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The Manager as Coach: Start With Trust

The Manager as Coach: Start With Trust

by Maika Leibbrandt
The Manager as Coach: Start With Trust

Employees today are not looking for a boss; they are looking for a coach. It sounds dreamy, but what does it mean for leaders who have spent their careers learning how to be a great boss? If you're going to stay in the game and change the game into something better, it might be time to stretch your understanding of what you are paid to do as a manager.

I don't see a lot of people raising their hands, saying they want to work for someone who puts out fires. But when I ask managers what they are paid to do, often their list of tasks boils down to fixing problems, chasing projects and herding groups of people in a direction in which they want them to go. Yet what team members increasingly desire is in-the-moment feedback, guidance based on their talents, and freedom to work hard in ways that lead them to better outcomes. They want meaningful work that unifies their strengths, their values and their mission. While there are specific distinctions between boss and coach, I believe one difference sets the great coaches -- those who create truly engaging environments -- apart from all other managers: They start with trust.

Gallup's popular strengths coaching model is often known simply as "Name It, Claim It, Aim It." This outlines the developmental process of understanding your CliftonStrengths, appreciating their value and intentionally applying your unique talents to a personally relevant goal or challenge. In managers' busy world of firefighting, it's easy -- sensible, even -- to jump straight into these three steps. But if you zoom out, you'll notice an important foundational layer -- earning and displaying trust. It outlines the model, and if you want to serve your employees as their coach, it's not simply a line you can jump over in pursuit of the next milestone; it's your ticket for entry into development at the very start.

With the right tools, just about anyone can help someone name, claim and aim their talents. Gallup even offers ideas for how to do this in the CliftonStrengths reports themselves. Real coaches start these conversations before their employees even set foot in the office. They do this by paying careful attention to the emotional environment they create. On an individual basis, excellent managers -- those we would consider coaches -- do this by first establishing rapport, building trust and maintaining that trust over time. In today's workplace, our personal strategies are more transparent than ever. Even when we go home, we stay connected. The decisions we make every day are visible and lasting, making the risk higher and the safety zone smaller. A coach can be the person you let down your guard with -- someone you can turn to and say, "I don't know what I'm doing." Without establishing a relationship of trust, all the naming, claiming and aiming in the world won't be any different from consulting your peers or crowdsourcing an answer.

A great manager-as-coach offers employees a competitive advantage. It's this value that attracts and retains highly talented contributors on teams and within organizations. So as you go about your day as more than a manager, consider the importance of trust-building interactions.

Gallup-certified coaches know of David Maister's "trust equation." Trustworthiness is a combination of credibility, reliability and intimacy, divided by self-orientation. To put it simply, what you bring to the table is as important as where you focus your efforts, and great managers focus on others.

Trust grows in the fertile soil of authenticity, so consider Maister's trust equation by beginning with your own CliftonStrengths. Credibility, reliability and intimacy are great places to begin.

Building Trust Through Strengths as a Manager-as-Coach

  • Credibility: What experiences, subjects or personal values do you have that are relevant to your current role as manager? When do other people seek out your advice or opinions?
  • Reliability: How can we always trust you to behave? Refer to your dominant talent themes -- what do your CliftonStrengths say about what you can always be counted on to do?
  • Intimacy: How do you make others feel safe? In what way do you connect on a personal level or build relationships? Look for clues in your dominant themes.
  • The fourth component of the trust equation is low self-orientation. Guiding your own talents toward the benefit of others is important and worth evaluating from time to time.

If we want thriving workplaces full of productive, talented people, we need managers who focus not only on coaching for performance, but first on establishing and enhancing trust. Whether you're a manager who does this effortlessly or one who has to do so from purposeful intent, this is becoming and will continue to be a priority in the fight for engagement. The difficult yet promising thing about trust is once it's nurtured, it starts to grow on its own. Build rapport, check in with people, take the time to notice and recognize. Establishing trust will move from a to-do to a to-be -- not only a way to get work done, but a way great managers-as-coaches just are.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:

Maika Leibbrandt's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Strategic, Positivity, Woo, Ideation and Adaptability.

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