Ditch the Manager Mindset for the Craft of Coaching

on October 11, 2017

On the surface, the difference between a manager and a coach might seem trivial. In reality, the two are worlds apart. The closer our leaders live into their calling as leash-breaking coaches and avoid the traps of becoming constraining managers, the more our work environments will thrive and our profit will grow.

Years ago as a sales manager, I inherited a sales team. As I looked through their resumes, I realized I had two sales professionals in Brandon and Lily who were brand new and had almost no sales experience. Brandon had a four-year degree and made $60K at his previous 9-5 job. Lily, meanwhile, didn’t have a four-year degree and left a job that paid her nearly half of Brandon’s salary. I believed Brandon, who had more education and was accustomed to making more money, would outsell Lily.

I quickly noticed Lily always asked for my guidance and was open to my coaching. Brandon, on the other hand, avoided or argued with my coaching. Lily consistently made more sales and eventually moved up in the company. Brandon was eventually asked to seek employment elsewhere.

It wasn’t the skillset they came in with that was important, but rather how open they were to learning and growing. Today as a trainer, I take responsibility for Brandon’s fate. Coaching focused only on telling people what to do ultimately ignores the more important tasks of personal guidance and reprogramming employees from fixed to growth mindsets. Great leadership should help everyone grow, including leadership itself.

This is the essential difference between a manager and a coach. Where a manager dictates, domineers and regulates, coaches guide, inspire and prepare. And while it does require a level of buy-in from employees, it’s important to guide transformational change from the top down. It all starts with coaches. This is exactly the sort of thing a proper training company can instill.

If we truly want to unleash our office culture and drive more profit through our people, we need to encourage leadership to evolve from a manager mindset to the craft of coaching. While managers are only focused on the science, coaches incorporate the art as well.

The first step to maturing from a manager to a coach is to win employee buy-in. Clearly define the process, pattern, and strategy you want them to follow. So before you begin putting your ideas into practice, make sure your employees agree and are excited to put it to use. I won that buy-in from Lily, and as a result she thrived and grew not only in her original position, but flew up the ladder to bigger and better things as well.

Next, set expectations early and often. Tell your teammates exactly what you expect and revisit these items often. There’s powerful science at work behind reaching expectation, whether those set internally or externally. When an outcome meets our expectations, our brain releases dopamine, which naturally lifts our spirits. And if we get even more than we expect, our dopamine levels increase exponentially.

Say you expect 10 people to show up at your birthday party, and 20 people arrive instead. That good feeling you get is chemical. If you set your expectations at work accordingly and push your employees to meet them, you’ll find your office is continually in high spirits when those expectations are reached or even exceeded.

Finally, celebrate effort. Show appreciation for initiative as well as results. Remember, you’re the one calling the plays. If a teammate executes, celebrate them whether it ended in the result you wanted or not.

Think about the way we deal with our children. In their activities, do we withhold praise if they don’t win every time? Do we ignore the effort? Of course not. If we did, they’d easily become discouraged and quit before they ever discovered their talent, let alone whether they enjoyed it in the first place. So why do we think, as leaders, that we can get away with promoting a positive workplace while only celebrating wins and not behaviors we want to reinforce?

Wins arrive because of behaviors and beliefs, not the other way around. The more we encourage the latter, the more we’ll get of the former.

This is a hinge point where so many leaders miss their chance to create a Best Place To Work culture. While managers think the end result is all that matters, coaches are constantly on the lookout for the behaviors that add fuel to the company’s fire. And the more we act like coaches and not managers, the more our companies will thrive from the inside out.

About the Author

Jason Forrest is the CEO and Chief Culture Officer at Forrest Performance Group in Fort Worth, Texas. With a more than a decade of coaching and speaking experience, Forrest is a leading authority in culture change and an expert at creating high-performance sales cultures through complete training programs. He’s a member of the acclaimed National Speaker Association’s Million Dollar Speakers Group and has won multiple awards for his leadership, sales, and coaching programs. His most recent book, WTF: Why Training Fails, teaches companies and leaders how to avoid mistakes common to traditional ideas about training. You can keep up with Jason’s weekly commentary on his FPG blog.

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