Blue collar coaching – quantifiable value

We spoke to an operations director at a manufacturing plant yesterday…heavy manufacturing, real blue collar environment.  It’s an amazing story.  He has started using coaching with his floor leaders.  We asked what the impact was.  He told us of one man who was slated to be fired.  The guy yelled at other people and pushed them around.  He is now one of the top performers.  What changed?  When he was coached.  And through coaching by his manager he was able to transform his need for having people doing what he said…which led to all the yelling…to a passion for perfection and results.

Trust was modeled to him and trust is what he how offers the people who work under him.  It made him crazy at first..this idea of trusting people rather than telling them.  But he realized that even as his coach believed in the best from him, so he could believe in the best from those who work with him.  No more yelling.  Their production throughput continues to rise.

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What IS coaching?

I’d like to hear some opinions on this one…

I worked with a new coach today.  He couldn’t figure out what to do with me.  I didn’t have a problem.  I was excited with a new possibility in my business and that didn’t fit his paradigm of coaching.  Oops.

I teach MBA students and one thought that coaching was any time he asked a question of an employee.  Another thought it was a term her company used to make bad things sound compassionate (”We are going to coach some people out of the business….”)

So what is coaching to you?

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Fixing what’s broken…

I got a call from a former coaching client asking me to work with one of her employees.  It seems as though Ben was getting on people’s nerves.  The manager wanted a coach to determine the problem and fix it.

What’s wrong with this picture?

First, “fixing someone” isn’t coaching… and based on the issue with the employee, my first question would be “what should the manager be doing that they are not?”   I’m not trying to be hard on a manager when they reach out for help.  However, coaching is not intended to be used in place of what a manager should be doing. 

So, let’s be clear.  Coaching is about developing people to their full potential.  Coachlike leaders do that for their employees on behalf of company results and employee development.  Professional coaches do that on behalf of clients who want to change or grow.

What do you think?

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You aren’t getting it done!

“You aren’t getting it done!”  Ah, the words of a sales manager at the end of a quarter.  He was berating his top producing seller because a major deal (one of those that makes the numbers for the quarter) was slipping away.  You aren’t getting it done! When we looked under the “getting it done” part we found a product that wasn’t shipping.  We also found a client who was loyal – but could be pushed into dissatisfaction if the sale was motivated by something other than their best interest (like getting a sale closed by the end of the quarter!).  I could tell this wasn’t going to end well.

Here is the learning point for leaders….when I vent my frustration or anger through You aren’t getting it done! it may make me feel better (or justified), but that is the ONLY good thing that comes out of it.  There is a dynamic among humans called “emotional contagion.”  The  emotions of a leader are contagious.  When I communicate frustration, I create an environment of suspicion and judgment.   My question for you is, “how effective are you when surrounded by suspicion and judgment?”

The end of quarter sales situation is frustrating…but what if I manage my emotions and communicate differently?  You aren’t getting it done can become – “What you’ve tried isn’t working.  What are other options?”    By the way, let me ask my question another way.  How effective are you when surrounded by hope and possibilities?

A great leader understands the full spectrum of their impact when faced with challenging conversation.

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Engineers need this stuff!!

I was working with an executive who is a terrific leader.  We were talking about how to get engineers to connect with the skills of a coachlike manager.    Here is the bottom line:  analytical types (like engineers) see coaching as touchy-feely stuff and want to avoid it.  It’s easier dealing with spreadsheets.  And why fool with something that’s not directly related to improving the business?

The ideas that caught my executive’s attention was the idea of  “mood contagion”  being a tool of leadership.  Here is a business fact:  people who like their boss are more likely to be successful and productive.  We’ve known that for years.  Here is how the idea is evolving.  We now know that bosses can tap that human potential through the boss’s social intelligence.  What may seem “touchy-feely”  (let’s just call us, TF’s)  is now being revealed through research into the biology of the brain.  (OK, this is where the TF’s need to hang in there…the engineers are just getting interested!!).

The limbic system (part of the brain) is an open system. That means the energy in my brain can impact you.  (Ever have a baby grin at you and find yourself smiling back?  That is the baby’s limbic system reaching out and touching yours!)  Think of the possibilities – if a leader is empathetic, they can lead as effectively hard times as well as easy.  People will choose to follow and do their best in all circumstances.  Pause for a moment with me and consider what it would be like if everyone on the planet chose to do their best!

So back to the engineers…they can relate to the idea because its science – the neuroscience of the human limbic system.  People really do follow leaders who are emotionally intelligent.  It’s a measurable differentiator of leader effectiveness.  Employees pick up on emotions, hope and a myriad of other signals from their leader.  What may have been considered  “soft” skills are actually complex relationships skills that can translate into improved business success.   Being a great leader requires one to both analytic and human.  It is about delivering results (the analytical side) at the same time as developing the people (the human side).  And though the combination of the two can be the challenge, it’s possible.  It’s about being a leader coach.

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Listening – a coachlike competency

There is listening and then there is listening. As I coach leaders and executives, I find one of the important differentiators between a good manager and a great manager is the ability to listen…really listen. Here’s what I mean.   Really listening is the ability to turn off the voice in my head that tells me I should add a comment or tell my story or just take over.  When I’m “just listening” sometimes I find I can fall into a conversational competition.  You may have experienced it, too. It’s when I think I should add my insight because it will teach an important lesson (that they might otherwise miss),  or add my description because it is better than theirs…or my experience is more meaningful.  See what I mean?

When a leader can really listen by getting beyond their own interests…by getting their own agenda out of the way, they give an important gift to their employee – the gift of attention.  The employee feels valued.  It is a currency that is more valuable than money and one that retains and encourages talent.  Just listening.

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To be a coach….

I’ll begin by telling you that sometimes the hair stands up on my neck when I hear the term “coach” used in business.  I’ve met people who call themselves “coaches” because they have experience in some field (”I’m a graphics coach”) or because it’s a popular term (”I’m a business coach…I used to be a consultant.”)   I’ve heard the term “coaching” used to describe what is about to happen to an erstwhile employee (”We need to coach him out of the business.”)  What’s not confusing is self-serving.

Coaching is a noble, if not relatively new, profession.  And if its going to grow to maturity, we need to take a stand for consistency and clarity.  So we will welcome your questions and your comments.

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Welcome to Leader as Coach

Our purpose is to invite you to join a discussion about leveraging coaching in organizations.  We will talk about everything from coaching for performance to coaching for development…from being coachlike as a leader to using professional coaches.  Great coaching, used well in business, translates into improved business results.  Not all coaching is great.  Let’s talk.

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