Manager as Coach – the key to a leader-full organisation
A manager once told me that his approach to staff development was to push them into the deep end and see if they could swim. That’s may seem a bit extreme. On the other hand we can plan a long drawn out development programme where after two years the staffer would have finally gotten the skills and experience to do the work. Ok, this too is extreme. Most organisations recognise that within six months most people will have adapted to a new job and can be trusted with the responsibility to help them perform the tasks given to them. It’s why most probation periods are five to six months.
Developing staff is part of every leader’s responsibility. If you are good at developing and empowering your staff, you are more likely to retain them in the long term. This requires you to support their development and challenge them to grow. But what is the right balance of challenge and support required to develop your people? Most managers appreciate that to develop their staff, they need to make an investment of personal time, and they have to gauge the level of challenge (questioning) with support (telling) based on the individual’s needs. As we are all individuals, we join organisations with varying levels of knowledge, skills and confidence. This is where coaching becomes an essential skill for every leader.
Asking open questions is essential to provoke critical thinking and reflection in your staff. It is through this reflection and curiosity that people learn. Knowledge and skill gaps that exist can be filled over time. Telling is one of the quickest ways to fill that gap – just provide the information or show someone how the job is done. Too much telling and the individual may feel that they are not trusted with responsibility, that they are always the student with little chance of becoming the teacher. Too much questioning could result in an individual feeling they are being tested all the time. The right balance of questioning and telling promotes growth.
So becoming an effective manager requires empathy, patience and a genuine desire to empower and grow your staff. Coaching is essential for creating leader-full organisations as opposed to organisations with a few hero leaders at the top. Great organisations cultivate leaders at all levels. They tend to be more dynamic and adaptable. Traditional leaders at the top organisations tend to be less flexible, lack innovation and struggle with retention.
To create a leader-full organisation, managers need to take on the personal responsibility of developing their staff. And that is were the Manager as Coach approach is beneficial. One approach is Roffey Park’s Manager as Coach model which is a simple way for a manager to think about using challenge and support. It starts by you recognising that your staff fall into one of four quadrants:
Quadrant One: The New Learner – This is someone who is new to the team and may not know the ropes. In their case, they would expect that you will show them the ropes with a high level of telling (informing and showing) and a low level of questioning. They will require the greatest investment of a manager’s time. You are exercising a much more directing approach to coaching with high tell and low questions. As they fill in their knowledge gap they can move on to the next quadrant.
Quadrant Two: Progressive Learner – This is someone who wants to learn and is eagerly absorbing knowledge and skills. However, they may have gaps in specialist areas or knowledge or skills They still need a high level of telling and questioning. So you are helping them fill in the knowledge gap at the same time as challenging them with open questions on applicating the knowledge in their work. You need to shift your coaching from directing to becoming more of a guide.
Quadrant Three: Independent learner – This is the staff member who has taken ownership of their own learning and is likely to come to you from time to time for support. There is little you need to tell them because they are familiar enough with the organisation to seek out the knowledge themselves colleagues, peers, internal and external sources. However, you will need to continue challenging them and stretching them in new areas. Your role as a coach is to be a supporter from the sidelines encouraging and challenging them to do more.
Quadrant Four: Trusted Performer – This is the staff member at the end of the development process. They have the knowledge, skills, capabilities, and behaviours that make them trustworthy when given responsibility. They are people who need little challenge or telling and are generally self-managed and self-motivated. They are happy meeting up with you for five minutes over a coffee for clarity or a quick decision before running off to tackle their workload. At this point, your approach to coaching is to step back and delegate in the knowledge that they will seek you out if needed.
The role of the Manager as Coach is to progress the development of all your staff until your entire team is in the fourth quadrant of trusted performers. Imagine leading a team full of trusted performers, where all you have to do is delegate the work.