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(Fortune) –Dear Annie: I just got a new job as district manager for a highly skilled, talented, and motivated team of technical salespeople. The guy who had this job before me was moved to another part of the company. Yesterday, an executive two levels above me told me in confidence that the reason he didnt work out in the job was that he had an autocratic, bossy, my-way-or-the-highway management style and what we need to run this team is really more of a coach. I want to succeed at this and I think I can, but I dont really know anything about coaching. Do you have any advice? -Win One for the Gipper
Dear Gipper: The fact that you know what you dont know is already a good sign – clearly, youre no autocrat. And take heart, youre not alone: Although so-called knowledge workers do require more of a coaching or mentoring management style to do their best work, relatively few bosses know how to provide it, says Lois Frankel, Ph.D., head of Pasadena, Calif.-based Corporate Coaching International (
The coaching team at CCI remains gainfully employed because supervisors and managers dont take the time, dont know how, or dont want to learn how to coach, says Frankel, the author of several best-selling books, includingNice Girls Dont Get the Corner Office($19.95, Business Plus), who has taught coaching skills to managers at Amgen (AMGNFortune 500), General Electric (GEFortune 500), Ernst & Young, Procter & Gamble (PGFortune 500), Microsoft (MSFTFortune 500), Goldman Sachs (GSFortune 500), Walt Disney (DISFortune 500), and many others.
Great coaching boils down to 8 basic tips, she says. Here they are:
1. Its all in the relationship.You cant coach if you havent taken the time to build a strong relationship with your team, says Frankel. So take some time every day to get to know your team members – their likes and dislikes on the job, what they find frustrating and rewarding, their interests outside of work – and let them get to know you. Trust me, the time you spend will pay dividends, Frankel says.
2. Always follow the 7:1 rule.You must give seven pieces of positive feedback for every one piece of developmental feedback if you dont want to be perceived as overly critical, Frankel says. Catch people in the act of doing things right and reinforce it with praise – even if theyre just doing the job they get paid for.
3. Be clear about your expectations.When you assign projects, discuss timelines, outcomes, and how success will be measured. Says Frankel, Dont expect your team to be mind-readers.
4. Speak up when you see behavior that can be improved.Frankel notes that major league sports coaches dont wait until the end of the season or even the end of the game to coach their players. They coach after plays and innings, she says. If you offer guidance regularly and consistently, those dreaded performance reviews become pro forma, because youve already done the real work of developing employees throughout the year.
5. Coach people onto the playing field.The workplace is a playing field with rules, boundaries, and strategies. Your job is to make sure players are on the field rather than out of bounds, Frankel says.
Lets say one of your salespeople is spending lots of time doing technical troubleshooting for clients, but isnt closing many sales as a result. You can remind him or her that, although the problem-solving side of things is essential, the ultimate goal here is to sell product, and suggest some techniques for getting to yes – or encourage him or her to tag along with a more proficient teammate to watch how its done.
The point is to focus on helping each person to succeed, Frankel says.
6. Focus on soft skills as well as hard skills.Weve all stood by and cringed at one time or another, while a technically brilliant colleague put his or her foot in it politically. To be a good coach, you have to address that.
Many times managers are hesitant to coach someone who is being too abrasive, too passive, not a problem-solver, or what have you, because they feel its not tangible enough to talk about, Frankel observes. But workplace success is contingent upon so much more than just doing the job.
Your role as a coach is to help people develop all the skills they need, not just (perhaps not even mainly) the technical ones.
7. Be a servant leader.The late management and business-ethics guru Robert Greenleaf coined the term servant leadership, Frankel notes, to describe the way in which leaders – and coaches – must serve their followers so the followers can be their most effective. If your team isnt serving you as well as you might like, the question to ask yourself is, How well am I serving them?
8. Prepare for each coaching session.When it comes to coaching, winging it wont work, Frankel says. Instead, think about what youre going to say before you say it. If you need to criticize, she suggests, try using the language where you seem to be getting stuck, and what you could do differently. Again, its not about judging the person, its about getting them onto the playing field – and helping them to do their best work.
Readers, is your boss a good coach? Are you? What coaching tips and techniques work for you?Post your thoughtson the Ask Annie blog.
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