When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up? A doctor? A firefighter? A police officer? An astronaut? Chances are, when you were asked that question you probably didn't say, "When I grow up, I want to be a manager!" Let's face it, our culture does not glamorize the role of a manager. But yet, all of our research suggests that managers hold perhaps the most important role in any organization. Coaching managers, therefore, is perhaps some of the most important work we can do.
The role of a manager is complex. Managers must create strategies and solutions to help their employees and team learn, grow, develop and succeed. In order to do that, Gallup research reveals that the best managers:
- motivate every employee to take action and engage employees with a compelling mission and vision
- have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance
- create a culture of clear accountability
- build relationships that create trust, open dialogue and full transparency
- make decisions based on productivity, not politics
(The Gallup Manager Assessment: Technical Report, 2013)
Add in the multiple layers of constituencies that managers relate to and are responsible for maintaining, and it is little wonder that coaching managers is vastly different and more complex than coaching individual contributors.
Most of my coaching is with managers. While each one is unique, I find there are three common elements that consistently show up in manager coaching sessions that differentiate them from sessions with individual contributors.
Managers usually have no trouble setting the agenda for the coaching session. Managers are busy, and they are accountable for producing results with and through their team. As such, they want and need their time to be productive with their coach, so typically they have some very specific ideas about how they want to spend their time. In addition, they are used to setting agendas for themselves and their teams, and thus their approach to their coaching session reflects that. So, when I ask, "What would be the most productive use of our time today?", most managers are quick to list the three to four things they want to focus on in their coaching time.
Most of the time, managers want to use their coaching session to focus on challenges they are facing with their team as a whole or with individuals on their team. Rarely do they want to focus on a deeper dive into their own strengths, even if they are, by nature, self-reflective. They are invested in developing their team first and foremost. Your role as the coach is to help them discover more about their own strengths as you help them find strengths-based solutions to the challenges they are facing. It is through exploring solutions to real-life challenges they face that managers come to deeper self-discovery. Perhaps this is a change from self-discovery as an end in itself.
Most managers appreciate your coaching more if you offer them solutions to the challenges they are facing. Honestly, if these managers could solve the issues themselves, they wouldn't be coming to you for coaching about the issues -- because part of what they get paid to do is solve problems. So, they typically appreciate you offering up alternatives they haven't thought of before. Now, this isn't to say you should tell them what to do. Far from it. You are a partner with them in exploring several alternatives to the issues they are wrestling with, and then they choose the option that makes the most sense to them. All the while, you are taking into consideration and exploring possibilities not only based on the talents and strengths of the manager, but also on the talents and strengths of the manager's team and/or individuals and the interplay of the manager's strengths with the team's. That is a huge challenge for you as a coach -- and calls forth all of your coaching talent and expertise in order to reach a successful conclusion. If you are like me, you live for these challenges!
I love coaching managers. I love it not only because it is challenging and requires me to bring my creative A-game every time, but also because of the admiration and respect I have for managers. If I can help them be more effective in performing an incredibly complex and important role, then I feel I have made a positive difference in their lives and the lives of the individuals on their team. I don't have to be an expert on business, just a specialist in strengths-based behavior. And when it goes right, the world changes just a little bit.
That's my story, and as a grown-up coach of managers, I'm sticking to it.