One of the three basic roles of leadership is the coach or mentor. The best boss is often the best coach. (See: http://tlc-leadership.com/the_three_faces_of_leadership). In sports the coach is very conscious of his role but in the business world most coaching is unconscious or even accidental.
Just as many a dad learned to coach by jumping in with his son's baseball or hockey team or his daughter's basketball team most manager / coaches learned the art through a baptism of fire. In recent years most sports organizations have begun to require some form of certification for coaches but even though there are several national and international organizations of business coaches, there is still no universal standard, even for professionals. The amateurs, encompassing almost every executive in the world, for the most part don't even realize what they are doing.
I have known executives who were great coaches who looked at me a little oddly when I told them so, but with a little introspection most come to realize that coaching is really what they do.
Coaching is simply the process of helping someone to become more of the best he or she can be.
Most executives can improve their coaching skills with just a little effort and guidance from a professional. I'm often amazed at the performance increase that happens through focus alone, and focus with analysis, and constructive feedback from someone who knows what to look for -- well, have you ever gone to a golf pro, with a wicked slice that turned out to be simple to cure? I did, after years of playing out of the adjacent fairway most of the time!
Like many things in the business coaching is often learned on the job. I have learned a great deal about coaching from reading dozens of books on the subject but I also learned a lot from working for someone who was a great coach and mentor and I still learn every day from the experience of coaching. You will find that, if you jump in with both feet, you will discover the coach within -- and enjoy it!
So simply recognizing that you are a coach and applying a little of what you know from sports will make a big difference in your performance -- and in the performance of your people -- but a little "one on one" with your own coach might be a huge help. Until you get that opportunity, I sincerely hope that some of the tips in this articles will get you started in the right direction.
Coaching A Team
Just as in sports there is a huge difference in the approach to coaching an individual, such as a golfer or tennis player and coaching a group or team as in baseball or hockey, so too is there a difference in the business world. Coaching a true team in business can be a rather complex business, often its even difficult to determine when a group really is a team and when it is not. For the purpose of this discussion I am going to assume we are talking about a true team and trust the pieces to fall into place automatically. (Or perhaps with a little coaching?) (See www.tlc-leadership.com/teams_magic_and_mystery )
For a team to be effective, it should be aware that it is a team (most of the time) and all members should be committed to team objectives. Just as a ball player can receive major attention as a base stealer, an individual may stand out on a manufacturing team, but efforts must be seen to contribute to team goals and every one should recognize that every team member is necessary. (Whenever we can get along without someone, we should!)
At the risk of pointing out the obvious (experience suggests that the obvious often isn't) every team member should be aware of the team's goals, objectives, and deadlines as well as of his or her role and what the team expects from him or her, and what support resources are available. I am surprised at how often I find that shop floor people and even supervisors have no idea of the goals of their team, department or branch and no idea of how performance is being measured.
The coach must always recognize the contribution of the superstar but smaller contributions should also receive recognition and praise and the coach should encourage the superstar to acknowledge the efforts of those who support him as well. It isn't necessary to rave about great performance, it can be quiet and subtle but in many cases it should be public while keeping in mind the need to avoid embarrassing anyone. A good standard is to always criticize in private and often praise in public.
Leadership From The Top Floor To The Shop Floor
Another thing I often find is that managers are totally unaware of the extent to which they are emulated by their subordinates. I heard a story about a clerk in a retail store who was called up in front of the store manager after being rude to a customer. When asked for an explanation he shrugged and said, "Well ... that's how my bosses speak to me..." When people are treated with dignity and respect, they tend to treat others the same way, and when they are treated as though they are too stupid to understand basic concepts they do the same with others -- and often take the attitude home.
I have seen concrete examples of companies where I could spend an hour on the shop floor and form a very good idea of what the CEO was like and how he dealt with his senior people.
COACHING A TASK FORCE
A Task Force is a Team That Recommends Things. It differs from other teams in several ways. First, and perhaps most importantly, a Task Force usually does not have the power or final say so in implementing action. Rather the team examines all possibilities, evaluates the pro's and cons from an unbiased perspective, and presents a report to a decision maker or decision making group with recommendations for action or no action.
A Task Force can be set up to look at one issue only or as an ongoing project to focus on specific objectives. For example a Task Force could be set up to determine the future of a specific branch operation in which it might recommend, closure of the branch, sale of the branch, re-equiping the branch, changing the focus of the branch or even of maintaining the status quo. Once it's recommendations have been made -- perhaps to the board of directors -- the Task Force is disbanded.
In another case a Task Force Could be set up to examine Health and Safety issues in a manufacturing facility in which case pertinent issues and concerns would be examined and evaluated, recommendations could be made on an on going basis for several months to establish broad guidelines and set up a policy and procedure manual and the Task Force could remain in existence on an ad hoc basis for several additional months and then be replaced by a Health and Safety Committee (a different kind of team) to oversee developments.
I worked with a Cost Improvement Process Team (CIP) which was a Task Force Made up of a dozen non management people with a mandate to examine all areas of the company's operation with an aim to cutting costs and improving operational effectiveness. As is typical of this type of team, none of the members had ever worked before in a team environment where individual effort was largely unrecognized and success or failure was measured on results of the group as a whole. The need for cooperation, individual input, volunteering for assignments, sharing of credit and backing up both other members and the group as a whole, was paramount to success. The team met for 90 minutes each week and after six months of coaching had achieved a level of togetherness to make me proud and were well able to carry on on their own. The changes recommended in policy, procedures and methods that were accepted and implemented measured savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Almost any sort of team environment is at odds with the way most of us have been conditioned to think and to work. Normally we are only too well aware that our potential for promotion and even our job security is dependent solely on our own efforts and ability. The idea of subordinating our efforts and ability to the overall needs of a group or a team is quite foreign -- even intimidating -- and it is only with a great deal of understanding and assurance that this can be effectively brought about.
Perhaps the highest level of task force is a senior management team brought together for long term strategic planning. In this case the "Management Team" is sometimes supplemented with representatives from key customers, suppliers, accountants and legal advisors. Often, people at this level are even more reluctant than others to forget about personal and departmental objectives in favor of the best interests of the organization as a whole but if recommendations to a board of directors are to have any value at all, this must be the case. When the Task Force is introduced to the process and walked through the procedure by a coach, objectivity becomes much more readily attainable.
Introspection - Getting Started
One of the greatest obstacles to progress can often be our awareness of past failures. If we tried something a couple of years ago and fell flat on our faces (and especially if we were ridiculed or derided as a result) we tend to be reluctant to rock the boat again. When we believe that history will repeat itself, we become paralyzed by fear.
Mentoring managers through a process that I sometimes refer to as "directed introspection" in order to expose attitudes and prejudices can often produce startling results. Knowing where we are starting from does not in and of itself guarantee that we will arrive at our desired destination (on time and within budget) but not knowing weights the odds heavily against us. I believe that if we want to go somewhere we must first know who we are and where we are. When we know the starting point, personally and professionally, in regard to ourselves, our people and our company we are more likely to have a clear picture of where we want to go, how to get there and what must change.
I believe that as many people as possible in an organization should be involved in the process of creating statements of Vision, Mission, Purpose, Values, and Goals. When people have had a hand in the creation, buy in to do what ever is necessary to get results is almost automatic. When these guiding principles are understood by everyone from the "Ivory Tower" all the way to the Shop Floor everyone knows where we are going, why we are going there and what we have to do to get there. They also know the down side of not going there and of not participating in the process. Is not the search for heaven made more intense by the awareness of hell? In addition, when everyone understands his or her WIIFM, (What's In It For Me) getting results is like picking low hanging fruit.
Vision must be followed by a plan
Strategic planning can be an arduous (but exhilarating) process. Often a three day retreat with an outside facilitator is the only way to get the concentrated focus, the brainstorming, necessary to initiate the process. We must examine all aspects or the organization, physical and human resources, management skills and needs, culture, attitudes, market place, industry, supplier relations, customer relations, government regulations, labour agreements, etc., etc. We have to remember that Rome was not built in a day. If we are looking for instant gratification we will surely be disappointed.
When we have suspended our doubts and fears, set aside our memories of past failure, forgotten our prejudices, examined our strengths and planned to enhance them, seen in our minds eye the potential within ourselves and our organization, created a vision in which we believe, we will become advocates for our organization and evangelists for the realization of that vision.
Once we are over the initial hurdle we will be driven by the power of our vision for the future.
A clearly articulated vision coupled to a specific plan of action for its attainment (including target dates for each step), and a firm commitment to that action, is an unstoppable combination. YES, it will require perseverance, dedication and hard work; and YES, it will be extremely satisfying!
Effecting organizational and personal change is never a cake walk but learning the basics of how to set goals and create plans with specific, time sensitive action steps for their achievement can be learned in only a few hours. When coupled to powerful statements of Vision, Mission, Purpose, and Values, and a well-organized coaching, mentoring and measurement process, the pain is minimal while the results are huge!
Len McNally is President and founder (in 1996) of The Leadership Centre, dedicated to leadership development, management team building and change management through executive and corporate coaching - from the top floor to the shop floor. With more than thirty years experience in sales, marketing and business development Len has for many years been an avid student of psychology, behavior and motivation. He still reads three to four books a month and has writen several book reviews for Amazon.com. He can be reached at (519) 759-1127 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Other articles may be seen at: http://www.tlc-leadership.com