When done right, coaching can help your employees improve, and it can make you a better leader too.
In a 2018 Harvard Business Review article, Julia Milner and Trenton Milner shared research that came as a shock to many managers and supervisors: Most people in a leadership role don’t actually know what it means to coach their employees.
According to the Milners’ research, “managers tend to think they’re coaching when they’re actually just telling their employees what to do.”
Coaching isn’t as simple as giving orders or feedback. In the words of Sir John Whitmore, who pioneered coaching and leadership development in the workplace, coaching is the process of “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. … Helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”
In 9-1-1, however, we are often inclined to tell rather than coach. “There’s no time to beat around the bush!” we bark at trainees. “Officer safety is at risk!”
Even away from the front line, many of us still aren’t equipped to identify coaching opportunities.
Instead of asking questions that might help both ourselves and the employee better understand a decision they made at the console, supervisors simply tell the employee in a punitive tone that what they did was wrong, and then send them on their way.
But when done right, coaching can help your employees improve, and it can make you a better leader too.
WHY COACHING MATTERS
Here’s how one supervisor at a comm center in Texas transitioned from “telling” to “coaching.”
The supervisor had been dreading a scheduled conversation with a problem employee at his center. He was anxious about having to discipline the employee and the reaction it might provoke. Before going into the conversation, the supervisor considered trying a new approach: Instead of telling the employee what the problem was, he decided to coach her on it.
Going into the exchange, the supervisor feared that the employee’s problems on the job had something to do with him — something he had said, or guidance he hadn’t given.
But as the employee described her current reality, she confessed most of her distracting work behavior—negative attitude, doing only the bare minimum, not following up properly—was because of something she was dealing with at home. She admitted that she wasn’t very good at keeping it from affecting her work, but agreed she could be doing more to stop it from doing so.
Together, the employee and supervisor explored solutions. By the end of the meeting, they agreed on two specific ways she could improve her performance. They set to meet again two weeks later to evaluate her progress.
When the supervisor recounted this story, he remarked on two things. The first was the gratitude the employee expressed after feeling truly heard. The second was that the conversation took longer than he expected. It takes time to meet another person where they’re at and relate to them on their terms. The supervisor above had proactively set aside enough time for this conversation to happen at its own pace.
As a result, the employee re-engaged in her job. She emerged from the conversation with the feeling that her boss—and thereby, her organization—had her best interests in mind.
HOW TO START COACHING
If you’re not sure how to make the switch from “telling” to “coaching,” it can help to work with a model. The following model — called the “GROW” model — was originally developed in the 1980s by business coaches Graham Alexander, Alan Fine, and Sir John Whitmore.
- Establish the Goal.
First, you and your team member need to look at the behavior that you want to change, and then structure this change as a goal to achieve. Make sure that this is a SMART goal — one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
- Examine the Current Reality.
Next, ask your team member to describe her current reality. This is an important step. Too often, people try to solve a problem or reach a goal without fully considering their starting point, and often they’re missing some information that they need in order to reach their goal effectively. As your team member tells you about his current reality, the solution may start to emerge.
- Explore the Options.
Now it’s time to determine what is possible – meaning that you review all of the potential options for reaching her objective. Help your team member brainstorm as many good options as possible. Then, discuss these and help her decide on the best ones.
- Establish the Will.
Your team member will now have a good idea of how she can achieve her goal. The final step is to get your team member to commit to specific actions in order to move towards her goal, and note anything that may prevent the goal from being achieved. What impediments exist that may prevent her from maintaining her motivation?
After going through each step, the pathway forward will be clear, along with understanding anything that may stand in the way.
The best part of this method is that the answers flow out of a conversation, instead of being issued as a directive from “the boss.” Switching from “telling” to “coaching” not only empowers employees to become active partners in their own professional development, it improves your leadership ability.
Thanks for reading this article, containing excerpts of my upcoming book, “People Driven Leadership: How the Best 9-1-1 Centers Inspire Positive Change.”
This is the 16th article of 20. Stay tuned for the next!
“People Driven Leadership: How the Best 9-1-1 Centers Inspire Positive Change” will be available on April 13, 2020, the beginning of National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. For more details, click here.