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Leaders need role clarity for results

I MAKE it a habit of checking out the business and management sections of many of Perth’s bookstores.

While there is always an impressive array of titles covering virtually every aspect of leading and managing, I’ve noticed a common theme emerging when it comes to people management. There seems to be an ever-increasing number of books with the word “coach” in the title.

Is it just the latest buzzword or fad? Perhaps, though I hope not, because that’s what I have chosen my own profession to be, and I plan to be around for a long time yet. What concerns me is that managers who choose to use a “coaching approach” to managing staff as their sole modus operandi will be no more effective than those who operate through the old-style command-and-control method.

There is a lot of talk these days about managers and executives needing to take a sharing, caring approach with their teams. Be open, listen, ask questions, share information, empower. Do this and your people will thrive.

Sure, they’ll thrive. But only if you do it right. The risk is that if you are too warm and fuzzy, you’ll be treated like something else warm and fuzzy – the office teddy bear that people walk over at will.

In my work as a coach, I have seen many managers and executives embrace the idea of coaching as the panacea for all staff ills, only to find that they aren’t getting the results they need. They tend to adopt the “listening and questioning” approach, especially those who have been chastised by others for being too authoritarian. I had one client who did so much listening and questioning that he never got any of his own work done. The staff loved him, but where were the results?

I must admit, I have made similar mistakes in my own coaching. Due to my insecurities when I first started out, my original approach was to let the client do most of the talking, while I listened, asked a few insightful questions and went “hmmm” a lot.

Where was my psychiatrist’s couch?

Very quickly I learnt that, to be a good coach, indeed, a good leader of people, you must keep focused on the results you are trying to achieve, as well as the process you are using to achieve them.

As I see it, the role of any leader of people in today’s workplace is twofold. One, the boss, and two, the coach.

These roles are wholly complimentary and must co-exist in the mind of the manager. The carrying out of these two roles can result in some paradoxical behaviours, but mastery of both is the essence of a good leader.

Sun Tzu, in The Art of War, is quoted thus: “If words of command are not clear and distinct, if orders are not thoroughly understood, then the General is to blame.”

The general in Sun Tzu’s story is the boss in ours. The boss must set clear expectations and ensure that staff are committed to them. Hold people accountable for their results. Performance-manage staff if the desired expectations are not met. This is the stuff of many a manage-ment training session.

The second role, that of the coach, only comes into play if the role of the boss has been carried out effectively. The role of the coach is to develop and support employees in accom-plishing those expectations.

I have learnt that you cannot coach your staff if they aren’t clear on, and committed to, the goals that have been set. Trying to coach without gaining commitment and clarity is a waste of time.

The challenge is to know when to wear which hat. Each role requires different behaviours. The boss takes a directive approach – a role that many managers are most comfortable with – while the coach supports and guides. The boss sets expectations, the coach is the agent to help them be achieved.

Don’t make the mistake of downplaying your role as the boss. Successful coaching requires expectations to be there.

At the same time (need I say this?) don’t just set expectations and then wait for the results to come rolling in. This is old-style management that does nothing for developing your staff. For best results, adopt the boss/coach approach.



Message: Modern management thinking leans toward the coaching approach with staff. But beware that you don’t take this concept too far.

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