One of the toughest challenges of leadership. It probably isn’t what you think.

Coaching“To teach an academic subject is certainly not easy, but compared to coaching, it is. We can say ‘two plus two is four’ to every kid and be sure that we are right. But in coaching, we have to literally get to the soul of the people we are dealing with.” 

~Joe Paterno

I have a problem.  In past jobs, I was successful because I was able to quickly create answers or solutions.  Unfortunately, as I became more successful this skill has become less valuable.   In fact, at present, this “skill” is often a liability.

As a direct contributor, you are expected to be productive.  You should be willing to demonstrate your knowledge and skills. Not only is this how your peers judge your performance, but it is how your supervisors do too.

As a supervisor or leader things change.  You are no longer appraised on your individual performance.  Instead, you are judged by the productivity and efficacy of your team.  This means jumping in to help should be the last resort.  Instead, you should be training, mentoring, coaching, and helping others be as productive as they can.

And here is the biggest challenge.   You should rarely tell your staff how to do something.  To do so can remove a learning opportunity.  And, truth be told telling someone how to do something often leads to stale solutions.

It really used to piss me off when I would ask my mother how to spell something and she would answer “look it up!”  I always thought that was ridiculous.  First, it was going to take me longer to look it up than it would for her to just tell me.  Second, how the heck was I going to look up something I couldn’t spell?

Much to my surprise, I always found the word.  Of course, there were times when mom or dad had to get me started, but I was able to do most of the “heavy lifting”.  The result is that I became a better speller.  Why?  Because when I had to open a dictionary and look something up, I remembered how to spell it.  The effort made sure I focused.  I rarely had to look up a word more than twice.

Coaching is the same way.  By guiding someone to their own discovery, you help them in a multitude of ways.  Best of all, you help them learn how to teach themselves.  From a service perspective, teaching them to discover things on their own will set them up to be much more productive and much more successful.  From a purely selfish perspective, it means they will need fewer of your resources, and you will look better as a leader.  Remember, as a leader or manager, you aren’t appraised on how well you do, but rather how well your team and employees do.

So resist the urge to solve your employees’ problems.  In the long run, you will all come out ahead.

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