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Bad Bosses Bark Out Orders, Good Bosses Coach Their Teams

Bad Bosses Bark Out Orders, Good Bosses Coach Their Teams

The 80/20 rule roughly states that the 80% of the value of what you are doing will be derived from the final 20% of the effort you put in. If you apply this principle to the task of leadership, that final 20% falls to the role of being a Coach. As leaders, we can learn that first 80% from blogs and books until we reach the last 20% gray area, coaching.

Effective coaching can make the team grow fast through self-reflection

While a Leader focuses on the here and the present, the coach is concerned with focusing on the future (what do you need to do) and the past (what could you have done better).

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Think of a good sports coach – they will discuss strategies with their team before they take the field and talk to them on the bench, but when they are on the field, they are not running beside them telling them what to do, that’s the role of the on the field Leader. Some leaders struggle with moving from a hands-on leadership to a coaching model where they can no longer control and/or influence the outcome but instead must sit back and watch the employee’s action unfold for themselves and work with them, post actions to set them up for success the next time.

In working with employees there are three tenets where a Coach needs to focus on to be successful.

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A good coach listens before speaking

A coach needs to listen to their employee before they speak. The easiest way to get this conversation going is to ask them “What do you think?” and wait and wait and wait. A good coach will not respond for at least 10 – 15 seconds and if nothing is said will simply reiterate the question or rephrase it. But they will not offer up their opinions or ideas until they have heard from their employees and have had them establish the direction for which the communication will occur.

By letting your employees speak first, the coach has established a level in trust in putting the needs and thoughts of the employee’s before their own with the hope that the employee can be more forthcoming in their responses. By introducing the “awkward pauses” of silence the employee will begin to realize that the onus is on them to speak first before either can move forward.

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A good coach asks the right and necessary questions

There are no right questions – there is only the coach and the employee – trying to establish a relationship of trust from which they can continue to build on. In the role of coach, when working with an employee, I will always have a notebook (not laptop or phone) with me to record what they are saying so I can start to draw the lines of the cause of any issues they might be having and filter out the symptoms. Visually this helps me so I can see everything laid out but this also helps the employees I talk to for one reason – “they can see everything I am writing is about them and this piques their interest”. If I were to record everything they were saying on my laptop or phone it would have a very different affect – on my laptop, there is a barrier between us where they cannot see what I am doing and only assume that my furious typing is for them, with a phone, the device is so small and close to my face, for all they know I could be playing a game.

If you don’t have a notebook, use a markerboard, this is another great tool that not only let’s you visualize the issues and determine the questions you need to ask and the cues you need to prompt for but let’s the employees see the pattern in their words to perhaps start asking their own questions.

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A good coach becomes the guide for others

The evolution of leadership is that of a guide. A guide knows the lay of the land and has a good idea of what should be done but they are there in a supporting role, they are there to bring the group back on track should they stray, they are not there to lead the way and do it all. Think back to the last time you had a guide on a trip – did they tell you everywhere you needed to go, where to step, what do to and what to eat? No, they gave you suggestions on directions, steered you when you veered off the path a little too far (but giving you room to explore) and only jumped in when you were about to eat something poisonous.

The same applies to a coach and employee relationship. The coach is there as a guide to help insulate the employee from catastrophic failure while letting the employee wander and try new ideas that could lead to some level of success or failure.

A good coach knows when to step back and urge an employee to give their idea a whirl, protecting them from the fall.

If you’re in a coaching relationship, either as the employee or the coach, and these principles are not in place, you will have a hard time establishing the level of foundation and trust necessary to help your employees grow. It’s from this foundation, this navigation of the grey areas that the really great coaches thrive in and turn good employees great. If done properly, the success of this relationship will be realized when the employee being coached has grown into a leader able to recognize that their success as a leader and as their team will not be measured by their overall deliverable strategy but by their ability to coach their employees through that final 20%.

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Greg Thomas

Software Architect

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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