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).
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.
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.
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.
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%.