Five tips that will help you be a better coach at work

It is no different on a sports field than in the office, or wherever you work place happens to be. When you encounter a team mate who is struggling, or even someone who is doing well but not performing at peak potential, you stand a far better chance of helping them succeed if you wear your coach hat into the conversation.

What's the difference? The distinction between managing and coaching is not about one being better than the other.

There are times when you have to wear your manager hat, especially when protocols are required to keep things running smoothly.

The broad slate of management tools help us organise the business - and the team - to run effectively. Most businesses would fall over without strong management.

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In fact, a business that grows too fast is just as worrisome as one that grows too slowly. You wear your manager hat to ensure that things move along as they should.

But there is a clear downside when you rely too heavily on protocols and processes to manage people.

The real conversations that need to happen can get lost in the mechanics of the process.

If you've ever been 'managed' through a process, the steps can sometimes seem more important than the outcome. At the end of such an experience, people often describe it as impersonal.

A common example is the annual performance review which most people are required to have with their manager.

In some companies, the process can grow like an untamed beast, which then undermines the original intent. As a result, you spend more time going through a prescribed check-list of questions rather than having quality discussions about things that really matter.

A good coach knows when to switch hats, especially in situations where it is clear that 'one size fits all' will not meet the diverse needs of real people. On a team, confidence and capability will vary across the members. Wearing your coach hat, you must be agile enough to toggle between team members who are struggling and those who are doing well.

One sure way to lock in the learning is to have your coachee help someone else climb up the learning curve.

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In any given hour, you may coach someone who requires extra instruction, a second person who needs encouragement, and a third who could use a good kick up the back side. Across time, you develop an intuition for knowing when and how to flex, even if the protocol requires you to take a more linear approach.

Anyone who has led a team knows that human beings are not linear. You will miss important cues if you put more effort into 'ticking the box' rather than connecting with your people.

To be a good coach, you have to come out from behind the check-list and be the human face that people can connect with more readily.

Five Tips to Better Coaching

Here are five tips that will help you be a better coach at work.

These tips are relevant across many different scenarios, all of which have one thing in common: someone facing into a challenge that is key to their growth.

As you consider real-time coaching scenarios at work, think about how you might apply these tips to help someone navigate their way through a major challenge.

They will also give you a gauge on whether you should reach for your coach hat more often.

1. Focus on the prize. A prize is anything that is valued, worth striving for and, in some cases, seized. It helps if you position any coaching goal as the prize.

The logic behind this goes to the heart of what motivates people to push through a challenge. If you put a vision into a person's head about doing something successful, they are much more likely to achieve it. That's how Olympians train.

It is difficult to move toward a goal if you can't see it. And even if you can see it, sometimes the prize is not compelling enough. As a coach, you should spend time - up front - talking about what success looks like. The prize should be more compelling than the current state, otherwise it loses its power to motivate the coachee to take action.

The prize may be a new skill, nailing an important presentation, a promotion, a higher qualification, the chance to lead a team or the pride that comes from doing something that's never been done before.

Have the person describe the prize in their own words so that they own it. Get them to describe what success looks like in living colour. It has to be their prize, not yours.

It is common for a person to experience bouts of self-doubt as they encounter obstacles along the way. When this happens, they can also become myopic, causing them to take their eye off the big picture. Given that their prize is usually embedded in the big picture, it's important for you to bring both of them back into the person's line of sight.

2. Prepare for the stretch. Once the coachee has locked on the prize, it's time to get them ready for stretch.

Stretch is what happens when you decide that a person has more to give - and you intentionally start to lift their performance to the next level. It's the same as when you decide that it's time for your six-year old child to ride her bicycle without training wheels.

For some people, stretch is scary because it pulls them away from a sense of security. They often don't know where to start, nor do they fully understand that being pulled outside their comfort zone is really a good thing. This is why some people don't react well to stretch. To them, the very thought of doing something different seems wrought with danger.

As coach, you should help the person prepare for their stretch. To use the analogy of a road trip, it saves a lot of time and frustration if they map out their route in advance.

With the prize as their beacon, help your coachee determine the quickest pathway to get there - without avoiding those challenges that can build skill and confidence.

Take the example of someone who has to deliver a presentation to the company's leadership team in four weeks, something he has never done before. As coach, help him think through the skills required to nail the presentation.

Help him to determine any gaps and discuss the best ways to close them. It's important that you guide him with your questions rather than spoon-feeding solutions.

3. Reframe the hurdles. Some people see a hurdle as an obstacle. And other people see that same hurdle as an opportunity.

These are two different mind-sets that often beget two different outcomes.

As coach, it is important that you determine early on whether the person is largely optimistic or pessimistic about winning the prize. This is where your voice can play a critical role.

Confidence is everything when a person faces into a big challenge. When a person lacks confidence, they will either over-inflate the challenge, or they under-inflate their own capability to push into it. In worst case scenarios, the person does both.

As coach, you have to keep your eyes and ears open for any signs that the person has blown the challenge out of proportion. Take the example of someone who you ask to run a very large project, larger than anything she's ever run before. From her own words, you can hear that she's having big doubts, especially how critical she is of her abilities.

When a person lacks confidence, they will either over-inflate the challenge, or they under-inflate their own capability to push into it.

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With your manager hat on, you might just choose to focus on the tasks related to the project - the check-list approach.

But wearing your coach hat, you remind her why she was selected, the outstanding work she has delivered and the strengths that she can build on. You become the voice of objectivity - to counter any irrational thoughts that may weigh on her confidence.

Like in sport, it helps the players if they can hear the coach yelling support from the side-lines.

It helps even more if the team is yelling their support too.

4. Support with straight talk. 'Straight talk' is slang for your ability to have direct and honest conversations with people.

It's what Jack Welch was famously known for in General Electric, the most celebrated and successful company and chief executive in the 20th century.

Welch considered it unethical to soften feedback to another person who deserves to hear the hard truth - especially when it comes to how they are performing.

His rationale was simple: you can't expect people to be mind-readers. If they need to do something different, then tell them.

As a coach, you have to be honest with people about what is and isn't working.

Even if it's painful in the short term, they almost always appreciate the candour that helps them to make some necessary adjustments. Being supportive is not about being nice. It's about delivering feedback that is honest, direct, timely and relevant to winning the prize.

5. Lock in the learning. Nothing reinforces a new way of thinking better than having to practice it - right away, over and over, until it becomes a habit.

Once you put a person in stretch, keep them there long enough to see the muscle build. It is literally like building muscle memory. It takes a little time for a person to lock into natural cadence with a new skill, so don't let up.

If your coachee nailed the presentation, celebrate and then look for the next opportunity where he can build on the positive experience.

For the person leading the largest project of her career, be sure to have a proper debrief on what worked well and things she would do differently. Then scan for ways that she can build on those skills - as part of her job or linking her into other projects.

One sure way to lock in the learning is to have your coachee help someone else climb up the learning curve. When a person has to teach something, they take more ownership for being a credible teacher, which means they take the learning process more seriously.

Look for opportunities where your coachee has to teach another person who is less experienced. You will definitely see their confidence grow over time, especially when they have to get very specific about things like substance, style and how to build credibility.

Having to teach something will lift a person's game very quickly.

Switch up your hats more often. Look for opportunities every day to don your coach hat and see how much more connected people are with you.

When your team believes that they are more important than the process, you get a different energy from them. Talk with them more about how they want to grow and less about what they're doing wrong.

Finally, apply the five tips to any upcoming hurdles in your own path.

See how they can make a positive difference in your outlook and how you react to personal stretch. You will always be a more effective coach if you can talk from direct experience.