If you’ve read any business articles in the last few years, you’ve probably come across articles that describe the manager as a coach. If you’re a manager, you may find that idea a little strange. For most of us, business isn’t a sport—it’s a way to make a living.
But if you look a little more closely at the metaphor, it really does make sense, as Entrepreneur Magazine notes, “A manager shows someone how to do something, such as the day-to-day tasks for his job and a coach goes a step further to help an individual realize his full potential and maximize positive outcomes.” If you are a manager, then you are a coach.
How to Be Both a Manager and a Coach?
The idea of a manager as a coach suggests that you’re grooming your team members to play a game. And business, after all, is business. You may feel a disconnect between managing and coaching. But sports and business aren’t as different as they may first seem.
Imagine yourself as a coach for an adult league sports team. You’ve been playing your sport since you were a kid, and you’re exceptionally good at it. You know all about the league, because you’ve been playing in them for years. Is there an away game? You know exactly where you’re headed and what to expect when you get there. Are you playing a rival team next week? You already know their strengths and weaknesses—and you have a solid strategy for winning.
But who’s on your team? Your players may not have played your sport for years, or they may even be brand new to it. They may have heard or read about adult leagues, but never gotten involved. They may not know how to read other teams’ strengths or weaknesses, or have a clue what it means to play on someone else’s field. All they know is—they’re on a team, they’re playing a particular sport, and they want to win.
In order to effectively lead your team, you’ll need to direct your players. But you’ll also need to encourage them, motivate them, support them…coach them.
In order to effectively lead your business team, you need to do many of the same things as a sport coach, but in a different context. As a business coach you have a number of critical jobs—and quite a few strategic tools for doing those jobs as effectively as possible. It's important to know these tools well. Following are seven tactical tools to master that will improve your business coaching effectiveness.
1. Know Your Players
What does each player bring to the game? Where are their strengths? What are their challenges? What motivates them—and what undermines their confidence? Are they reliable under stress, or are they at their best when things are calm and under control?
There are a wide range of tools available for getting to know your team players. These range from common sense to formal testing—and may include both.
On the common sense end, you know that a recent college graduate is unlikely to have extensive experience in your particular industry, and thus one of her challenges may be a lack of industry-specific knowledge.
Formal personality testing may also reveal that the same team member is likely to be impulsive, is motivated by public recognition, and may find it difficult to work well with slow, methodical individuals.
2. Have Objectives and Goals
In sports, of course, your goal is to win each game. But knowing that you are unlikely to win every game, you need smaller objectives that your team can reach with a moderate amount of effort. Perhaps you want to reach a certain score, or successfully complete a particular strategy. Even if you don’t win the game, you can still point to successes that build confidence and team spirit.
“Having objectives and goals” is another way of saying “you need a strategy.” And strategic planning is a time-honored procedure for which there are many existing tools.
Depending upon your industry and your team’s role within your company, you may want to access tools for setting incremental sales goals, project milestones, financial objectives, or other benchmarks that allow your team members to see and celebrate success.
3. Create the Right Environment for Success
If your team is practicing on a field filled with potholes and weeds, and the other teams are practicing on groomed turf, you have a problem. Your team needs the tools and resources to succeed—and that might mean training, software, marketing materials, samples, or strategies.
You know what your team members need to succeed, because you know your business and you know your competition. Sometimes you can provide those tools within your own department, but just as often you’ll need to work with other managers and departments to ensure that you have what you need.
You may need to build a case for new computers, software, publications, samples, or other tools—and that means getting input from your team members to build that case.
4. Provide Feedback
If you’ve ever been coached, you know that feedback is absolutely critical to improvement. What did you do well? What did you do poorly? How can you improve performance? Of course, giving and getting feedback is an art in itself.
According to Inc.com, “The actual goal of feedback—even negative feedback—is to improve the behavior of the other person to bring out the best in your entire organization.”
You probably already know this, but are not sure how best to provide negative feedback that is also constructive. In short, the rules are simple:
- Give feedback immediately and in small quantities.
- Listen actively to hear your employee’s responses.
- Suggest clear steps for improvement.
- Implement a process for tracking and supporting positive change.
5. Respond to Feedback
No coach is perfect, and there are times when you’ll need to hear and respond to your team members when they tell you something isn’t working well. Often, team members not only tell you what the problem is, but they also provide workable ideas for a solution.
Flexibility, perspective, an open mind, and a strong sense of your own value are all important tools for hearing and responding positively to employee feedback. Often, feedback is extremely helpful as it is an opportunity to understand how your ideas are working out in the trenches—where your employees spend their working days.
Sometimes, of course, feedback can be negative, and that’s where perspective is most critical. If you can listen, see things from your employee’s point of view, and respond without anger, you’re way ahead of the game.
6. Manage Conflicts Among Your Players
As you know from playing on any kind of team, team members don’t always get along. Not only do some team players tend to bully others, but some team members tend to hang back and allow others to do the work. It will be up to you to see interpersonal issues, understand them, and develop procedures for mending relationships and avoiding future problems.
The Houston Chronicle outlines several well-established methods of managing conflict; each of these has its place, depending upon the circumstances of the conflict. They include:
- Accommodating. In some cases, the most effective course of action is to give the difficult employee what they want. For example, an employee who complains about a loud co-worker can simply be moved to a different location.
- Collaborating. Rather than choosing a right or wrong, you ask people who are in conflict to work together, bringing all of their strengths to the table.
- Avoiding. From time to time, issues arise that will resolve themselves without any intervention at all. When that's the case—because the issue is time limited, the employee will be transferred, or some other resolution is on the horizon—the best choice might be to sit tight and wait it out.
- Compromising. Can you resolve the conflict by giving each individual part of what they want? For example, it might be possible to give equal access to an in demand resource to two employees at different times.
- Competing. Whose idea is really the best? To find out, some managers ask the individuals in conflict to research and present their ideas so that they can select the option that's most likely to be successful.
7. Motivate and Support Your Team
In sports, locker room talks and cheerleaders help team members to stay upbeat and excited about their game. In business, you’re the team’s chief motivational speechmaker and cheerleader—the person who cheers when a team member succeeds, keeps the team moving forward, and applauds even a partial success.
You’re also the person who represents the team to higher management when they are getting less than their fair share of resources or compensation.
There’s a difference between false optimism and real, enthusiastic support. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, "Positive feedback strengthens performance. People will naturally go the extra mile when they feel recognized and appreciated." In your role as motivator and booster, you have a number of tools at your disposal to leverage giving positive feedback. Many are simple:
- Start team meetings with congratulations to individual team members who have achieved specific goals.
- Be sure team achievements are recognized in corporate newsletters.
- Celebrate milestones with special recognitions that can range from lunch for the gang to trophies, plaques, and badges.
Meanwhile, be sure you are aware of and responding to any issues that arise for your team, such as an unfair bonus systems, lack of resources, or unrealistic expectations coming from upper management or other departments.
Putting Your Coaching Tools Together
If this list of “need to’s” seems awfully long, it is! You are the coach of a team, and your team depends on you. Many of the tools you'll be using, though, may already be second nature to you.
If you've coached a real team—or been coached as a team member—you've probably already given and gotten well-crafted feedback. You may have resolved conflicts among team members. You may even have crafted or followed a team strategy, or motivated a team with the promise of exciting rewards.
As you take some of your existing skills into the realm of business management, you can also draw on the experience and advice of others who have gone before you and perfected some of the tools you’ll be using. Whether you have a business mentor or you're exploring other resources, it's good to know that you’re not in it all by yourself: many people have paved the road you’re walking.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2014. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.
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