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I’m coaching my direct reports. Are you? Really?

I’m coaching my direct reports. Are you? Really?

I have had countless conversations over the years with managers and leaders that tell me that they are working with their Direct Reports and they are coaching those Directs on specific issues. I almost always probe a bit at this point to see what the Leader means when they say they are “coaching.” And I believe I have identified the challenge we encounter when we discuss “Professional Coaching” or “Executive Coaching” with companies or Leaders.

More often than not, what we discover when we probe the “coaching” that Leaders are doing with Direct Reports is that they (the Leader) have identified specific areas of the business that need improvement, and they (the Leader) are offering advice on how that might be improved. Sometimes the Leader has identified specific behaviors of the Direct that need to change, and they are offering advice on alternative behaviors.

I might offer that any time a Leader is recommending specific behaviors that they are in fact managing, not coaching. To be clear, I am not recommending against managing. We all need to be held accountable for appropriate, effective behaviors and for deliverables, however, managing for entrenched behaviors rarely results in long-term behavior change.

Professional Coaching involves helping the client identify the behavior that needs to be changed. That is, identifying the behavior that is no longer effective. The Coach will then help the client identify why they are behaving that way, where did the behavior come from, why does, or did, the client think it effective to begin with. And then the Professional Coach will help the client identify alternative behaviors that they both believe might be more effective. Finally, the Professional Coach will hold the client accountable for practicing the identified new behavior until that new, more effective, behavior becomes a habit, and is sustainable.

It is an interesting quirk of human behavior that we rarely change the way we are doing something merely because it has been pointed out that it doesn’t work. Illogical? I know. But that’s the way we work, more often than not. Additionally, when an ineffective behavior is identified, by someone else, and an alternative behavior is recommended, by someone else, we often reject the new behavior out of hand, believing that the “offerer” doesn’t understand all of the circumstances, or “they don’t know what they are talking about.”

To help an individual self-identify their ineffective behavior and then self-identify an effective alternative behavior requires skill and finesse. It also requires trust. Too often all three of these components are missing in the Leader-Direct Report relationship.

Here’s the magic question for those of you that are currently “coaching” your Directs: In any given meeting, who is doing most of the talking? If you are doing most of the talking, then you are not coaching, you’re managing.

Second magic question: How long have you been “coaching” this individual and not seeing any change in behavior? Could it be that the coaching is ineffective?


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