By Daniel Robin
Whether you're a group manager or executive, member of a
dedicated work team, or an entrepreneur out on your own, you've probably noticed an
increased reliance on collaboration and co-operation to get things done. The days of the
lone wolf or the aggressive, cut-throat bully are over. We've finally realizing that
treating people as mere factors of production isn't very productive.
Yet, despite the importance of having whole human beings
showing up for work, most organizations still talk of empowerment but struggle to
achieve it. Step one: commit to building a culture where people at every level are given
the tools and training, the skills and strategies, the authority and responsibility needed
to share power, build trust, and get recognized. Once the commitment has been made, don't
say much about it, just make it happen collaboratively and highlight the results as
evidence of the commitment.
Letting Go of Control
Leaders of hierarchical organizations have resisted
"handing over the keys to the car" because they're not sure if we can drive. The
task is to let go of control in favor of new structures and agreements. Be
gone layered hierarchies built on information, bureaucracy, and power over others; welcome
instead structures that help transfer knowledge and pertinent performance data to those
who need it. Letting go is perhaps the hardest change there is, one that often elicits
fear, anger, and ambiguity. That may explain some of the chaos and uncertainty of late.
The problem with upper management's ambiguity is that it
can look and smell like a trick, like yet another power trip -- and people can mistake it
for insincerity and claim to "smell a rat." Fear and incongruence ain't pretty.
If people pick up a message of false empowerment ("You are now empowered. Trust me on
this. Now get back to work."), when the laughter subsides, cynicism remains to fill
the gap left by the empty promise.
Building a Trust Culture
Even when employees are given all the power and
responsibility they can handle, management's motive is suspect: the "gift" seems
conditioned on improved performance (guess what: it is!). This equal treatment must be
acknowledged as a right, not a privilege, not something with strings attached, as
if the cars keys can be yanked back for the slightest infraction.
At the core of this changing employment contract is an
unspoken promise: "You handed us the new gameplan, now coach us to play the
game." This means that new skills and structures must displace the old autocracy. The
role of management is changing from managing others to providing an environment where
people can self-manage.
To make the shift as smooth as possible, people in
team-based organizations are learning how to provide such an environment with coaching.
The Art and Practice of Coaching
Similar to a sports coach who aims to bring out an
athlete's best performance, coaching in a workplace setting helps guide people to their
own answers, making "empowerment" a reality.
We're often asked what constitutes coaching versus other
styles or approaches. From the viewpoint of the person doing the coaching, there are eight
essential elements that, taken together, differentiate coaching from other methods, like
teaching, consulting, or counseling. The elements are shown in the wheel below:
1. Be present: Before coaching someone, pay careful
attention to the signals that indicate rapport. The more you can be present, the better
you will be as a coach. It would be a mistake to push through resistance or to coach when
you are distracted. Instead, being present means being on their agenda, available to what
they're up to, able to let them know you understand their situation, challenges,
resistance, fears, etc. Like rapport, this element is foundational to all others.
2. Clear Goals: Assuming that you and the client are
clear on what's wanted would be a mistake. Set clear immediate goals and long-term
direction with "What do you want?" and "How will you know when you've got
3. Ask vs. Tell: Giving unsolicited advice is not
only disempowering, it's unnecessary. Resist the temptation to "give them a
fish;" instead, teach them how to fish for their own answers. If you feel
compelled to offer advice, it can be packaged in a way that puts the person fully at
choice and in charge. For example, try "I have an idea that you might find useful;
mind if I check it out with you?"
4. Agreements: Unclear or incomplete agreements
produce misery and suffering. "Oh, you thought I meant this Thursday!?"
This also includes effective agreements for how they want to be coached. Clear agreements
can contribute to setting an atmosphere of mutual respect and shared power. Effective
coaching turns up the volume on accountability to agreements, replacing the need for
"command and control."
5. Recognition: Being present provides some
recognition, while verbal acknowledgement builds the client's enthusiasm and positively
reinforces what's working. Warning: Do not fake praise. The skill is in finding out what
it is about this person and their performance that's praise-worthy; be sincere and
generously encourage what's wanted.
6. Feedback: Let their mistakes be their best
teacher. Live by "no failure; only feedback" and only give constructive
suggestions for improvement. Learn to gently confront areas that need attention. Separate
the person from the issue. Provide both observation and interpretation so you can openly
discuss differing perceptions.
7. Structure: Instead of allowing fire-drills and
chaos to rule the day, design reasonable action steps to reach achievable goals.
Structures are for supporting, not burdening, the client. They assist the client to
remember their commitments, to systematically assess and adjust priorities, to increase
their capacity to focus, and to track progress for on-going learning and process
8. Intuiting: The opposite of structure. Note that
intuition is different from opinion or interpretation. Intuition usually comes from a
"gut feel" or other body signals. An effective coach knows when to throw away
the plan, be pragmatic, and how to politely invade or challenge the client's assumptions
to prevent catastrophe.
Most high-functioning people already possess skill at
coaching -- they just need to understand how and when to use those skills to build trust
with the client. Managers and team members gradually add new coaching skills and
distinctions to their interpersonal repertoire.
The ultimate goal is to condition the client to use their
own resources when you're not around. And if you think being coached feels good, check out
Advantages of Coaching
For the Coach
× Better employee performance
× You don't have to have all the answers
× Shared responsibility, which frees you up
to innovate, focus on building relationships
× Unleashed creativity
× Agreements upheld more often
For the Client
× Better results with less effort and less
× Employee feels more intrinsically
motivated and in charge
× Increased commitment to doing their best
× Increased self-esteem and confidence
× More creativity and support for innovative