Originally I wanted to call the article Guidance for the Lazy Manager. But that sounds nasty and doesn’t really apply. It’s more about appreciative leadership. Luckily, autocratic leadership styles, which use a power structures to ensure that employees get their work done, lose their importance. Instead, companies are requiring more and more “coaching skills” for their managers.
However, very few of us are a certified coach and probably only have a vague idea of what coaching actually means in a management context.
I myself have had the chance to lead small and large product teams in recent years. In this article, I would like to share with you how my training to become a certified coach has changed my leadership style and how you can use elements from coaching in your everyday life as a manager.
1. Your attitude counts
Coaching someone means supporting him / her to activate potential by using available personal resources. The goal is to give them space to develop their own solutions instead of solving their problems and challenges. In order to be able to do this, it is important to reflect on your personal attitude and to reflect how you judge other people. If you want to integrate coaching as part of your management role, I suggest to first internalize the following advices:
- Believe that every person already has all the skills and resources needed and is able and willing to use them to achieve goals and desired changes.
- Encounter people at eye level. Everyone is an expert on their concerns and even if the solution is sometimes not yet visible, it is there. Your solution does not have to be other peoples solution. Your truth ist not necessarily others people truth (we all live in a bubble)
- Do not judge from your perspective, instead separate behavior, context and intention. Believe that any behavior makes sense and is appropriate in its context, even if you cannot understand it.
- Decisions are always made based on the current situation. Behavior that seems irrational for you, might be the only right or available path for your counterpart at this moment. This is often an expression of missing alternatives. It is your job to make these alternatives visible. The attitudes described in this article will help you to provide better support to discover new alternatives.
- Anyone can learn anything. But not everyone learns at the same pace and in the same way. So if a learning path is different from what you specified or expected, then you should believe that there is a reason for it. Its your job to figure out how to improve.
- If you experience resistance, this is not a rejection of your person but rather serious feedback. Your counterparts behavior indicates, that you should try a different path. So don´t give up, listen carefully and step back. In a trusted relationship you will find a solution.
2. Coaching is based on trust
As coaches we call it rapport. This is mutual trust and without it, we are not able to establish successful communication. If you embrace the basic attitudes described above and accept them for yourself, you have taken the first step towards building this trusted relationship.
Nevertheless it is not easy for everyone to establish this trusted relationship with everyone. If you are one of those people who are challenged by this, you can start with small steps. Its easy. Just trust your mirror neurons. Even newborn children build a relationship by imitating their counterparts. Even adults usually do this unconsciously. Be it about the sitting posture, breathing, movements, voice, speed. This strengthens the bond and helps build the relationship. Just try to respond more consciously to your counterpart in one of your next conversations and rely on your mirror neurons.
3. The power of questions
Do you remember your childhood, when you came home from school and were bombarded with questions? “How was your day? How was lunch? Have you done your homework?”…
We often work similarly in our 1: 1s. “How are you? How is the project going? When is the release?…” These questions have one thing in common. They are closed questions . We give the employee (or child) no other chance than to answer with good, bad, yes, no, maybe or not answering at all.
Instead, try open-ended questions. NOTHING ELSE! No more closed questions! Instead of “How is the project going” you may want to ask “What was the biggest challenge in the project this week?”. Instead of “When is the next release?” how nice sounds a “What steps are currently missing to a successful release?” (Also works really well with children, by the way. Ask e.g. “What was the funniest moment in school today?” and don´t be surprised if you child suddenly talks more than 3 words in a row)
4. Convert negative thoughts into a solution-oriented mindset.
“The colleague has not finished the presentation, although I have already asked three times and now…” We know that. A downward spiral starts and keeps moving downwards. The result? In the end, the employee doesn´t feel better, as managers we ask ourselves whether we can bill for an hour of psychological therapy and we haven’t found a solution.
With a coaching attitude we can break this pattern. Again, questions help. A simple “How could you help change the situation?”, or “What was your contribution to that situation?” — Open questions help your counterpart to reflect on a situation or behavior, to take a different perspective, to recognize their own contribution and / or to find new solutions. And suddenly your job is no longer solving other peoples problems but helping them to grow.
5. Activate resources.
I share another secret with you. There is a great way to help your direct reports to build self-esteem and self-efficacy. Often we are faced with a large, almost unsolvable task and lapse into a kind of rigid or childlike behavior. And if we’re honest, in those moments we would want someone else to just solve the problem us. Like our mom and dad did, when we were young. Does is help? No!. We don’t learn anything from it, we don’t grow and usually don’t feel better either.
There is a simple alternative and it may surprise you, but we can initiate with a question (as I mentiones… questions are magic) that other people are able to activate resources. So if the employee doesn’t know what to do next and would like a solution to get the problem off the table, try to figure out which of your employees resources are already at disposal . For example, you could ask, “I know this is a big challenge, but wasn’t there a similar situation last year? How did you solve it? “
If it goes well (and it usually does in a trusted relationship), the employee will find out that she/he already has all skills needed to solve the problem. And as managers, we have opened up a new solution funnel for him / her.
Appreciative or lazy leadership ?
So why did I want to call this article Guidance for the Lazy Manager? Because with a coaching attitude we free ourselves from setting guidelines for our employees, working out solutions for them and solving their problems. It gives us more time to focus our tasks and duties. We combine a coaching attitude with open questions and help employees to help other people to build a growth mindset. A win-win-win situation (because after all, the company also benefits from good leadership). Therefore it is an appreciative not lazy leadership style