Leadership Matters: Why Your Managers Aren’t Coaching 

May 2018: Vol 41 No 5
Michael Bungay Stanier
… and what to do about it
Female business manager coaching a group of employees

Coaching has been around for some time now, and although the definitions are still a little vague and varied, most organizations have come to the conclusion that coaching is beneficial. Despite that, surveys seem to indicate that employees aren’t receiving valuable coaching and that many managers believe they aren’t prepared to adequately coach. 

That’s not to say that people aren’t seeing some form of coaching. I’ve often quoted research from leadership development firm BlessingWhite that indicated that 73 percent of managers had some form of coaching training. Yet only 23 percent of people being coached thought that the coaching had a significant impact on their performance or job satisfaction. How motivating could those meetings possibly have been?

Chances are you’re not getting very effective coaching¬—and you’re probably not delivering very effective coaching either.

There’s No Time!

Managers are often overworked, overcommitted and overwhelmed, so when you approach them with an idea that sounds like a new task, the defensive wall immediately goes up. The problem is that managers feel that they simply haven’t got the time. Like the White Rabbit, they’re already late for a very important date! 

Yet the idea that coaching needs to be its own formal event or that, at the very least, managers need to carve out an hour a day for coaching their employees is a common misconception.

The truth is that coaching doesn’t need to take extra time, nor become an additional task. It shouldn’t be like trying to add more water to an already full glass. Rather, it should be like adding a flavor packet to it. You can turn everyday conversations into 10-minutes-or-less coaching moments—a quick conversation in the hallway or an informal meeting in your office can become moments of insight.

But in order to do this, managers need to have the skills that will enable coaching conversations. And the simplest way to help managers become more coach-like is to get them asking more questions.

We’re Advice Monsters

Of course, some of us think we’ve mastered the art of asking questions. But really, we pretend we’re asking questions when we’re actually just disguising advice as questions and leading the other person to the response we want to hear. “Have you thought of …?” or “What about …?” or “Did you consider …?” These questions are basically advice with a question mark tacked on the end.

And then there’s fake active listening. You know the drill¬—tilt your head, furrow your brow, nod your head and make a noise of acknowledgement. You appear interested and engaged, but really you’re just covering up the fact that you are not listening and are waiting to interrupt with your own advice. 

So, when it comes right down to it, it’s the listening part we struggle with. Watch yourself carefully for a day and see how quickly you’re triggered to give advice. Pay attention to how many times you are ready to provide an answer. A 1984 study by Howard Beckman, M.D., and Richard Frankel, Ph.D., found that, for physicians meeting with patients, the average time to interruption was 18 seconds. Maybe you’re thinking that’s unique to doctors, but you’ll probably see things differently after observing yourself for a day.

We’re all guilty of offering up a little too much advice. The good news is that you can change the way you lead by learning to be lazier. 

The Key Is to Be Lazy

Managers need to learn to be lazy because being lazy stops the rush to action. Instead of asking questions, hold back and offer up space for your team members to talk and come up with their own solutions. When you give advice, you’re in control. By asking questions, power switches to the other person, and they become responsible for finding solutions.

Getting into the habit of asking questions is the simplest way to stay lazy and stay curious.
It’s a self-management tool to keep your advice monster under restraint.

To really support and engage with their employees, managers need to become more coach-like by getting better at asking questions and at giving feedback. But you can’t just tell them that and hope for the best. You need to help managers see how coaching can be useful for them as well as for their employees¬—and how it all starts with asking more questions and offering a little less advice.

Michael Bungay Stanier is the senior partner at Box of Crayons, a company that teaches 10-minute coaching so that busy managers can build stronger teams and get better results. His most recent book, The Coaching Habit, has sold a quarter of a million copies. Stanier is a Rhodes Scholar and was recently recognised as the #3 Global Guru in coaching. 

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