Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Be the Best Coach They Ever Had

In one of the exercises I facilitate in my management training classes, I ask the participants to think about the best “coaches” and “mentors” they have had in their lives. What qualities did these mentors have? What behaviors did they display?

“They brought out in me things I didn’t realize I could do – they challenged me and believed in me, even more than I believed in myself sometimes.”

“They were straight with me and I knew I could trust them.”

"I knew they were on my side.”

“They encouraged me.”

“They were good communicators – they listened well.”

“They knew me, and I felt they cared about me.”

“They spent time with me – because they wanted me to have success.”

“They walked their talk – that’s inspiring.”

Variations on these comments are repeated every time. In short, the best mentors and coaches inspired them to stretch and do their best by getting to know them well enough to understand their strengths, weaknesses and goals. They gave them helpful feedback, and encouraged them to take risks in order to develop their strengths and move forward. They were effective communicators, and even rarer, good listeners. They were trustworthy and honest.

These are the characteristics of a great manager, not just a great mentor or coach. Great managers bring out the best in their people, and everyone benefits.

Challenge yourself: can you list the strengths, weaknesses and goals of each of your employees? Do you know what motivates them? Challenging work tied to a larger purpose is the common denominator that motivates everyone. But what does that mean to your employees? What kind of challenging work would they be most successful at? What larger purpose do they want most to be a part of?

When I asked managers if they knew the answers to these questions, invariably they would say something like “I’ve known Val for 15 years. I know everything about her.” I would challenge them to call the employee they knew best on the phone during the class and ask them a series of questions. Every single time, the manager was surprised at some of the answers they received.

Don’t assume – take the time to have an in depth conversation. Do this, and you are on your way to becoming the one they describe when I ask them in the management training class: “Think of the best mentor or coach you ever had…..”

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