Courage and the Agony of Coaching Employees

Coaching employees on sensitive and personal topics like performance or contribution to the organization can be as difficult and agonizing as telling a young son or daughter about sex for the first time. You end up playing the same mental games in your head over and over again: "What should they be told? How much do they already know? (Or how much do they want me to think they know?) How much detail should I go into?" If you are unable to answer any of these penetrating questions, you tend to put the task off for another six months. Eventually, you discover the harsh reality that there is very little they are unaware of, but a lot they don't know.

Nearly everyone feels uncomfortable when coaching employees, yet few are willing to admit that they feel ambivalent or inadequate. Many leaders who say, with some pride, that they have no hesitation, often approach the job like a bulldozer (over aggressively). In fact, coaching employees is risky (you may lose control of the situation), and you are vulnerable (you have to substantiate your case, and your leadership style may be questioned by the employee). Consequently you exaggerate your worst fears, you get uptight, you spend the night before the discussion is to take place worrying, and you try to figure out ways to avoid or postpone it. But deep down, you know that this isn't a helpful strategy.

Many leaders will rationalize that the issue or concern isn't worth the time or effort of a coaching session. But this comes back to haunt them later when the employee's work is put under the microscope of others (their boss, customers, regulatory agencies, etc.) when the employees position is considered for advancement, at performance appraisal time, or during the crucial high-exposure stages of an important project. At these time, the earlier hesitation ends up directly costing both the leader and the employee.

There are many explanations and rationalizations about why leaders resist coaching employees more frequently about progress and problems. The reality is that no one wants to hurt people or jeopardize their performance in areas that are meeting or exceeding expectations. Leaders go about insulating themselves from facing the reality that a meaningful discussion will actually help improve things.

The fact is that most employees favor directness, candor (trust), and honesty, as well as efficiency, excellence, and quality. But these goals cannot be met unless leaders are more willing to set aside their ambivalence and hesitation.

As a leader, you just need to accept that, to some extent, resisting potentially difficult situations is normal and natural. Then you need to make sure that these perceptual obstacles do not get in the way. Simply anticipate your own hesitations and ambivalence. Tell yourself over and over again that it is okay, and simply move forward and trust the 8-Step Coaching process to work if you carefully attend to each step.

To learn more about how CMOE can help your organization become more effective at coaching employees, contact a Regional Manager at (801) 569-3444. You can also visit their website.

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