that he expected me to do my best every day, and the only way he could help me was if he were part of my success. He told me up front to tell him if I wanted to ditch part of a day or take care of personal business, not cover it up. That way, if he needed to find someone else to do a job, he could do it. He then told me that I needed to be willing to do the same for him and the team if they needed me to do more, stay late, or sacrifice. “Out goal is to win, Nathan. If you don’t have the  same goal or don’t want to more and do better, then you need to find a new team or job.”

I didn’t, and that was how I started learn the power of coaching down. And I didn’t just survive. I thrived.

About the Author

NOTE: This article contains excerpt from Jamail’s book Serve Up and Coach Down: Mastering the Middle and Both Sides of Leadership.

Nathan Jamail is president of the Jamail Development Group, and author of 4 best-selling books including his newest release Serve Up, Coach Down. An expert in organizational leadership, Nathan has spent the last 15+ years coaching top executives and teaching thousands of leaders around the world on Leadership, employee coaching, selling skills, and cultural development. Nathan’s clients span across all industries from technology, financial services, military, manufacturing, hospitality, and many more. For more information, visit https://nathanjamail.com/ or follow on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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