A few years ago Gallup conducted its largest global study ever on the future of work. One of its key findings, so compelling it became a book, was the outsized effect managers have on the long-term success of organizations. Notably, the study found that managers account for 70% of the variance in their team members’ levels of engagement.
This is something I would venture to say that we have all experienced at a very personal level. I’ve been fortunate to have incredible experiences working with great managers who were true leaders and mentors throughout my career. And they inspired me to be happy, productive, and ultimately successful in my work (thank you Nancy, Patricia, Scott, Gary and David).
Coaching Is Key
Given that the case for empowering managers to be effective people developers is so strong, it remains surprising to me that so few managers are given tools to help them learn how to do their jobs well; about half of managers say they never got any formal management training before assuming their roles.
This was true of me, too – I dove in without knowing what I was doing. In fact, just a few days ago I shared a story with a customer of how when my first company was acquired and I was appointed CTO, my first task in that role was to google “what does a CTO (for this type of company) do?”
I soon learned, however, that one of the most important foundational skills of managing others is the ability to coach and mentor. Ironically, when I first learned about coaching in the corporate world, my initial impression was that it was more of a punitive measure rather than an opportunity for self-exploration and growth. Clearly I needed some coaching tips for managers.
Times have certainly changed. Now I know that a coach is someone who is completely in your corner and invested in your personal and professional growth. A leader as a coach is even better, because a leader as a coach is not only rooting for you, you’re working together to achieve amazing results with the very person who can help clear the way for your personal success! Over the years of experiences as both a fortunate coachee, as well as a coach who has had the honor of working with some amazing teams, I’ve boiled down my best coaching tips for managers to the following four tenets.
1. Lead with an attitude of acceptance
When it comes to relationships, you’ll have the healthiest and happiest ones when you withhold judgment. This is because passing judgment on another is one of the fastest ways to destroy any trust between you. Adopting an attitude of acceptance is, therefore, one of the most important coaching tips for managers to follow.
The tendency to judge is hard-wired into our DNA; being able to name things as bad or good kept us safe in caveman times. By staying aware that this is human nature, and then taking steps to instead lean into acceptance, we can change our ways of interaction to better support and foster the development of others.
So practice accepting that others have different ways of thinking and doing than you. Recognize that this is often because they’ve had different life experiences. We will all have colleagues who have different values than we have, and that’s OK.
2. Ask directive questions
Instead of dispensing advice or giving unilateral direction to your reports, engage in a two-way conversation. You can do this by asking questions described as “directive.” Directive questions start with interrogative words (e.g who, what, when, why, how, does, could) and aim to elicit more specific information from the respondent. Some directive questions you might ask of your team members include:
- What do you think went well in that client meeting?
- How do you think we could improve our sales pitch?
- Why aren’t we getting more inbound leads? What can we do about it?
- Would it make sense to shift these responsibilities to someone else so you can focus on X?
- What new project would you be excited to take on?
These questions require your reports to reflect, and they also allow for opinions, thoughts and discussions to arise.
3. Give people the space to talk about issues other than the work at hand
What’s one of the most powerful coaching tips for managers? Seeing the whole person when you look at your employee.
Especially when so many workers have been working remotely for so long, it can be hard to know what’s going on your colleagues’ lives. That’s why it’s more important than ever that as a manager, you make room for your employees to talk about what’s most important for them to talk about during your 1:1 meetings.
This can be as straightforward as asking with genuine interest how things are going at home or with family. Or asking probing follow-up questions if your employee seems frustrated with a process, colleague or timeline that is part of a project.
If you sense frustration, apathy, or other feelings that may interfere with work, go ahead and bring it up tactfully. Checking in with language like, “You seem frustrated by this project, is there something specific bothering you?” or “You don’t seem as engaged as you usually are. Is there anything you want to talk about?” Most importantly, truly listen to their response and respond with empathy rather than react with proposed solutions.
4. Solicit input on purpose and direction
Teams that are working together to fulfill a clear and shared purpose will be more successful teams, every time. As a manager, one of the most effective ways you can give your team’s morale and performance a boost is to talk about purpose and direction.
Ideally, a team’s purpose is created by the team as a whole. This collaboration ensures that everyone has buy-in and is invested in achieving that purpose. Make it a habit to ask your team members how they would describe the team’s purpose. Have everyone write it down and then compare notes. Revisit and refine your stated purpose at least annually, and refer back to it as a north star in your team meetings.
With commitment to developing one’s own self-awareness and a little bit of practice at these coaching tips for managers, every leader can become a mentor. In fact, I believe it’s one of the most satisfying capabilities life offers: being able to deepen one’s own impact by helping others grow and flourish.