Several years ago one of my children started playing organized sports again. She had played for a number of years when she was very young and enjoyed it until she encountered a coach that was demanding and relatively short on praise. If you have seen a group of five year old children play any organized sport, it takes some real patience and understanding to be a successful coach at that age. Some of us are better than others at motivating and encourage future sport stars at dealing with their 20 second attention spans, constant bathroom requests, bickering over not wanting to stand by one child instead of another, and the desire to look at the sky even on a cloudless day instead of playing the game. His approach was more given to high school age kids and led to every day before practice being a series of conversations about please get ready, where are your things, and I really need you to get in the car or we will be late.
She returned to the same sport due to a coach as well. She met a coworker that coached on the weekend and asked to play on her team. The woman had a way with children that really connected with them and made them feel at ease. Her reputation had spread quickly at the sports complex and there was a waiting list to play on her team. She would take 15 hyper nine and ten year old children and turn them into a team that worked hard and actually enjoyed doing it. My daughter did not love the sport like I do, but she would have been a competitive mud pie maker or snake catcher for her coach because how supportive and engaging she was.
Like any successful coach, she created order out of chaos. By chaos, I mean those competing needs of focus, energy, will or interest, knowledge, and various attention demanding alternatives. The modern workplace is a chaotic place. We have all felt the stress of competing deadlines, less than ideal instructions, vague expectations, and supervisor and coworker dynamics coupled with all of the normal every day concerns we have about ourselves, families, and friends. So, how can a coach help?
The four principals that my daughter’s coach utilized are the same ones that we can use to coach in the workplace:
- Understand the Rules
- Set Goals and Maximize Focus
- Develop Strategies and Tactics
- Build on Strengths and Improve Weaknesses
Understand the Rules
Every organization has formal and informal rules and procedures or ways to get things done in an efficient and effective manner. An experienced coach can illuminate the pathways that produce the best results in the organization even if they are not the conventional means. This is critical since most leaders judge a reasonable amount of time by the amount of time it would take to complete a task by him or herself. Consequently, an employee that does not know the best way of doing things will not meet expectations.
Set Goals and Maximize Focus
New technologies, better communications, and new collaborative approaches have significantly increased the options open to us while added to workplace chaos. More than a few times, employees groups have likened their day to having a bad case of Adult Deficit Disorder (ADD) as they deal with leaders changing priorities, everyone needing something now, hundreds of emails, and meetings chopping any constant stretch of time into short bursts. A strong coach can help an employee wade through the torrent of information and demands and focus on what is most important. As part of this process, the employee should identify critical job elements, determine the best method for dealing with job priorities, identify the career path of greatest interest, and set professional goals for the short and long term.
Develop Strategies and Tactics
Once the employee knows where he or she wants to go, the coach can be instrumental and assisting with the design of strategy and tactics for success. Most coaches will have made the journey before and can identify where opportunities and threats present themselves along the way and offer very valuable advice on how to overcome personal and professional roadblocks.
Build on Strengths and Improve Weaknesses
The final key ingredient is for the employee to take a realistic inventory of him or herself. The inventory process involves identifying the current strengths and weaknesses, ascertaining the source of each, and determining the best course of action for improvement. A coach can help with the process by providing methods, feedback, and advice throughout the self analysis process. Moreover, a coach can be instrumental in identifying the best ways to efficiently improve. A common analogy I use with employees about coaches and improvement is related to tools. A variety of tools will give you approximately the same outcome, but the efficiency and overall effectiveness of tools can differ significantly. You can put 100 screws into a board with a simple screwdriver, but wouldn’t you rather use a power screwdriver or drill?
Coach Tom Landry summed it up very well:
“Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.”