How to Excel as a Coaching Manager: Unlocking Your Employees' Potential
Updated: Apr 2
No, this isn't the post that tells you what to say to your employees as a mentor. This is not it. No one can tell you how to be one. You need to learn how the whole thing is done and then adapt it to your organisation and employees' unique case. That being said, let's look at an example.
Before becoming an MP, a politician probably has to go through rigorous rounds of politicking, possess certain qualities, and do certain things. No politician wakes up and assumes the role because they feel like it, and it can only be achieved by following due process. Success at actually being an MP depends on actions taken while occupying the position, and the same is correct for being a mentor. A manager does not automatically become one because they answer the name, and a manager must possess certain qualities and do certain things to become one.
Among other things, a manager should:
1. Be enthusiastic about the role - Forcing yourself into the role isn't just going to hurt your team members; it's also going to hurt you and your company as well. You shouldn't just become a guide to someone because it's the bossy thing to do or because this article says you should do so.
To be great at this stuff, a manager must like it, almost up to the point of being too enthusiastic about it. You need to have a sincere desire to help your employees. You need to be passionate about helping others. You need to be passionate about developing and improving your direct reports. You need to love seeing them grow.
Unfortunately, not every manager has that inbuilt passion or zeal to help their employees improve. Not everyone is very enthusiastic about spending their time at the office trying to better another man's career. Not everyone thinks mentoring is fun. However, you have to fix this. As it stands, you need to like it to be good at it, but what if you don't enjoy doing it? How do you want something you don't like? Exposure and looking at the bright side!
Just like a mother ends up loving an adopted child after being exposed to the child for a long time, you can also find some love for coaching through exposure. You can start by exposing yourself to it - that's engaging someone. Start easy, bit by bit, one thing at a time, maybe with someone who's probably going to be easy to work with. Unless you're selfish, you should have that one thing you know so much and take pride in teaching others. Start with that. Get that exposure you need, and you'll gradually grow into your new role.
Another way to help you feel enthusiastic about it is by looking at the bright side. Indeed, it has a lot to offer to you and your team members. Identify this good stuff and focus on it. Maybe guiding those junior employees could make them good enough to replace you and finally free you up for that well-deserved promotion. Or perhaps it could help drive overall productivity and help you get that performance bonus. Identify the benefits that you stand to gain from it, and it could help you like it.
However, while being enthusiastic about it is essential, remember that it isn't really about you. It's bigger than just you or your employees alone. So don't focus on 'you.'
2. Creating opportunities for mentoring - you'll probably be quite busy as a manager, and so will your employees. This means finding time to sit down for coaching conversations might be a little tricky. It could even be more difficult for the employee who probably has a bucketful of work to deliver.
As a manager, you should always actively seek opportunities to engage your employees. You don't have to plan an entire spreadsheet of schedules. A simple 'How things are going' could be built upon with questions like: 'What's your greatest challenge at the moment?' or 'What's working well for you currently?' Conversations are the backbone of guiding employees, and simple open-ended questions can put a session in motion.
You don't have to be an expert at it, neither do you have to launch a full-blown session right away. You can start small and comfortable, then gradually explore your employee's development needs.
3. Be trusting and open - effective coaching depends on the level of trust and openness between you as the manager and your employees. It would help if you aimed for as much confidence and transparency as possible. However, you realise your employees may not speak openly and candidly to their manager as they might talk to a role model outside the unit or organisation.
There are many things employees will not feel comfortable discussing with their boss, and a good example is discussing weaknesses and challenges. Whether you're their coach, employees will probably not feel comfortable discussing the abilities or skills they lack.
Indeed, some of them have a good reason to be on guard against complete disclosures. It takes a lot of maturities and a sense of purpose to keep supporting an employee after disclosing a weakness that might impact the organization's operations. As a visionary coach, you must learn to improve an employee's long-term benefits over the immediate impact of skill discrepancy. You must also be willing to support an employee's career advancement genuinely. Even if it means you might lose a key performer by doing so.
To build trust and openness between managers and employees during collaborative sessions, managers must convince employees to be open and frank with them. For your employees to genuinely trust that you'll not use their words against them, you'll need to build a history of not doing so. While employees disclose minor issues to you, you need to encourage them and reassure them that those subjects will not be used against them.
As you create a history of integrity with smaller issues and other employees, more of them will be motivated to share deep-lying problems. And speak more freely about what's in their minds. To foster even greater trust and openness, you need to explain to them how and why being open about issues can help their career and the organization at large.
Strongly resist the urge to be judgmental. It's very natural to be when someone tells you stuff about themselves that you think shouldn't be so. However, you must be professional and aim to avoid breaking the pattern of openness between you and your team members.
4. Be constructive and give feedback - mentoring isn't just a one to three times event where you explain to your mentees what they need to do to succeed. Instead, it is a continuous engagement process. You tell your mentees what they need to do, observe as they do it, give them feedback, offer valuable inputs, rinse, and repeat.
This is the only way to build your mentee's abilities gradually, strength, and confidence. Several scientific research pieces have proven that feedback is a helpful tool to get what you want from people. Your mentees need to know how they're faring and often need to hear they're on a path of sustained improvement. They need positive reinforcement alongside corrective guidance.
Researchers say the magic ratio of positivity and negativity within which people can thrive is 3:1. That's right; science says you need three times as much positivity in your life as negativity. To help your mentees thrive, you'll need to give them streams of positive reinforcement. It is like fuel that pushes people to keep improving on something they're working hard to improve on.
If you are coaching an employee on leadership, telling them from time to time that they handled a particular situation as a leader can help boost their confidence. And push them to improve even further. Avoid needless criticism - that's a confidence killer. All criticism must be constructive and offered in a way that first highlights what an employee did well before going over to where they might need to improve.
If you were guiding an employee on public speaking, the next time they speak, offer feedback like: "You did much better than you did last time, I'm proud. Remain steady on your foot and stop acting jumpy next time." That's a subtle criticism that's well-packaged as praise. That's a hint for improvement, and it's delivered in a way that doesn't hurt a mentee's development.
Ramp up the amount of recognition and praise you shower on your mentees and throw in some corrective guidance whenever necessary.
By following these steps, you can develop your skills as an effective coach, fostering strong relationships with your employees and creating a positive work environment that leads to success for your team and your organization. Embrace your role as a coach and watch your employees thrive under your guidance.