In 2009, Google embarked on a multiyear research initiative called Project Oxygen. The goal was to eliminate company hierarchy by proving that managers don’t matter. The research team analyzed data from Google employee exit surveys, job satisfaction reports, individual and team performance results, retention and turnover statistics, and numerous training programs. Three years later, the results indicated that managers actually do matter, and the number one trait of a good manager is being a good coach.
These results prompted a chain of Harvard Business Review articles including, “You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach.” I couldn’t agree more. Great leaders know how to coach and develop their people to help them reach their full potential.
But what does it take to be a good coach? Great question. I’ve found that it boils down to your mindset and your method.
The Mindset of a Good Coach
First, I’ve learned that the essence of coaching is teaching, and the mindset of a good teacher is one that focuses on encouraging people in a way that inspires courage and confidence. In my experience, this mindset is reflected in seven attributes that form the acrostic “TEACHER”:
The Method of a Good Coach
Second, the coaching method I’ve found most effective is what I call the five-step Coaching Conversation Cycle:
The cycle starts with asking questions in a genuinely curious and compassionate way, and then listening intently to responses. “May I play back to you what I think I’ve heard you say so I can be sure I fully understand?” can be a good way to transition to paraphrasing the conversation, so you can identify key themes. Finally, once you’re aligned in your understanding of the key issues, you can collaboratively problem-solve together with the ultimate goal of helping guide them to their own solution. Collaborative problem-solving will likely generate more questions, which continues the cycle.
The Coaching Conversation Cycle is most effective when it’s used in the context of recurring one-on-one sessions. To get the most out of these sessions, block regular time in your schedules. Develop discussion points. Plan to be structured but flexible. Begin the discussion on a positive note by sharing a “win” or by complimenting recent work. Use the Coaching Conversation Cycle to surface and synthesize issues that you can solve together. Wrap up the discussion by asking about professional development and career goals. This shows that you care about their personal and professional growth, and helps keep them inspired and on track. Finally, close the session on a positive note just like you began. Express gratitude for their work. Words of affirmation are powerful, and a simple “thank you” goes a long way.
At the end of the day, being an effective coach for your people centers on trust. And I’ve learned that trust in a coaching relationship stems from a combination of being compassionate, candid, and confidential. If your people believe that you really care about their challenges and growth as a person (compassionate), that you are honest and transparent in your conversations with them (candid), and that what you discuss stays between you and them (confidential) – then you’ve found the key to unlocking the full potential of your people, and thereby the full potential of your team.
To dive deeper on the subject of how to effectively coach and develop your team, check out chapter 6 in my book, The Substance of Leadership: A Practical Framework for Effectively Leading a High-Performing Team, available on Amazon. In the meantime, if you want to know how well you’re performing as a leader, take the Performance Pressure Test to find out.