Most managers I train as coaches are clear (or have been convinced by their bosses) that they need to take on the role of coach as part of their people management responsibilities. Most are less clear about exactly what this means or how to go about it. There are obvious difficulties in defining coaching with any precision and of incorporating coaching into a general management role.
A useful starting point is to consider coaching as one type of communication and see how it fits with typical management communication that most of us will recognize.
Here we’ll consider six communication styles that differ in terms of the level of control exercised by manager and team member respectively.
When we tell people what to do and how to do it, we assume total control. This is highly attractive when time is tight or the consequence of error high.
Here we loosen our control just slightly and involve team members to the extent that we realism that they must be convinced of the merits of an idea before they’ll feel inclined to act upon it with any enthusiasm.
A further loosening of our control and a greater involvement for team members because we literally test out an idea or decision and accept the risk that the team will not agree.
I think of this as a meeting halfway, 50/50 kind of style. The team’s input is sought and their ideas considered but it is still the manager that makes a final decision and thus retains a high level of control.
This is an egalitarian communication style aimed at decision making by consensus. Control has switched. More is with the team members but not all of it.
The manager sets the parameters of the task, success measures, reporting guidelines, etc. but control over how to accomplish the task is given to the team member(s). The risks are high but the rewards and long term gains substantial.
A common mistake in considering management communication in this way is to think that one style is necessarily correct. Each has its advantages and disadvantages and the most effective managers adapt their style to reflect the needs of the situation and of the person with whom they are communicating. For example if, as you are reading this, a fire alarm sounded it would clearly be absurd to arrange a meeting to discuss options for evacuating the building. What would be needed is for someone to take the lead and to ensure that people were moved to safety quickly and in accordance with the laid down procedures. Similarly, a new person on the team will need a period of close monitoring and some instruction before they have built up the knowledge and experience required for delegated tasks.
In a future post I’ll expand on the relative advantages and disadvantages of each style and examine where coaching fits.