Amber’s job interview went quite well. She received a very attractive offer, which she gladly accepted. Her new position offers greater responsibility, more money, and a much more professional and supportive work environment. The interview process was impressive. It was a full day of panel and one-on-one sessions with people who were obviously trying to make sure her skills were a match for the demands of the job, and that she would be a good culture fit. They were also approachable and encouraging of her questions. In casual conversations at lunch, one of her future coworkers asked about the best boss she ever worked for, which was easily the most thought-provoking question of the day. Her answer was probably not what they expected. The person who came to mind immediately was Amy Collins, her college volleyball coach. None of the ten-plus people she has worked for in any company, starting with her first job, even came close.
Coach, as everyone called her, helped Amber play at a much higher level than she ever thought she could; and she did the same for everyone else on the team. She kept everyone intensely focused on the overall goal of a divisional championship, while also making sure everyone was fully prepared for each game. That the team won the championship was almost secondary to the sheer joy of working with such a dedicated and focused group of teammates, and playing for such an exceptional coach. She always had high standards and quickly let you know if you did not uphold them. She was a tough and relentless taskmaster, but you knew she had your back and you knew she cared. In addition, in spite of her rigid discipline and expectations, she treated each player with respect and with the advice and coaching she needed at any particular point. She was fair to everyone, but her approach with each girl was different, depending on her unique situation, needs and skills. If you were unsure, she helped build confidence. If you got cocky, she quickly brought you down to earth. When things were not going well off the court, she got to the bottom of it, and was always there with willing support. You just knew that if you talked to her, followed her advice, and worked hard, that things would get better. She knew her stuff, you knew that you could trust her and enjoyed being associated with her. She was tough and demanding, but she was also likable and everyone wanted to perform well for her.
Amber still remembers her with love and admiration. She has a good feeling that leadership in her new company will be much better than at her old place, but she knows there will only be one Coach.
Articulating clear organizational goals is crucial to leadership success. However, people don’t come in a standard format. We all share certain basic motivations, but all have our own unique individual motives as well. Of course, a basic leadership function is to set the direction and control the process, but effective leaders must do more. They must also find ways to get people to want to follow them. The best way to do that is to be a good coach.
A good coach understands people
The best coaches are great judges of talent. The unique makeup and motivations of each individual player have a subtle but often huge impact on the overall performance of the team. A key to success here is to understand a person’s self-concept. Once you know how each person perceives him- or herself, you have a great deal of basic information about how to help them be more successful. If you feel the self-concept is flawed (for instance, if the tendency is to consistently overestimate or underestimate their own ability), your task begins with providing supportive but clear reality checks.
The law of consistency dictates that people work very hard to maintain a consistent self-image. Unfortunately, this applies to negative as well as positive self-images. A good coach needs effective skills of feedback and critique. If the self-image is too far removed from reality, this process could take some time.
Once you understand people, their individual basic self-concept and unique blend of motivations, you can begin to help them work effectively towards the achievement of personal goals within the overall framework of organizational mission. Helping your people set realistic personal growth goals is a cornerstone of good leadership. It not only cements the facilitating relationship, but also builds organizational strength. People not in the active process of growth and development don’t add to your bench strength. If your people don’t meet their full potential, you are sure to be at a disadvantage when promotional opportunities come your way. You should always seek a successor: ideally, more than one. One of the best measures of leadership effectiveness is how well you develop others for broader and higher roles within the organization.
A good coach balances the team
The same body of research that gave rise to Belbin’s observations on Apollo teams generated other valuable insights about the composition of effective teams. He found that the best performing teams had a balance of team roles in addition to the necessary functional roles. He identified eight such roles that facilitate success. There are the social roles necessary for communication and outreach that enable teamwork; the creative roles that help generate new ideas; the analytical roles that critique these new ideas and facilitate problem-solving; and the operational roles that keep people focused on the task. It’s possible for one person to play a variety of roles, but the function of each role needs to be there.
The team must be balanced. Too many people with an analytical mindset results in a team that spins its wheels and over-analyses, resulting in lack of progress. Too many people with a social role orientation can distract the team from problem analysis and execution. Too many creative people will result in an idea overload that can cause the team to lose focus. Work teams need people to fill the necessary organizational functional roles such as finance, operations, sales, engineering, and so forth. However, you may have a group of exceptionally talented people with extensive functional knowledge who still fail to function effectively as a team. This is often due to an imbalance of team roles. A good coach will ensure that a team is composed of people with the appropriate skills for each position. This includes team members with the ability to play the more subtle but necessary team roles, as well as the functional requirements.
A good coach helps define and achieve positive goals
Executive coaches often use a framework for behavior change that helps people set realistic goals. Many of these are variations of the GROW model for problem solving. This process can be applied to a wide range of circumstances, and can be an effective tool for leaders to help their team members reach full potential. The basics of this model are as follows:
G – GOAL
This defines the desired endpoint. It describes where the person ultimately wants to be. Therefore, the goal must be very clear so that the individual knows when it has been achieved.
R – REALITY
This is how far away the person is from achieving the goal. It helps clarify the key steps that need to be taken, to help the person achieve the goal, and can also show how far that individual has come.
O – OBSTACLES and OPTIONS
To be successful, a person must anticipate problems that might block the way. There are always problems and difficulties; otherwise, the person would already be at the finish line. Once the key obstacles have been identified, the options and resources available to deal with them are defined. However, we can’t predict everything. We must consider Donald Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns.” That is, some obstacles will be due to random or unknowable events, so alertness and flexibility are crucial to success here.
W – WAY FORWARD
This is the process of development. That is, defining the appropriate action steps identified in the analysis of options and resources that lead the person towards the achievement of the goal.
Goals are essential to personal growth. Executive coaches often incorporate the characteristics of the effective goal into the acronym SMART. This means the best goals are Specific (clearly defined), Measurable (so that you know how you’re progressing), Actionable (they’re under your control), Realistic (you can achieve them with appropriate effort and resources) and Time-limited (you have a deadline).
Setting goals is the easy part. The real work lies in achieving them. There is an insidious force just waiting to trip us up and derail our best intentions. An enemy inside all of us keeps us from achieving our goals. Whether you’re trying to write a book, develop an iPad app, lose 40 pounds, start a new business, or achieve a personal growth objective, you have a built-in adversary that will be fiendishly creative and stubborn in finding ways to keep you from your goal. This enemy, Resistance with a capital R, is described rather frighteningly by novelist and screenwriter Stephen Pressfield, in his quick and feisty little book, Do the Work.
Resistance and its allies – self-doubt, procrastination, timidity, perfectionism, narcissism, our own intelligence and even friends and family – are the powerful forces arrayed against us when we’re trying to achieve any worthwhile goal. By definition, you’re trying to transform something – yourself, a business, a project, the presentation of great thoughts and ideas, or something just as important or personal. This might be a threat to those closest to you, and to your own self-image. The law of consistency can be an ally when we use it for positive influence, but can be an enemy that tries to keep us in our place when we’re trying to do something really different.
A great coach helps a team sustain belief in what they are doing. When you’re working on a project and trying to accomplish your goals, consider this as your creed. It’s your belief in what can be and what will exist beyond the current reality. Closely related allies are passion, the ability to tap into the natural increase in good ideas once you are on your way, and remembering who you love – that is, who you are doing this for.
It helps to remember that Resistance arises as a second force in opposition to the idea. The idea, the passion and the dream come first. Resistance is the inevitable shadow that tries to block out the light from these positive energies. The achievement wants to exist. Resistance wants to snuff it out before it gets started.
Here are some of the steps Pressfield offers to help you succeed, and to help you coach others to do so:
- Begin before you’re fully ready. That is, don’t spend any more time on research beyond the basics you need to get started.
- Stay primitive. Keep things on the primal, earthy, and emotional plane rather than trying to be too rational at this point.
- Swing for the seats. Keep your sights very high, because it gets you a lot further toward your goal, even if you fail at first.
- Start at the end. Visualize where you want to go, and work backwards from there.
And always remember that your internal dialogue, your chatter, your “monkey-mind talk” as the Buddhists call it, is nothing more than Resistance.
Good leadership is good coaching. A good coach understands his/her people, balances the team by making sure the appropriate skills are in place (functional roles and team roles) and helps people set positive goals for growth. And of course a good coach supports people as they find ways to achieve their goals.