Any manager who is committed to being a Coach needs to be mindful of the myriad occasions throughout every day when you can model the way. This is no more true than in the area of relationships. Everything we do in the working environment is with or through people – so via our relationships. And relationships are built one conversation at a time – not one email at a time! The same is true of leadership – it is exercised one conversation at a time.
So often I find myself astounded at the mindless way in which my clients work. They talk about the frustrations that they have with their team members’ lack of progress or disappointing execution despite the fact that they have emailed them numerous times! I am always concerned when I hear about complex work being delegated by email, so my standard question is “Where are these team members located?” Of course, I’m a bit of a smartarse, so I know the answer to this question – “Oh, in the open plan outside my office.” That is when silence is my best friend.
Let’s be clear. We are all vulnerable to working on autopilot. We receive an email about some important initiative, and we delegate this on by email. In fact, how much of our day do we spend reading and responding to emails? There is just too much that is done by email that really should be done via the medium of conversation.
The Manager Coach has the opportunity to model the way in terms of how they exercise leadership and build relationships themselves. Here are some examples of how it might be done:
i. You have a new project and everyone needs to be on board
This is a great opportunity to get your team around a table and use one of your coaching tools to enable the team (and yourself) to get your heads around the thing and decide where to start. Good old GROW is a great tool to use for getting your team talking and thinking about the initiative, deciding on how to tackle it, who to involve and where to start. It also enables you and your team to clarify responsibilities and deliverables, and agree initial deadlines.
But what if it is a project team made up of colleagues who are not in a natural team together? Then it is appropriate to have a conversation about how you will work together early in your time together. This is a Rules of Engagement discussion which results in agreements about behaviours that will support the success of the project, in terms of how team members will deal with one another, solve problems and make decisions, handle accountability, and resolve conflict. It also ensures that the leader’s role is clearly articulated. Many project leaders omit to have this discussion and then experience problems at various stages in the project relating to exactly these topics. Taking the time and the trouble to start well relationally saves much frustration later on.
ii. You are observing a pattern of behaviour that troubles you
Here is another example of something that is too often handled by email.
You have arrived late for work 3 times in the last 2 weeks. May I remind you etc. etc.
You know where this is going. Whether it is timekeeping, a pattern of defensive reactions that are not helpful, withholding crucial information from colleagues or any other unhelpful patterns of behaviour, the Manager Coach should address this in a conversation. Once again, it is a conversation with a structure – since you want to arrive at a mutually satisfactory outcome. Here is one of my preferred structures, which I often share with clients:
Step 1: Describe what you have observed and why it concerns you.
Step 2: Ask your colleague to help you understand what is happening.
Step 3: Articulate how important it is for this thing to change and ask the colleague if they are prepared to work with you on this.
Step 4: Ask the colleague for ideas that might address the issue. Offer your own.
Step 5: Agree on what each of you will do and by when. (Each of you should articulate what you personally will do – avoid making the mistake as the Coach of summarising the actions of both parties).
Step 6: Agree on a follow-up date
iii. You keep delegating something to someone who just gets it wrong
The mistake we often make in this instance is to explain what we require again, and even more slowly and clearly. But this misses the point. Until we understand what the colleague has understood, we are never going to understand where it is going wrong. You need to meet them where they are in order to bring them to where you need them to be. In this instance, it can be useful to approach it as follows (with the answers to each question potentially giving you insight into where things are going wrong):
Step 1: Explain to me what we are trying to achieve here. What is the purpose of this?
Step 2: How do you go about it? Where do you obtain the information? Who do you involve? What is your work method? What is still unclear to you?
Step 3: What obstacles are you experiencing? What are you doing about them?
Each of these provides opportunity for you to create clarity once you have identified where the obstacles are.
Step 4: Now that we’ve clarified all this, please tell me:
- What are you going to do?
- How are you going to do it?
- Who will you involve?
- What obstacles might you experience? What will you do about them?
- How will I know how you are doing?
- How will I know when it is done?
iv. A team member is having one of the problems described above
All of the above are tools you can share with team members who are having difficulties with colleagues. Just as you default to conversation to resolve work difficulties that reside within your relationships, so you can coach team members to do the same. By sharing tools for resolving work difficulties, you empower team members to exercise leadership with their colleagues by having structured conversations that have productive outcomes. It is completely appropriate to allow a team member to discuss with you difficulties they are having with another team member – provided the purpose of the discussion is to help them figure out how to tackle the issue constructively for themselves. And your coaching is so much more powerful because they have seen you do these things yourself.