A good boss has to wear a lot of hats — mediator, air traffic controller, gatekeeper — but experts say one is particularly important for being a successful manager: coach.
“Productivity is connected to ‘learn it alls’ not ‘know it alls,’” says Rich Feller Ph.D., a counseling and career development professor at Colorado State University. “Managers who nudge internal motivation, tap natural aptitudes, and free talent to add value most succeed.” How exactly can a manager tap into this coach mindset? Here are a few easy steps.
First: sit back and listen
Often managers are promoted into their roles because they’re excellent at their particular job, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the ability to help others improve their skills. That’s why asking a lot of questions of your subordinates to understand their perspective on their job’s challenges or ideas they have for how to improve things is important, says Monique Valcour, Ph.D., an executive coach, management professor and keynote speaker. “What coaching involves is kind of sitting back in a curious and nonjudgmental mode and inviting the other person to give their thoughts,” she says. When presented with a problem at work (or an opportunity to improve things on your team), it’s a good time to ask open-ended questions of your employees to tap their creativity and see how they can contribute to a better end result.
Once any issues are brought to your attention, Valcour cites the “GROW” model as one method for problem solving if you’re new to the managing world. It consists of setting a goal (G), assessing the reality of where you are now (R), reviewing your options (O) and deciding what will you do (W).
Know the right way to give feedback
Feedback gets a bad rap, but it doesn’t necessarily always have to entail a big formal conversation, says Elaine Varelas, managing partner at career consulting and coaching development firm Keystone Partners. Take a note from the coaches on the sideline at a sports game, cheering on athletes when they score a goal, and give feedback to your employees on the spot.
If you see something positive from a team member, like an excellent customer interaction or a major sales win, give praise right then and there, Varelas says. If you see something you’re disappointed in or have a concern about it, pull the employee aside and note it pretty soon after (but not in front of others) — there’s no need to wait for a formal review. “I think the focus needs to be on communication, where a manager is having conversations on a regular basis about performance … so it doesn’t become a shock when it is provided every six months [at a formal review],” she says.
Asking questions is important here, too. When a mistake occurs, you should inquire about what the employee’s line of thinking was that led them to make the error. If for example, a subordinate lacks attention to detail, you’ll want to flag that and explain that that skill is important for someone to succeed in the job, provide some examples of when the skill was lacking (like a missed meeting or a typo-riddled report) and ask the employee how he plans to remedy the problem.
Don’t feel comfortable having those conversations? Script out what you plan to say and role play with a peer or tap your own manager as a resource for how to have those tough talks, Varelas suggests.
Set goals that will keep your team happy
Famous athletic coaches are known for plotting out a strategy that helps their team win — and that’s precisely what a good boss should do, too. According to Cynthia D. Marco-Scanlon, Ph.D., CCC, PCC-S, director of credentialing and special programs at the National Career Development Association, one of the most important things a successful manager should focus on is the career development of their employees. You don’t want to set people up for failure, so you want to help workers define realistic, practical and achievable goals about how they’ll stretch themselves in their current role, she says. (Think: what skills can an employee add to his repertoire in the next year? Not how he can become CEO.)