As I was preparing my slides for next week’s coaching and leadership development webinar I rediscovered a powerful description of coaching I’d cited decades ago in one of my first books. In A Passion for Excellence: The Leadership Difference, Nancy Austin and Tom Peters write, “Coaching is the process of enabling others to act, of building on their strengths … to coach is to facilitate, which literally means ‘to make easy’ — not less demanding, less exciting or less intense, but less discouraging, less bound up with excessive controls … Coaching is face-to-face leadership that pulls together people … encourages them to step up to responsibility and continued achievement, and treats them as full-scale partners and contributors.”
Ideally these skills start with executives who model and teach them to be managers and supervisors. Coaching is not something the top can order the middle to do for the bottom.
Too many managers still see performance management as black or white. Tough, hard-nosed, platoon-sergeant discipline often colors the gloomy side of performance management. At its darkest, this involves fear, punishment, and pushing forcefully for results. The alternative, traditional managers believe, is a “country club” style of leadership. This lighter approach is more concerned with relationships and team spirit than with getting the job done. It’s a soft, easy-going environment with lots of socializing and fun — and where performance slips. Where seldom is heard a negative word — and results slide through the cracks.
That either/or view of performance management is a cop-out. The most effective organizations are filled with leaders who have mastered the skill of holding people accountable to tough, uncompromising standards and stretch goals while inspiring teamwork and building strengths.
Tomorrow we publish my January blog posts in the February issue of The Leader Letter. This issue features the latest research and how to methods for coaching, developing, and effectively leading for peak performance. You’ll find webinars, implementation steps, video clips, and upcoming events to balance driving for higher performance with coaching and developing those you lead.
Extraordinary leader coaches make clear what’s expected and follow up. They emphasize the positive and look for ways to reinforce the behavior they want more of. And when things get off-track, as they inevitably will, strong coaches know how to step on toes without messing up anybody’s shoeshine.