How to coach a manager?

Let me start off by with addressing the elephant in the room. Your managers (and your extended team) are always watching you in action. This means - cues of what “good looks like” or gets “valued” in the organization is watched very minutely - from what you do, what you recognize and how you operate. So whatever approach you take for coaching - ensure its consistent with what you do on the ground.

Now that, that’s out of the way - here are some ideas

How to coach a manager

Start with “Whats on your mind”

I can’t ever emphasize enough the importance of asking open ended questions. This one is my favorite. This gives you an insight into so many things. It helps you get to the point quickly of what has been the top of mind for them. If they are looking at tactical issues or doing some strategic thinking. How prepared are they for the conversation. This also gives them an opportunity to feel in control of the conversation and feel supported to talk about what is the most important thing for them in the moment.

Help them explain their coaching style

A lot can be uncovered by talking through things. Often I have discovered that this is something that hasn’t ever been discussed openly. In-fact a lot of managers I work with haven’t even been intentional about defining and developing their coaching style. They often default to their instincts - usually based on their upbringing, schooling etc. The corporate environment is different though and requires different ways of working. This gets even more complex when the managers are managing teams across different cultural boundaries - within the country or even international.

Asking them this question will help them be intentional about it. Putting a structure around how they think about coaching will also ensure that the approach can then be consistent across their team and not vary based on who they have more comfort with in working vs. who they find challenging to work with.

Provide clarity on their goals

Time and energy are precious resources. When spent in an aligned and directed manner - they will have have a 10x impact. Leaving managers to interpret goals is a recipe for a missed opportunity - including times when they could have easily exceeded the goals. Often its thought that setting quantitative metrics is good enough - but if not set correctly they are only a sign of success or failure - not a good opportunity to course correct in time or accelerate if it feels like surpassing the goals are a possibility.

The other aspect for coaching for goals is building a joint view of the gaps to the goal. An unbiased assessment of where they are vs. where they need to be. This, followed by a plan to cover the gap and ways to measure progress - both leading and lagging indicators - will empower them to take control of their pace but also confidently self regulate.

In may ways this make the manager self managing as you then have provided them a clear direction, an approach - where you have their buy-in since they came up with the idea in the first place and ways to for them to objectively measure if they are making progress.

Provide feedback at a minimum and in a timely manner

Once you have built trust around your intentions - that you are deeply committed to their success - this is an easy one to do. Without that trust - being able to candidly sharing feedback can be challenging.

Assuming good intentions - and believing that everyone is doing the very best based on their knowledge, skills and blind spots - is a good starting point. Then layering feedback - for both instances - when there is a need for assurance that they are doing a good job or for when you need to give a suggestion to watch out for their blind spots or improve their outcomes by tweaking their approach can be very productive.

When approached in collaborative, respectful, timely and well intentioned manner - this can be very impactful.

Situational Coaching

The best opportunity to coach (and to learn) is with a real example. Situation coaching is the opportunity where you get involved but only from the outside in perspective. Mostly asking open ended questions and getting the manager to be intentional about thinking about the problem they are working on. Some questions that might help get you going would be like

  • What choices are available, how is the approach being taken, what are potential risks and its mitigation strategy that’s possible
  • Which other function in the organization might have their objectives aligned to what they are trying to do and who else can they recruit to help deliver an outcome
  • What are the short, medium and long term action required to be taken?

Discuss career and professional development plans

Progress comes in many forms. A level up is only one of the bigger more obvious and visible milestone. Personal development is usually a function of continuous and consistent focus on areas of growth and development.

Your contribution as their manager - would be to help identify and provide learning opportunities with coaching support. This is something that I have learnt to prioritize over everything else - more for my personal effectiveness. A stronger team only helps me taken on more challenging assignments and deliver them to the highest quality.

Hope some of these ideas resonate with you. In a leadership role you have the opportunity to unlock potentials with a multiplier effect. Being intentional about it - reading, learning and trying out different things will help you figure out the right mix to get the most out of your team.

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash