One of the common pitfalls we fall into as managers is using ourselves as the yardstick to measure our employees' performance. And we're usually quite unconscious of the fact that we're doing this. We look at our employees, at their work, at how they handle situations, and we think about how we would have done it differently. Then we often give our employees feedback and coaching based on these reflections.
The problem with this is that we end up trying to create clones of ourselves rather than coaching our employees to be "their" best. And while, in theory, it's great for the organization to get more of the qualities, skills and abilities that make us successful, what we and the organization may be losing out on are the unique qualities, skills and perspectives of our employees.
How do you fix the problem? Start by being aware of this natural tendency. Then...
Value your differences
All of the instruments designed to identify personality types or communication styles, like Myers-Briggs®, DISC, or Social Style Assessments, help us to learn more about ourselves. But they're also supposed to help us understand that not everyone thinks or acts as we do. And the different perspectives, motivations and responses of others aren't any better or worse than ours, they're just different.
Ideally, we want to be able to cultivate some of those different characteristics and perspectives in ourselves, or at least leverage them in others. We need to value our different ways of thinking and acting. Often we can achieve the best results when we consider all perspectives, and adopt a blend of approaches to any situation.
So when we coach our employees or give them feedback on their performance, we need to first consider our differences and the value of our differences, so we avoid making judgments based on these.
Ask questions and share reflections that lead to self-awareness
The goal of coaching and feedback is to help our employee be "their" best, not our best. One of the best ways to do this is to help them arrive at deeper self-awareness. You can do this by asking the employee questions about the work situation that help them uncover their thinking, assumptions, natural bias, etc. Rather than jumping in with our perspective, we start with the employee's. What do they think and feel about their performance in the situation at question? What do they think and feel about the results? Why did they choose their particular course of action? What other tactics or behaviors could they have adopted? How might the outcome have been different had they acted differently?
Once you've helped your employee explore their thinking and feeling about the situation and their perception of its impact, you can share your observations. But always be careful to not jump to conclusions. Share what you saw and what you think you saw and remember, your perceptions might not always be right.
The goal of coaching is to help the employee better understand their performance and its impact, and find ways they can improve and succeed.
Seek to broaden everyone's perspective
Now that you've done this discovery work with your employee, you can share your perspective. This is a great time to share examples from your career of how you've handled similar situations. The examples can be about you or others you've observed. The goal is to explore other approaches and to highlight their respective strengths and weaknesses as this is how we broaden our perspective. You want to help your employee see how a different approach can lead to more effective results, and find new ways that work for them. You want them to better understand the different approaches and perspectives of others, and the ways they can learn to better manage their interactions.
This is a great opportunity to offer some safe "role-playing" to your employee, where you let them "practice" new behaviors with you. Or you can offer to do some closer coaching with the employee as they work to change their behaviors and practices. For example, they might want to check in with you to review an alternate approach before they try it out.
The focus should be on the results to be achieved, and helping the employee find more effective ways that "they" can achieve them.
Be wary of "my way or the highway" thinking
What's most important in your role as coach is to avoid "my way or the highway" thinking, where you communicate directly or indirectly that the only valid perspective and approach is your own. It can be so easy to do without realizing it. But this is how we shut down creativity and innovation on our teams and in our organizations. It's how we dis-empower our employees. It's how we destroy employee engagement and loyalty. The different biases, perspectives, strengths and weaknesses of each of our employees can be a tremendous asset to our organization, if we value them. So we need to be prepared to let go of our way of doing things and the assumption that our way is always best.
Fostering self-awareness and growth
Your primary role as coach should be to foster deeper self-awareness and growth. You do this by:
- acting as a "mirror" to help the employee see themselves and the impact of their behaviors more clearly
- asking questions that help uncover the motivations, biases and assumptions that underlie their actions
- supporting the exploration of alternative, more effective behaviors and actions
- encouraging the learning and practice of effective behaviors and actions
So next time you're coaching your employee or giving them feedback, ask yourself: Am I coaching or cloning?