For some time now, we’ve seen many organisations encouraging their managers to learn the art of coaching as a key approach in their suite of management tools. I’ve witnessed first hand many situations where the ‘manager as coach’ approach has helped lift members of a team, or even whole teams and positively enhanced the performance of the managers themselves.
But is a ‘manager as coach’ style enough to lift a team and provide longer-term sustainable performance? I’m not so sure. I think that the ‘manager as coach’ strategy stops short of helping a team reach the heights of performance that are possible, simply because coaching remains a conditional approach that is driven by immediate outcomes. Coaching is task oriented and the main focus is on tangible issues such as giving effective feedback, thinking strategically or how to provide better customer service. For this reason, coaching has a shorter-term focus with the emphasis being on how to perform more effectively today.
A good manager understands when to use coaching for good effect; in fact we could say that coaching is a situational tool; just as the ability to have hard conversations or use the right tools at the right time are situational decisions.
The key to helping your team enhance their performance is to move beyond the conditional aspects of your relationship and adopt more of a mentoring style. In my own experience as both a leader and a team member, I know that the times I have seen sustained peak performance are the times when relationships move beyond the conditional ‘something for something’ stage and towards a level of professional intimacy.
Mentoring in itself is about relationships and unconditional. This is a big shift for those managers who are attached to more traditional leadership styles, as it tends to offer up a level of vulnerability that puts the manager on the same level as their people. Managers who understand this provide a level of safety in their team that makes it ok for their employees to share issues that may be affecting their professional and personal performance; which may lead to some coaching, training or something else to help address the gap. The reality is though, that a mentoring approach relies on sharing who you are and not just what you know. A leader who is able to integrate mentoring into their style will likely learn that the root of many performance issues lies in self-esteem, work/life balance or other personal issues that don’t lie that far beneath the surface. This raises the question; how often has coaching, training or even dismissal been incorrectly used to deal with issues that may simply have needed an ear or required a simple word of acknowledgement for them at least start to be addressed?
When used together, both mentoring and coaching combine to be a holistic leadership approach that provide a focus on both the long and short term. An example of this is shown below with a situation that is becoming increasingly common – career development:
1. The mentoring leader is able to learn what the employee really wants to do, and where they see themselves in five or ten years.
(long term focus)
2. The manager as coach is able to help them address any gaps required to help them on their way; or if those possibilities aren't available in the organisation, (short term focus)
3. The mentoring manager will put them in touch with someone in their network who can give them more information on how to achieve their career goals. (long & short term focus)
If the opportunities for growth aren’t available, is it likely you would lose this employee? Perhaps. That’s the reality every manager and organisation faces everyday. However the other reality is that this is a typical Gen Y issue. I’ve never experienced a generation of employees who are more concerned about where they will be tomorrow, in five or ten years. This is an increasingly important values driven issue for many of the Gen Y’s I’ve managed or worked with, and an issue that does impact on performance. And whilst there’s nothing wrong with this outlook, if misunderstood it can and does lead to misinterpretation of intent, and therefore poor performance management decisions.
Staying with the above example, as simple as it may appear, by being genuinely interested in what motivates your people you have established a level of trust, especially if you’ve been prepared to share what motivates you as well. Having the conversation around your differences in motivations can build levels of trust and engagement in a short space of time that could otherwise take months or years to build.
So back to my question…would you lose this person if their desire doesn’t match the organisational reality? If you did that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, and by having applied a mentoring approach you are still looking after the future, as well as impacting on today:
Integrating a mentoring style doesn’t require extra time in your day as a manager, nor does it mean you have to give up other styles or tools. It just means that you are able to use them more strategically and for greater impact. It also requires that you take the opportunities to build relationships with your people and seek to understand who they really are. Out of all of this though, it’s possible that the hardest thing will be for you to have the courage to make the first step and offer up a little bit about who you really are!