Today is March 16, 2015...in 7 or so months, on October 21, 2015 we're supposed to have flying cars, fax machines in every room of the house, automatic laces, and yes...hoverboards. Ok, I don't think we're going to see any of that either, but I do think 2015 is the year for organizations to get serious about strengths-based leadership coaching.
Recently, I had a friend of mine, who runs a non-profit, ask me what strengths coaching could do for him and his executive group. I could tell he was apprehensive of the whole idea and probably worried, like most, that each week would turn into a 45-minute, "on the couch" therapy session with no measurable results in the end. (*in case you're wondering, that's not at all what happens).
My friend shares my love of the game of golf, so it was quite easy for me to come up with the following metaphor. Leaders are like golfers, with skills ranging from absolute beginner to the best in the world. Fortunately for golfers, and leaders, there are coaches. The best coaches help you determine what it is you want to accomplish and then help you get there. They work with you week in and week out to tweak different areas of your game. One month you may be working on your putting (communication with employees) and another week, bunker shots (dealing w/ difficult situations in the workplace). The coach is there to help you grow as an individual in your communication, leadership, attitude, etc. so that you (and your organization) can be at your best.
Continuing with the golf coach theme, this is a big one - If you want truly great leadership in your organization, you need to provide individualized leadership coaching. Guess what, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson don't get together on Monday mornings at a driving range down in Florida to be coached by the same coach at the same time. It is 2015, the group training you require every employee/manager to go through once a year for a couple of hours is a not enough! Your leaders are your rock stars, the best of the best in your organization and maybe even your industry. Individuals need individualized coaching to accelerate their results.
Strengths-Based Coaching/Development is a positive approach to looking at individuals in a unique way. We all have talents, or themes, we innately gravitate towards that shape how we handle job functions, communication & interpersonal relationships. Take those pre-conference socials we've all been to - some of us love being in a room full of people we don't know and we leave at the end of the night with a few business cards and a lot of energy. On the other hand, some dread the entire experience and retreat back to their hotel room, exhausted.
Some of us love to focus on the detail of a project, while others are more concerned with "getting it done" and moving on.
And some of us are more focused on preparing for what's 3 years down the road than what's important right now.
Everyone lives their life and leads in their own way. As an organization/leader, we need to recognize that all of our employees are not going to operate on the same wavelength we are, and that's ok...in fact, it's preferable. Having individuals with different strengths helps round out a team, helps diminish "groupthink", and drives change and innovation to make the organization better.
Unlike traditional development, which focuses on where people are weak, Strengths-Based Coaching/Development is all about focusing on the talents you're innately drawn to - feeding them with knowledge, practice and application so that they become strengths. When we operate or approach our work with strengths we increase our energy, performance and are able to create more repeatable instances of high productivity.
Employers who focus on the strengths of their people have seen 6x higher employee engagement, increased employee retention & increased profitability over weakness-focused competitors.
So in 2015, you may not be able to hover around in your Prius or send your friend faxes from your bathroom, BUT you can make a huge difference in your people, your organization and your community by implementing a Strengths-Based Coaching/Development program.
It's NOT about you!!!
When you reach that point in your career when you're tasked with managing people, whether 5 or 500, they become your #1 responsibility. They should be the focus of your day and their engagement & wellbeing should be the lens with which you operate. Your #1 goal should be to serve them, to raise them up, to open doors, and to make them look great! (btw - when you do all of that, it makes you look really great as well)
But how is this possible? How is it possible to continue the way I've worked, still keeping up with my daily workload/tasks and now be expected to focus on my employees? It's NOT! Now is the time to start thinking BIGGER. Now is the time to delegate, hire & buildout the team that your organization needs - not what it needs today or tomorrow, but 5 years from now.
How to "Raise Up" Your Employees (or avoid pulling them down)
Get Out of Their Way!/DON'T MICROMANAGE - I can't believe that in 2015 we still have to say this, but micromanagement is bad. Plain and simple, I'm not going to pull out the thesaurus and find a better adjective, it's just bad.
If you hired someone for a role and they have the skill set, tools & desire to make it happen, get out of their way! There are few things more frustrating for a high-performing employee than to have a boss that wants constant updates and wants to provide constant input. Let your employees own their work, you'll be amazed at what they can accomplish.
Praise Them!/DO NOT STEAL CREDIT - Repeat after me, "I will not steal credit that is due to my employees and I will take every opportunity to give them credit!" If you've ever had credit stolen from you, it is possibly the absolute worst, most demoralizing, engagement zapping, and just plain shitty thing a boss can do to an employee.
We've all seen it, that junior employee works his butt off to prepare a report for Sr. Mgmt or the Board, is running the final copy past their boss and all of sudden the bossman wants to put his or her name on the report too. Sometimes the boss will explain this away as though they want to show it was reviewed by them, or believe that the Sr. Mgmt/Board won't know who "Junior Employee Joey" is so they want to lend some credibility to the work; but in reality, they're just grabbing the credit (and their employee's soul haha).
The Power of "Raising Up" Your Employees
What can you expect to see if you constantly focus on making your employees better, giving more of the credit and accepting more of the blame, seeking out opportunities to open doors to new work, new responsibility...well, amazing things.
Responsibility - When your employees know it's their name (and only their name) on that report, project or memo, they begin to take responsibility for their work. Their internal pride mechanism kicks in and says "you better knock this one out of the park." If you as the manager are constantly tagging their work with your name or using the term "we" when presenting little Joey's work to the Board, little Joey get's upset and rightly so. He did the work and should get the credit (how motivated will Joey be next time to work at his best if he knows there isn't any possibility of getting the credit and praise he deserves?).
Freedom - When you work to 'Raise Up' your employees, you give them the freedom to venture out, make mistakes, learn & ultimately grow. This is powerful. Growth & Innovation, whether in a human or an organization, requires mistakes to be made and judgement to be withheld.
I remember a story I heard from Darren Hardy of Success Magazine. He was talking about how he was out skiing as a kid and came back home to tell his dad he didn't fall once during the day. His dad looked at him, and said, "you must have not been giving it your all." Too often, we consider failure fatal, and as managers we condemn mistakes to the point where employees are afraid to venture out. They play it safe, they reserve questions for fear of looking stupid, and they limit their potential by the fear their boss has instilled in them.
Give your employees the freedom to try, fail, and try again.
Finally, They Become Leaders - Which is nice, because eventually your organization might need a few more :)
At the top of this post is a pic of a great book by Bill Treasurer, called Leaders Open Doors (leadersopendoors.com). Bill does a better job than anyone I know of explaining courageous leadership and the power of opening doors of development for employees. Also, check out a great interview with Simon Sinek from Richard over at doseofleadership.com/simon-sinek/.
husband + father + pilot + director of talent development + leadership coach + startup fan + reader of personal #development, company #culture & leadership books