How to engage, support and motivate your employees
Having been a coach for almost two decades, I can take certain things for granted and I have studied coaching skills for leaders extensively. For instance, particular ways to have conversations or how to look at things. They’ve become second nature and I can’t even remember what life was like before I had some of these realizations. My habits have become ingrained.
Sometimes this causes me to make assumptions about what my clients know or have already incorporated into their thought patterns and habits. Following a call this week, I was researching some support material for my client regarding coaching skills. Much to my surprise, I couldn’t ﬁnd anything that spoke to what I was looking for. So I decided to write it myself instead.
Here it goes:
1) Help him see
Your direct report or colleague doesn’t see and hear what you are exposed to every day. He doesn’t know what you know. And not only that, he is focused on getting his work done, so he doesn’t even think about what you see and hear. He is challenged by managing his time and work load, meeting your expectations and not making mistakes. He is completely focused on himself. Unfortunately, the movie that is running in his mind is somewhat limited and it is on auto repeat. It manifests itself in thoughts like: “I can’t possibly take on another project” or “I feel we are piling on more and more” or “I can’t do that … “ Bottom line: He is negative. Have you ever come across someone like that? I am sure you have. We all have. Instead of being frustrated, it is your responsibility to help him see clearly and realize what he doesn’t know yet. This is not accomplished through persuasion, but through solid coaching skills. How does one do that? How does one coach him to see more clearly, with more focus and yes, sometimes, simply differently? There is only one way:
By helping him think things through out loud
This is easier said than done. It requires you to ask really good questions, usually questions that start with “what.” As in, “What do you think about x?” or “What do you consider the biggest challenge moving forward?” or ‘What can I do to support you?” to name a few. Now, here comes the tricky part: Once you have asked the question, you need to close your mouth and listen. Because without listening you can’t actually hear what he is saying. And it is important to actually hear, so you can respond to the information you are receiving. Just by him thinking out loud, you are opening the door. Now that the door is open, what next?
Reﬂect back what you have heard
It is important for you to use your own language to feed back what you hear him say. Without that he can’t be sure you have actually heard what he said. Once you are in agreement that you have heard and understood what he said, it’s time for the next bit:
Provide some perspective
Now is your chance to impart some of your perspective in how this subject looks from your vantage point. This is important, because only with this perspective can you help him see a different picture. No, this is not advice! You are not telling him what to do or what to think. You are offering a different viewpoint to shed some light on the possibilities for him. Then comes the ﬁnal, but very important point:
Ask what he has heard you say
This seems so simple and yet is often forgotten. It is now your turn to solicit feedback on what he has heard. It will give you insight as to whether the door is still open, and if the view has been enlarged to include possibilities he wasn’t aware of until now.
Helping him to see raises his awareness (and quite often your own in the process). It is enlarging the consciousness individually and collectively about what is and what can be. This process can be a two-minute conversation or a two-hour coaching session. It can happen between peers and also upward with your boss. This is a skill, basic, but not easy to master. And it takes practice every day, just like you train your muscles when working out. You can practice with your kids and the cashier at the grocery store. Practice. Practice. Practice.
On to the second coaching skill:
2) Help her prioritize
Just like you, your direct report or colleague is most likely overwhelmed with everything she has to do. Demands and distractions everywhere. It’s hard to make heads or tails. What is most important? What is most urgent? What should I do ﬁrst? What next? It is your job as the leader to help her think through what is most important, what actions will have the most impact.
Sometimes the language in a letter needs to be crafted just so, because millions of people will see it. Sometimes a letter is rather unimportant and the language isn’t as crucial. But in the day to day of everything happening, it is sometimes difﬁcult to assess what is actually most important, the new hire or meeting your sales expectations, the keynote to the board or the global kick-off? It is your job as the leader to help her prioritize. The questions to ask are: “What will have the most impact on the company?” and “What will have the most impact on you?” and maybe, “What are the top three priorities right now?“ Understanding her priorities will also help you identify your own, so it’s mutually beneﬁcial.
3) Take a stand and help them do the same
People want to know where you stand. They need to know where you stand. Make your opinions known. Make sure you get plenty of input from trusted resources before forming your opinion and stay open to differing views. You might think this is not a coaching skill. And in the strict sense it might not be. An important responsibility a coach has is to challenge others’ beliefs. Often beliefs hold people back and limit progress. By stating your own beliefs and backing them up with reasons why you think that, you offer a guide post, a standard that needs to be met, maybe a goal to aspire to. And by role modeling this taking of a position, you provide permission for the other to do the same. Taking a stand is risky and requires courage. It gives others permission to do the same and will lead to increased conﬁdence and a greater feeling of self-esteem. Try it! The alternative is mediocracy and cowardliness.
Coaching is like a muscle that can be trained and with practice it becomes second nature. It allows others to engage meaningfully, it empowers people and it inspires them to go beyond what they think is possible. There is no downside to coaching. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
Find out more about coaching here.