Coaching should be an integral part of a leader's job. It is not something that should be undertaken lightly. It requires preparation, critical thinking, and follow-through (see Figure 10-2). Leaders also need something more—a healthy dose of emotional intelligence, e.g., the ability to understand someone else and your relationship to that individual.
Plan ahead. Identify the individual you wish to coach. Schedule a time to meet. Allow at least 30 minutes, and preferably 1 hour. Look at the work the individual has been doing. Ask coworkers about the individual. Look for problem areas. Keep in mind that you are looking for areas of weakness, not to punish the individual for them, but rather to strengthen her or him. That's what coaching is all about.
Uncover the motivational tick factor. Think about what motivates this individual. Is it an opportunity to be promoted? Is it more money? Is it the quest for a better life for her- or himself and her or his family? Does this individual value time off in lieu of overtime pay? Discovering the motivational tick factor opens the door for understanding.
Give feedback. Open with small talk. If you know the individual well, you will know his or her likes and dislikes. Some of us like to talk about our families; others prefer not to. Some of us like sports, cooking, camping, biking, you name it; others could care less about any or all of these.
As the coach, you need to identify an individual strength—something that the person is doing very well. Say something positive about the person's performance. Then move to the areas of weakness, things that the individual could be doing better. Call them "opportunities for improvement." First find out what the individual thinks about the situation.
Ask if there is anything holding the individual back or preventing her or him from doing the job. These obstacles could be a lack of resources, not enough time, or another individual—even the leader. Typically such problems not only are harmful to the individual but may be harming the entire team. Emphasize your willingness to help. Ask the individual if he or she has any suggestions for improvement.
Get commitment. Identify solutions to the problems. Ask the individual to commit to improvement. Gain agreement. Establish a time frame for resolving the problem. Again, gain agreement. Close the session on a positive note. Thank the individual for his or her contributions. Ask for feedback on your coaching style. Was it helpful? How could you have made it better? (If you are open and forthcoming, you will get honest feedback. It may take a few sessions for the individual to open up, but in time she or he will—if you have established the proper boundaries of trust.)
Follow up. Check on the individual periodically. Feedback during the workweek is perfectly acceptable. Do not ride the person. Just be available. When the agreed-upon deadline is reached, check on the status of the situation. If the problem has been resolved, recognize the individual for meeting the commitment that he or she made. If the problem has not been resolved, ask why. You may need to schedule another coaching session, or at least keep a close watch on the situation.
As the leader, you want to be able to resolve any issues, but you also want to enable individuals to solve as many of the difficulties as possible for themselves. Too much intervention indicates that you are doing too much, to the detriment of others on the team. This also thwarts the growth of the individual. Too little intervention leaves the individual to sink or swim. Sometimes that is appropriate; other times it is not. When you follow up, make certain that you ask for feedback on your coaching style. Again ask how you can improve.