Leading vs. Coaching
I have recently been working with a number of organizations on a training format that originates from the days of providing first line supervisory training. If someone would have told me years ago that at this stage in my work I would be focused on the most fundamental aspects of working with people, I flat out wouldn’t have believed them.
First line supervisory training was always one of those things that was considered necessary, but created a minimal amount of interest. More painstaking than the actual training was the fact that it quickly became obvious how inadequate it was. The newly learned skills would often evaporate just as soon as they had been learned. It was also obvious that the operational leaders who asked for the training viewed it as something that only new employees needed, when in reality, they needed it just as much.
Fast forward twenty years and we find in the world of lean leadership that the need to develop leaders who can coach, rather than direct, is still an overwhelming challenge. How can team members become more independent problem solvers if their leaders tend to own both the problems and the solutions? It is not news that those in leadership positions need to be able to coach, but few are able to build the habits to actually do it.
In recent years, I’ve evolved the need to coach rather than direct into a coaching style of leadership. In addition, fundamental leadership concepts, once known as first line supervisory training, are hugely beneficial to all levels of leadership, including those that lead processes and not just teams of people. In the last few years, the focus of my work has been to combine the need to develop a coaching style with fundamental leadership training and have had profound results.
Upon completing the training, many lead experts claim that it was one of the missing pieces in the success of their lean transformations. First line supervisory training covers topics like setting expectations, training people to do their work, and delivering effective feedback. These concepts need to be deeply ingrained in daily work and routines, rather than just during continuous improvement activities. One of the most important benefits in converting the fundamentals into a lean leadership approach is the predominant use of questions and better listening skills to assist people in owning their results. Too often the leader provides more than their fair share of direction and guidance, leaving little room for the person to self-advocate. Leaders are quick to agree that the lean way is a better approach, but find their habits are hard to break. What made the updated models actually work was the leaders’ support of each other in building new habits that foster a coaching style of leadership.
Coaching in Practice
Brian, an engineering client, has been more than pleased with providing an opportunity for all of his leaders to work together to build their basic leadership and people skills. Many of the results that were needed, such as better quality, efficiency, and safety, had been stagnant and resistant to change. Before the training, the leaders had become increasingly frustrated with their inability to support their teams in achieving better outcomes. After the group had focused on the fundamental skills using a coaching style of leadership, they had a marked improvement in work satisfaction and quickly saw positive results. Specifically, a few of the leaders took these lessons and made significant accomplishments in developing their team members, including their overall leadership abilities. Once they stepped back and relinquished some control, they saw how much potential their teams really had. They realized that they simply did not have a clear approach to follow, or adequate support, to endure the discomfort that change inevitably brings.
Put me in Coach
So, success comes from three primary resources: clear concepts that are well understood for leading teams, community support so leaders know they are not alone, and extensive time to practice new habits so that they become ingrained in everyday behavior. The problem in many organizations and companies is that one, two, or three of these key components are missing, resulting in difficulty getting any real traction to develop the coaching abilities of their leadership teams. And if the leadership team can’t coach, everyone else on the team is limited on how much they can contribute.
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