Have you ever known a manager who, after every joint call or conversation, feels the need to offer you ‘coaching,’ always under the banner of YOUR self-improvement? It often begins with something like, “May I offer you some coaching?” or “Can I give you some feedback?” just minutes after a high-stakes presentation, emotionally-charged sales call or internal meeting gone awry.
- Here’s what I’d like to say: “No, thanks. I’m a little tender right now. Let’s catch up after we’ve both had time to think it over.”
- Here’s what I actually say: “Sure!”
For me, there’s nothing more brutal immediately after a tough call than reminiscing about what I could have done differently to change the outcome. What works best is getting help before or during the call, rather than a post-mortem of platitudes disguised as pearls for my professional development. The anguish deepens when I recognize all this wisdom is flowing freely from the silent witness who chose to observe my undoing from the relative comfort and safety of the sidelines.
I typically group managers/leaders into two categories: commanders or collaborators. The command-style coach makes all the decisions. The role of the subordinate is to respond enthusiastically. The assumption is that the coach has all the knowledge and experience and it is his role to tell his subordinates what to do. The subordinate’s role is to listen, absorb and comply. Often, this kind of coach isn’t open to challenges to his authority. In fact, you’ll see a command style coach hand-select his team based on their loyalty (i.e. level of compliance), rather than on raw talent.
Command-style coaches are generally defensive of their beliefs and are rarely open to feedback themselves, especially in a public venue. These leaders spend the majority of a coaching session talking about themselves, their experiences and career highlights. I call this kind of meeting a “success buffet,” where managers keep their accomplishments under a heat lamp and allow their subordinates to choose the nuggets that seem appealing. The problem is that the poor subordinates typically pile the plate too high and feel badly when they can’t finish half of what they’ve taken.
Collaborative coaches are very different. They understand their people and what motivates them. And, guess what? It isn’t always the money. These coaches share decision making (not just decisions) with their subordinates in a collaborative way. They recognize their responsibility to provide leadership and guidance and set out objectives and goals in collaboration with their players. They offer feedback in a way that feels natural, because it is natural. There is honesty in their approach and they spend as much time reinforcing the positives as they do offering criticism.
Collaborative coaches also have the confidence to lead by example and don’t pretend to have all the answers. They encourage individual experimentation and, as a reward, lead engaged and interested teams that respond to challenges with flair and imagination, instead of fear. In some companies, a collaborative coach may be perceived as lacking an acceptable level of Darwinian management behavior, especially those firms that thrive on stack ranking to “keep the best and scare the rest.”
There is one certainty. We’ll likely run into both styles of coaching before we leave this big ball of clay. And while we can gripe about it, we probably won’t be able to influence a manager who believes the command approach has brought him success. However, here’s the good news. You can change you.
You can decide RIGHT NOW how/if you’re going summon the strength to endure a coaching style that isn’t working for you. Create scripts for your mind and body to precondition how you will respond when you are coached by a commander. Decide what you’ll internalize and what you won’t.
You can find strength in the most unlikely places. Mine came over the weekend in the lyrics of a spoken-word song released in 1999, called Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen):
Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it
Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of wishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off
Painting over the ugly parts and recycling for more than it's worth
 Baz Luhrmann, 1999