Want a great team? Become a great coach (Executive Series)

Coaching an essential habit for good managers, says expert

Editor's note: Once a month, the Strategic Capability Network (SCNetwork) hosts a special seminar on a topic of interest to HR professionals and business leaders. Canadian HR Reporter covers these events for a special feature titled "Executive Series." The feature includes news coverage from one of our editors, plus commentary from SCNetwork's panel of thought leaders on strategic capability, leadership in action and organization effectiveness.

This web post contains all of these elements: 

Want a great team? Become a great coach
Coaching an essential habit for good managers, says expert

By Liz Bernier

You could have the most talented team imaginable and it still might not be enough. To unlock a team’s full potential, managers need to learn more than just management skills — they need to learn how to coach. 

Coaching is something we engage in in many different roles — as a manager, teammate and in our personal lives — sometimes without even realizing it, said Michael Bungay Stanier at a Strategic Capability Network event in Toronto. 

But many managers don’t develop their coaching skills, instead falling into other management styles like “the director” — ordering employees around and giving advice, but not stopping to engage them, hear their ideas and help them learn, said Bungay Stanier, a senior partner at Box of Crayons in Toronto.

There are three core principles to becoming a great coach, he said, and the first is perhaps the most difficult to get your head around. 

“Be lazy — I want you to stop working so hard. As a manager and as a leader, you’re overworking and the price you pay for that is the price your team and your organization pays for that as well,” he said. “Being lazy doesn’t mean sitting back and not working — it simply means sitting back and listening to your team members instead of constantly taking charge.” 

The second principle is to focus on curiosity and ask questions. 

“Always be curious; stop giving so much advice,” he said. 

The third and final principle? Coach often. 

“It’s actually a day-to-day intervention,” he said, adding that true coaching is not limited to a preplanned, stilted, yearly performance appraisal.  

“You have to be able to coach in 10 minutes or less, otherwise it’ll never work as a day-to-day intervention,” he said. “Every interaction you have with people… can be a little more coach-like in its approach.”

There are a lot of different perspectives, said Bungay Stanier, but really coaching is about insight — into yourself and the situation. 

“It drives positive behaviour change — in other words, you do something as a result of that insight,” he said.

“So, hopefully, it feeds into a positive cycle that creates new insights about yourself and about the situation. This is simple but difficult to drive this whole cycle — insight to action to impact.”

Another crucial thing to understand about coaching? 

“(It’s) unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their performance — helping them to learn instead of teaching them.”

The coaching habit
Great managers and leaders make coaching a habit — an everyday activity that becomes ingrained.

To do this, leaders must understand how habits are formed, which is rooted in neuroscience, said Bungay Stanier.  

“Forty-five per cent of your waking behaviour is habitual — at least 45 per cent, according to a study from Duke University. The habitual behaviour, this is stuff you don’t really think about — you just kind of do. It’s unconscious, it’s reactive, your conscious mind isn’t engaged. For half your waking life, someone else is in control of you. It’s a bit unnerving when you think about it,” he said. 

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there about habits, but here’s the reality, said Bungay Stanier. 

“The more you do something, the stronger it can get ingrained as a habit... A drop of water becomes a trickle becomes a stream becomes a river becomes the Grand Canyon. We have grooves in our brains, like the Grand Canyon, that are from doing the same things over and over again,” he said. 

To build new habits, we have to figure out new ways of behaving, and then repeat that behaviour.

“Everyone’s heard the whole ‘If you do it for 21 days, it becomes a new habit.’ Lies. There is some research that says… typically, it’s closer to 66 days.”

Also, a habit is not just a behaviour — a habit actually has three parts to it, he said. 

“The first part is the trigger — it’s the thing that sets you off. It’s the context in which that old behaviour gets activated. And if you don’t know what the trigger is, you don’t know what the context is, you have no hope of changing your behaviour,” said Bungay Stanier. 

“The other parts are this: There’s the trigger, there’s the behaviour and there’s the reward. And the reward is that thing that makes your brain go, ‘We should do that again next time. That’s worth it.’”

The key insight to defining a new habit is making it very small and very achievable.

“Define it in a way that takes 60 seconds or less to complete… Otherwise, your brain, plus the momentum of the status quo, means that you will almost always come up with a way not to do it.”

Applications for managers
So, how can managers realistically apply the coaching habit to interactions with their teams? It’s about shifting your habits from giving advice to asking more questions, said Bungay Stanier. 

“You’re trying to rise above your own self-determination and limited willpower… to change the way you react to the situation,” he said. 

“This is not to say ‘Abandon everything you ever learned about management and leadership, and don’t give anybody advice ever again...’ There’s no problem here with people not giving enough advice.”

For leadership to get results, you need to use the right leadership style for the situation. 

There are about six styles, he said. 

“And great leaders know how to use the right leadership style at the right moment,” said Bungay Stanier. 

“Coaching is one of those leadership styles that is the least utilized, even though it has the greatest drive towards employee engagement, and is second or third in terms of influence on bottom-line results.” 

You also need to relearn relationship dynamics around managing conflict. 

“Chemically, when a dysfunctional relationship starts to play out, three different roles start to play out: victim, persecutor and rescuer,” he said.  

There are different versions or incarnations of all of these roles, and people see advantages to each. However, there are also costs and disadvantages to each role. 

To avoid falling into those roles, it’s important to be aware and to know what triggers you, said Bungay Stanier. 

“You’ve got to know your triggers before you can change your behaviour. So if you want to change your behaviour out of the drama triangle, then knowing your trigger is really powerful… knowing what triggers you into the drama triangle means you can stay out of the drama triangle, so you can be the coach-like manager or leader you want to be.” 

Pull the triggers

By Morgan Smyth

A growing number of employers are placing significant emphasis on coaching employees instead of simply managing them. These organizations realize the value employees can contribute if they are nurtured and developed properly. And  employees are welcoming this new trend.

Millennials now make up about one-third of Canada’s private sector workforce, according to Statistics Canada.

And 89 per cent of millennials said “it’s important to be constantly learning at my job,” according to MTV’s “No Collar Workers” study in 2012, while 75 per cent want a mentor.

No one likes to be managed anymore but we sure do like to be coached. Even senior executives hire personal coaches.

Switching to a more coaching-oriented style of management is certainly a solid step in the right direction. This is particularly true for employees in knowledge-based and service-based organizations where processes are less defined, employees have more discretionary latitude and performance measurements are often subjective.

The benefits of coaching are readily apparent, but how does an organization convert from a command-and-control model to this more mentor-based system?

The main challenge rests with the managers themselves. They must change the way they conduct themselves; they must change their managerial habits.

Managers often say, “People are our most important asset,” yet few managers actually focus on improving these assets. Employees are lucky if they have a semi-annual performance review. Some even miss their annual appraisals if they don’t remind their bosses. 

And when they do have them, it’s usually little more than just a formality. Most managers approach these reviews as “Oh yes, it’s Cassidy’s review date tomorrow. Now, let me think, how has she done this past year?”

Not only are these reviews ineffective, they can be de-motivators. Managers tend to focus more on the flubs than the feats — so, change in this aspect of management would be a welcome shift. 

To do this effectively, managers must devote a considerable portion of their time to it. Now many will say, “But I’m already too busy just managing this bunch — how am I going to find time to coach them as well?”

The answer is: delegate, delegate, delegate. Whenever a new task lands on a manager’s desk, the first question to pop into her mind should be “Who else here can do this?” 

The same is true for existing tasks. Don’t own any tasks that someone else can do and don’t inherit any. If an employee presents a problem to his manager, this manager must deflect it right back to the employee.

There was a great article in 1999 in the Harvard Business Review titled “Time Management: Who’s Got The Monkey?” that explains how.

How do managers fall into this habit? Well, many think, “Nobody can do this job as well as I can” and end up taking on the task themselves. Of course they are wrong. Think of a small business. Where do you usually find the owner? Typically in the back room, head down, producing products. And what are all the other workers doing? 

It conjures up the image of a construction site where the worker wearing the white hard-hat is in the pit dutifully shovelling away while those wearing yellow hard-hats are standing nearby, leaning on their shovels, watching.

Harold Geneen’s famous quote “Management must manage!” can be updated to “Management must coach!” Once the manager delegates all possible responsibilities and learns to avoid taking on those of others, she will certainly have time to do exactly that.
To change these old habits, Michael Bungay Stanier, author of Do More Great Work, and Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, agree the manager must first identify what is triggering these habits in the first place. What is it that causes a manager to either take on someone else’s responsibilities or tell that person how to do it? Instead, why doesn’t she simply ask, “What are you going to do about it?” or “How would you go about it?” 

Once she determines what is triggering these “change of ownership” and these “telling, not asking” behaviours, her next step is to find ways to stop them: “What causes me to immediately tell him my solution before I have even asked him what he thinks should be done?”

Engrained habits cannot be replaced overnight. They take time. The best way to achieve change is to break the process down into manageable bites. B.J. Fogg of TinyHabits.com says the secret is to define a first step that takes less than 60 seconds to do. Change this one small aspect of the whole triggering sequence and repeat it until it becomes a habit. Once it does, start changing the next trigger point. Repeat the process as often as necessary until the entirely new behavioural pattern is habitual.

Take our example of the “telling versus asking” habit. Here, the person could set a target of asking the members of her team five questions about their work each day. The next week, increase it to six questions. 

Ask each member about his approach to a task. What results does he expect to achieve? What resources will he require? Once the task is completed, what did he learn from the experience? Is there anything he would do differently next time? And... what else? Get into the habit of asking questions. Pretty soon, the habit of asking replaces the habit of telling.

Being mindful of what we say or ask and, more importantly, what we don’t say or ask, has a significant impact on our behaviours and our habits. By watching our own conduct, we can change from being the old dictatorial-style manager to become an inspiring coach. If we do, our load will lighten, our sense of accomplishment will increase and our team members will be more productive and emboldened to do their best.

Morgan Smyth is an SCNetwork thought leader and a change management consultant who launched his own IT services company which soared to Profit Magazine’s 50 Fastest Growing Companies. He is based in Toronto and can be reached at [email protected].

When is coaching a strategic capability?

By Karen Gorsline

Coaching is often seen as: a course you go on as a supervisor, with a tool kit provided; training or teaching content; or a place where you tell others or are told yourself what is expected. 

None of these create strategic capability. They focus on telling, information transfer. They are operational supports that are important in their own right: job-related training, access to information to do the job and setting performance goals or expectations. 

When viewed differently, coaching can legitimately be a strategic capability. It can be reframed to have a broader, strategic context in these three areas:

Self-awareness, awareness of others and environment: When coaching also stimulates “ah ha’s” and illuminates habits and behaviours, it promotes insightful thinking and understanding that can influence the norms and behaviours that form corporate culture. Asking key questions supports discovery, acceptance and a basis for behavioural change. Most of us perform a large proportion of tasks by rote or habit to get through the day. But an ability to look at a habit as the occasion warrants, to re-evaluate it and identify a path to change the habit as needed, is a fundamental strategic capability for development. 

Managers and leaders re-define their role: When it comes to the difference between leadership and management, few would dispute managers tell and leaders ask for and elicit support. Both are required abilities. Looking at coaching as behaviour rather than a prescribed set of steps provides the opportunity for broader overall impact on the leadership and development of staff. Leaders are able to develop a better understanding of their operating modes, skills and habits and begin to build a bigger, more effective tool kit for themselves.

Accountability and engagement: Staff can be challenged to think for themselves: What do you want? What is working? What do you know? What would ‘perfect’ look like? What are the challenges to get there? What ideas do you have? What course of action will have the most impact? By challenging staff to control their own fate, they are drawn into analysis, understanding and defining problems and solutions. Respect for their perspectives is demonstrated. 

Staff can also be challenged by thoughtful questions about issues in the context of their role and behaviour: What are you saying yes or no to? What support do you need? What patterns did you notice? What should be done differently next time? Coaching that goes beyond the bare bones of basic performance expectations invites staff to contribute to and be accountable for their performance in meaningful ways. It stimulates engagement by the people most directly involved and knowledgeable about the work at hand. 

Corporate culture can be made more robust by both “telling” or setting expectations and promoting information sharing and “asking” by involving individuals across the organization. By seeking a better understanding of behaviours in the context of the team or organization, identifying  issues and opportunities, and determining and taking accountability for goals, individuals, regardless of their role, can move from victim to creator, from rescuer to coach, and from persecutor to challenger.  

Karen Gorsline is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on strategic capability and leads HR Initiatives, a consulting practice focused on facilitation and tailored HR initiatives. Toronto-based, she has taught HR planning, held senior roles in strategy and policy, managed a large decentralized HR function and directed a small business. She can be reached at [email protected].

The first step towards mindful conversations

By Trish Maguire

In an effort to get the edge on competition and keep up with demand in a rapidly changing information economy, leaders continue to strive for new and innovative management styles. Enter the world of coaching. 

Over recent years, coaching has become a formalized and legitimized profession. Today, it has become a popular and compelling practice for enhancing an organization’s leadership team. Fundamentally, coaching helps develop better leaders. 

So what is it that has enabled coaching to move into the mainstream and displace more traditional management or leadership communication models? Essentially, it’s because the core principles are based on improving how people interconnect with each other and foster a practice of inquiry versus compliance.

Adopting a coaching approach enables leaders to master the basics of personal and team performance coaching techniques, including relationship-building and effective motivation and communication styles. 

However, there is a greater opportunity here for any organization that goes beyond the top talent cohort and leaders. Mastering the art of coaching can absolutely help people focus on the future, raise self-awareness of habits and old beliefs or behaviour patterns and determine what changes to make to enjoy more effective, successful and fulfilling careers and roles. 

Coaching enables people to gain a greater sense of confidence and competency. It also enables them to be better listeners, positive problem-solvers, non-judgmental, to stop laying blame and avoid jumping to conclusions too hastily.

Coaching is not just about asking questions; it’s the active listening and ensuing questions that inspire action or problem-solving. 

Speeding up the coaching process by using a prescriptive template has its advantages, though it also increases the risk of perpetuating the view coaching is remedial. Using a quick fix process does not accomplish meaningful and sustainable changes or results. 

If an organization is committed to making the difference between being a good one and a visionary one, it needs to move beyond a coaching approach and promote mindful, robust conversations. How many times do we find ourselves misinterpreting someone’s message, being misunderstood and unaware we have caused misunderstandings?

When people learn to communicate meaningfully with each other, their lives and relationships can be truly transformed. Building relationships is inevitably about gaining mutual understanding. 

Imagine fostering a culture where people learn how to communicate in a way that meets both parties’ needs, encourages them to express their needs and expectations respectfully, without blame, and be listened to in a way that enables them to feel they have been heard as well as understood. People like to be talked with, not at. 

Our ability to affect change is proportional to how responsive we are to everyone around us; to making every conversation the most important one we will ever have with another person. It’s not what we say, it’s about how we say it; it has to start with ourselves and it has to start with the leader.

Conversations need to be rich and mindful. They are about exploring and challenging the status quo, acknowledging and appreciating others’ skills, talents and wisdom, being authentic and achieving outstanding results. A mindful conversation means you notice what is happening as it happens. 

Being mindful creates possibility thinking and that vital pause that allows you to respond attentively and not reactively. 

Start observing and reflecting on the importance of every conversation you engage in today and, at the end of the day, answer the following questions: How did my conversations inspire people to wholehearted action? What conversations did I avoid? What conversations did I miss? Where did I misunderstand or misinterpret the conversation? What do I need to do differently to become more mindful with my conversations?

Trish Maguire is a commentator for SCNetwork on leadership in action and founding principal of Synergyx Solutions in Nobleton, Ont., focused on high-potential leadership development coaching. She has held senior leadership roles in HR and OD in education, manufacturing and entrepreneurial firms. She can be reached at [email protected].

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