Earning the Right to Coach

When it comes to developing employees and improving performance, coaching and delivering feedback are critical actions for achieving desired results. In fact today, most organizations expect their leadership to focus on coaching and improving performance. Although I am a big proponent of this, I often see new, and even seasoned leaders make a big mistake when it comes to coaching their people: assuming that their position alone is enough to earn them the right to coach.

Early on in my career, I remember a boss giving me feedback and thinking, “I really wish this feedback was coming from someone else, because coming from you, I just don’t care.” I am sure I’m not alone in having such a reaction to feedback from someone whose opinion held no value. So why is it that “more performance feedback” is highly requested from employees in almost every organization yet some coaching is not only unwanted, it is ineffective? It has to do with the relationship leaders have with the people they are coaching.

Poor relationships have a drastic effect on a leader’s ability to coach and can make it so that even positive feedback will have no reinforcing value to the performer. It therefore renders that leader ineffective as a coach.

To earn the right to coach, leaders should spend time purposefully developing relationships with direct reports. Here are five ways leaders can develop good relationships and earn the right to coach others:

  1. Be visible. Go talk with performers in their work environment and ask questions. Focus questions on two areas: 1) them personally, and 2) their job and how you can help. Personal focus includes asking about things like their hobbies, career desires, and important events in their lives (think Dale Carnegie here). Asking questions about their job includes getting details on how they do their work, best practices they can share with others, things that are going well and ways you can help (e.g., providing additional tools, resources, training).
  2. Be a model for desired behaviors. Live the company’s values and expectations. For example, if your company requires PPE then make sure you have it on at all times. If your company has professionalism as a core value then be sure your interactions within the organization look and sound professional. And if the messaging includes something along the lines of our employees are our best asset, then make sure leadership and organizational decision making live up to that expectation.
  3. Do what you say you will do. This may sound overly simplistic but many leaders promise something and then don’t deliver on that promise. Make a list of what you agreed to in your discussions with others and make them a priority on the to-do list. The more you follow through on what you say, the more people will come to trust you.
  4. Demonstrate respect. Engage in behaviors such as maintaining confidentiality, setting clear expectations, providing pinpointed feedback focused on desired behavior, collaborating on work, and debriefing projects. Asking for ideas on how to improve is another way leaders can demonstrate respect on a daily basis.
  5. Ask for feedback on your performance. Ask direct questions about your own behaviors. For instance, “How could I have run that meeting better,” “What can I do differently to help improve the quality of that project” or “What can I do to be more helpful in your career development?” Questions like these will help you find areas for improvement and gauge how others perceive you. Just remember, if you ask, then make sure you do something with the feedback. Conducting a 360° survey every couple of years is also a valuable tool to incorporate into your upward feedback process.

You earn the right to coach by establishing good relationships with your employees, not by virtue of your position of power. Apply these principles and you will see an improvement in how others respond to you and ultimately in the impact you have as a leader.

Posted by Bryan Shelton

Bryan applies his knowledge and expertise in strategic planning to help organizations align employee performance with company goals. Bryan helps clients create improvement across a variety of business metrics including company growth, profitability, customer service, vision alignment, leadership development, and culture change. He also helps clients implement process improvement initiatives, improve sales results and using performance-pay systems to help drive company results. His behavior-based approaches and applications have supported clients’ improvement initiatives, leadership development, and the design and implementation of performance pay systems.