When I think about the many leadership competencies that are needed for executive success, one that I’m particularly interested in is the ability to coach and develop others. This simple and common phrase includes a whole lot of tricky skills and values, like:
- Sincerely/emotionally caring about the individuals on your team – seeing them as whole people, not just task-doers.
- Taking the time to actively listen in order to understand the concerns, needs, and aspirations of your team members. It means asking open-ended questions to learn more about what your staff already knows, what they are contemplating, and how they are thinking about solving problems.
- Reining in any desire to be the smartest guy/gal in the room. And this means stopping yourself from answering their questions reflexively, before determining if a) they really need your solution because they are actually stuck, or b) if they are asking as a way to disguise their uncertainty about what is best and/or trying to gauge your opinions/support before suggesting something.
- Trying to find work for your staff that balance their interests/values, skills/talents AND the needs of the organization.
- Providing the appropriate balance of support and caring with challenge and butt-kicking.
- Providing feedback that is always respectful but honest, direct, and helpful.
- Balancing the need to be an authentic, open person with appropriate boundaries and distance necessary to performance manage.
- Understanding adult development and how individuals change behaviors.
The challenge here is that the underlying personality characteristics that make people good at those skills, much less ENJOY them, are more similar to the characteristics of a good executive coach, therapist, teacher, chaplain or others in the so-called helping professions.
And, in 30 years of coaching, I have certainly met senior leaders whose calling was primarily to help and “serve” others (often, but not solely in non-profits). However, these leaders really are in the minority. I want to be clear that even if you aren’t great at coaching/developing, it doesn’t mean you are a “jerk.” Like most leadership skills, people’s abilities exist on a continuum from very, very good to very, very bad, and most of us tend to fall somewhere a bit north or south of the middle.
What I will say is many people who aren’t great at coaching and development are simply not particularly wired with the drive to help/serve AND the necessary personality strengths to do it well. Believe me, I have seen leaders who are not naturally wired to do so, but learn to coach/develop fairly well because they were motivated to learn! But if motivation and ability are missing, I have seen leaders fail miserably.
I also know some leaders who say they like to coach/develop others, except for those employees who:
- Talk about their kids/dogs/cats/hobbies (that their leader doesn’t care about)
- Aren’t very good at their jobs
- Aren’t motivated to do their work
- Don’t take initiative to do more than what is required
- Aren’t particularly self-motivated or confident
- Are quiet and introverted
- Need to be given feedback that would be uncomfortable for the leaders to give
In other words, some leaders really only enjoy, or are good at coaching the folks who don’t need it so much!
So, here is my advice:
If you are neither motivated nor naturally wired to do the skills listed above, perhaps you need to think twice about senior leadership…. or partner with someone who is!
If you are naturally motivated AND wired to do so, but simply don’t have the experience or role models, a coach can certainly help you. Or, if you have the “want to,” but not the natural abilities, again, an executive coach is a great partner for you. If you don’t know, a coach can help you with that too! Give me a call or send me an email and we’ll talk through the possibilities.