The Challenge of Developing & Coaching Others

triangle of choice

3 Tips for Moving Potential to Performance
By Ron Price

One of the great tenants of a leader is the ability to move potential into performance through development and coaching. Yet many managers face obstacles when it comes to developing and coaching their teams.

In most organizations there is often the unspoken belief that developing employees is not a primary part of the job. Developing and coaching others doesn’t usually show up on the annual performance evaluation, yet it can be a critical part of company growth. Not only do most leaders lack company backing for developing and coaching others, but due to the lack of emphasis, they’ve also not been properly trained how to do it.

We help leaders learn to effectively develop and coach others through a combination of development models.

Shift Your Leadership Style
There are three types of leadership styles. Some leaders operate fully in one style, and some utilize all three. 

Do To
This is the old autocratic style of leadership where leaders simply tell people what to do. They are not asking employees to be creative or to take personal initiative. For a certain group of leaders, this is the only way they know how to lead. We call it the hard approach to leadership. The problem with this approach is that high performers don’t like it, and they won’t stick around.

Do For

This is the soft approach to leadership. These leaders are afraid of confronting people or telling people what to do, so they end up “doing for” instead. They take the servant leadership model to the extreme. They’re not just doing their jobs, but are doing other people’s jobs too, thinking that is how they will keep employees loyal. They’re even prone to reverse delegation: they take work back when employees come to them with a problem or don’t perform to their expectations. High performers will be frustrated because they want to be developed and coached through a project versus having it taken away.

Do With 
This leadership style uses tasks and assignments to develop employees and help them hone their skills and abilities. These managers see projects as a way of developing and coaching others to be their best. In fact, studies show that 70% of learning and development happens on the job in real-life situations. Leaders who subscribe to this style achieve results, not only at the bottom line but with their people as well.

Organize Around Strengths
Once you’ve adopted a “Do With” leadership style, the next step is to organize around employees’ strengths. To do this, leaders must understand their people well enough to know their strengths and look for opportunities to develop those strengths. 

This concept can be counterintuitive for most people. Leaders typically try to fix employees’ weaknesses. But spending time trying to develop weaknesses into strengths is the formula for mediocre performance.

This is why talent profiling is so important. It helps leaders recognize more quickly what people’s strengths are, and enables them to create assignments around those strengths. Managers should spend 70% of their time and effort developing the skills that people have a natural affinity toward. They should spend 30% of their time neutralizing weaknesses. Weaknesses don’t need to be developed into strengths, but they should be neutralized so they are not obstacles.

Teach Self-Management and Personal Accountability
In their book Leadership Simple, Steve and Jill Morris write about the Triangle of Choice. 

In the left-hand corner are Perceptions. When leaders are developing employees, it’s important to understand that they have a specific way of seeing the world, which is filtered through their unique life experiences. 

The right-hand corner is Wants. Developing and coaching people is effective only when it’s what they want too. Leaders should use their listening and questioning skills to help clarify and articulate what employees want. Part of the challenge of being a manager is blending what the company wants with what employees want.

The tip of the triangle is Behaviors, or what employees are doing to close the gap between today’s reality and what they want for the future. Below is an effective set of questions for coaching somebody to be clear about where they want to go.

5 questions to ask when developing and coaching employees:

  1. What do you want?
  2. What are you doing to get it?
  3. How is that working?
  4. What are some other things you could do?
  5. What are you going to do?

Nobody develops to their full potential without the backing of a person who believes in them more than they believe in themselves. Leaders who develop others are preparing them to take over as tomorrow’s leaders. It is a hidden treasure in organizations if leaders can understand how this will impact the organization.