If you want people that you coach to do well, you can speed up the process a lot by setting realistic goals. Not only does this have the added benefit of making the whole process more enjoyable for the person being coached, it is also a lot less frustrating for the the person doing the coaching, that’s you 😉
In leadership coaching to set goals well you need a good understanding of:
1. The starting point
2. Where you want to go
3. A realistic timescale given the task and support available
Here’s why it’s so bad when you get this wrong:
When you set someone an unrealistic goal (above their current skill level given the available support) you are essentially asking them to do something which is impossible for them to do.
This is unfair on them, and there are also other unwanted side effects to doing this:
1. Them failing can be frustrating for you
2. Embarrassing for them (this destroys their trust in you as a coach)
3. It takes longer than necessary to learn the new skill (this is super important as training and particularly coaching is very expensive in every organisation)
Keeping goals realistic adds some serious benefits to all parties involved.
Check out the benefits added through realistic goal setting:
But sometimes even the most experienced and thoughtful coaches can’t always judge what is realistic for someone to achieve.
Although failure is painful and something we want to avoid, it would be unrealistic for you to expect yourself to always be able to set realistic and achievable expectations. Sometimes you are just going to call it wrong.
Your going to:
Give bad instructions that do not end in the goal that was set
Not give enough support when it is needed
In these situations don’t be hard on yourself.
Owning up to your mistakes and being transparent will help build trust. It will also help speed up the process by relieving the other person of the embarrassment of that failure.
Bad Instructions “Wash the Baby Please”
If they followed your instructions and still failed, who needs to change what they are doing?
Them doing exactly what you asked them to do (Not something we want to change)
Your instructions to them need to be better
As a coach it is up to you to find what the start point is. Use questions to establish previous experience and this will help you understand their current skills level so you can add appropriate support as needed.
The endpoint should be an improvement that when achieved, aligns with organisational objectives. This will benefit the organisation with better results in important areas.
The timescale should be decided by the coach, but try to avoid seeing into the future here. If you are not sure, set a follow up meeting to discuss progress until you can set a more informed timescale.
There is a format that has given people huge successes over the years, it is tried and tested to be a solid method when setting goals. It is called setting SMART goals.
If you want an easy to follow, step-by-step process for setting goals then read on:
A very popular method of setting goals that is well worth a mention is the SMART goal format. There are a few different versions but in our experience this is the best version we’ve seen. There are similar ones out there but they miss important aspects of goal setting.
Here we go:
There are 3 principles that separate great coaches from everyone else.
You can avoid many of the mistakes that even experienced managers and leaders make. These are easy to understand and with a little practice you can make them part of your professional coaching tool kit.
If, when you are reading these you find they back up what you already know then that’s great! You’re already on your way to becoming skilled in executive coaching.
However, you should still pay attention, you might find some better ways of explaining what you know to others in your team.
A coach that can coach another coach is very valuable in any organisation!
Bad Coach – Good Coach
When it comes to leadership coaching, one of the biggest mistakes people make is to confuse behaviours with results.
There is an easy way to look at this, but there is a tricky part you need to know to coach people (and yourself) effectively. (we’ll cover this later)
If we look back to goal setting:
A result is the “Finish Point”. It is where you want the person to go and what you want them to achieve. Another way of looking at this is as your longer term goal.
Behaviours are the smaller actions (short term tasks) that someone needs to take to get to the result (longer term objective)
Here’s what happens when a coach gets some of the shorter term objectives wrong (the behaviours wrong)
In other words:
You as a coach gave the incorrect instructions for the person to get to the end goal from their current level of skill:
The scale can’t balance because only 50% of the behaviours were actually correct to start with – so you only get 50% of what you wanted.
A simple example:
The end result is for a child to:
-Produce neater hand writing
The behaviours required:
-Press down softly (not too hard)
-Think about what you are going to write before you start
Here’s another way of looking at it:
Is focused on end results and his advice is pretty useless. On top of that it will make the person being coached feel negative about what they are doing. For example you can’t run faster if you don’t know what it is you need to do to actually run faster. Clearly in this leadership coaching example you would run faster if you knew how to…
Has picked out some useful tips that will actually help the person achieve the improvements they are looking for.
This is a very powerful principle. As a bonus you can use this (and you should) when learning new skills for yourself as well. It is a fantastic approach to helping you break down how to achieve larger goals.
One more point on this (this was the tricky bit we pointed out at the start)
We’re going to pinch an idea from teaching:
Age Appropriate Expectations
As people improve results become behaviours. This is the part that catches people out.
To get a better understanding let’s look at “age appropriate expectations”. This tracks the development of a group of children over a period of time.
Expect Too Much:
Above the red line and expectations are too high
Not Challenging Enough:
Below the Blue line and expectations are too low.
The tricky part is you have to keep increasing expectations as people develop, but not so much that it becomes beyond their skill level.
Here’s an illustration that shows the difference between someone who has unrealistic expectations (frustrated) and realistic expectations based on the child’s current ability (calm)
The tension you bring as a coach to the relationship when you demand too much is a huge (and unnecessary) obstacle to people’s learning and development.
Although this is based on children’s development it translates perfectly to leadership coaching:
Shouting at the Flower
Unfortunately there is sometimes a misconception that improvement is the responsibility of the coachee and therefore any failure to improve is due to a lack of effort on their part.
There’s a saying that goes:
“If the student didn’t learn then the teacher didn’t teach”
This quote is about teaching, there are lots of similarities in coaching and teaching.
This is a very useful principle to be aware of.
When you are expecting someone to improve, with no consideration for the level of coaching you actually delivered, you can get yourself into a painful cycle that can lead to either breakdowns in relationships or you giving up helping the person completely.
This mistake in coaching can also lead to the other person trying their best to avoid you due to the whole coaching process being so uncomfortable for them!
This couldn’t be further from your original goal of helping them to improve.
Here’s an example of what happens:
The coach knows what needs to happen:
The flower needs to grow
The coach has the means of support:
The water for the flower on a sunny day
The coach has done nothing useful to help:
but blames the flower for failing
This sounds obvious but it is an easy trap to fall into.
Anyone that leads people would universally agree their most valuable commodity is their own time.
So when you take the time to coach someone and you invest 30-60 minutes of your day, you say to yourself:
“I’m a great boss, I’ve gone over and above and given that person my time to try and help them”
The discovery that the time you spent made no difference is a tough pill to swallow, emotions like anger and frustration can easily surface here.
Couple this with the disappointment and realisation that their failure negatively impacts you reaching your own goals, and you have a recipe for “Shouting at the Flower”
There are 2 unwanted side effects of this coaching trap
1. You will treat people unfairly (making it a negative experience for them)
2. You will give up trying to coach them to improve (this is mainly due to return on investment – 1 hour of your time and nothing to show for it)
3. The person being coached will do anything to avoid being “shouted at” for not doing something they don’t know how to do.
The fix for this is surprisingly simple:
Learn to expect failure and have a process for when it happens. We discuss some good processes when we cover coping strategies in our Manager Training article.
This is what you want to aim for.
Someone thats “Shouts at the Flower” only gets as far as “try and fail”.
As you can see that is not the end of this process.
Generally speaking it is unlikely you will ever go from “try” straight to “success” when you’re leadership coaching.
This is a very simple principle, it is useful when coaching people who are responsible for or manage other people, but blame the people they work with for all their problems, frustrations and failures.
The principle is that for you to be a top performer in your position you must be able to identify the skills each individual in your team needs, and effectively coach them until they perform at a high level (shown below as a green circle)
The more layers there are, the more difficult it is as you would have to coach a person to coach another person which is significantly harder than doing it yourself.
(this logic assumes you are actively managing under performers if needed)
Therefore, if you have people in your team that are not performing at the right level (shown below by the red circles), then this is an accurate reflection of the Manager or Leaders ability to coach.
Believe it or not it is very common for a manager or leader (coaches can fall into this trap also) to tell people they are a “100”, when there are people in their teams that are “0’s”.
Clearly the maths doesn’t add up.
Let’s dig into why this would happen…
Blame and Excuses
When anyone fails at something important that they care about, there is almost always a negative set of emotions attached to that failure.
These emotions can motivate us to act in irrational ways.
We follow strategies that are unproductive and self sabotaging for our long term goals.
This means we use techniques that prevent us from the pain of embarrassment in the short term, but come at the cost of preventing us from making progress towards our long term goals.
“You’re Either Making Progress or Your Making Excuses. You Can’t Do Both”
This ties in well with Carol Dweck’s findings in her work on Growth Mindset where she focuses on the process of success.
As a coach we fail if the people we coach do not change their behaviours and improve.
Rather than blaming them for being a bad student, it is much more beneficial for everyone to focus on the things you can do differently to get a better outcome: ie: explain it in a different way, or better questions to check understanding.
Having a Growth Mindset can really speed up your progress in problem solving when you are coaching others.
Here are some helpful quotes from Carol Dweck on her theory of Growth Mindset that you can relate to Coaching:
Hard Work – Is it Really a Good Thing?
Recognising When People Are in Over Their Head
This level of awareness is useful for you from a personal development point of view as well as a coach.
Spotting an outright failure to achieve progress is easy to spot, so we’re going to skip that and move on to something that we only tend to see in accomplished coaches.
If you want to work at an advanced leadership coaching level, you need this in your coaching skills kit.
It works like this:
Not all successes are equal. What I mean by that is there are many people who have an over-reliance on hard work in substitute of legitimate skills.
Abraham Lincoln had a good strategy for saving time and energy, but too many people do the equivalent of immediately trying to chop down the tree with a blunt axe.
Hard work is a very desirable trait and should be praised and encouraged. However this should be balanced with the recognition that the reason the result was achieved because of the hard work and not because of an increase in skill.
This is important as it keeps people working hard at increasing skills. (which is the actual desired outcome)
There is a quote:
This quote is in reference to hard work being the single greatest competitive advantage that we have, and it is absolutely true that a hard work approach to life is a recipe for success. It is the foundation all great people have built their achievements on.
“The Harder You Work The Luckier You Get”
– Henry Ford – Hard Work Quote
What’s the problem then?
The issue here is that you’re not making progress towards solving the problem. You are just working really hard to get around that problem. So going back to our Ab Lincoln quote, all you are doing is putting loads of effort and energy into chopping that tree down with a blunt axe, rather than learning how to sharpen the axe so you can get the same result, chopping the tree down, with just a fraction of the effort and hard work.
Earlier we talked about having a starting point and an end point. With hard work, the people you are coaching might be able to get the end result through pure effort but, as soon as your focus shifts on to something else, the people you are coaching will always revert back to their previous performance.
Bet that sounds familiar…
Why does this happen?
But why does this happen? Because they don’t currently have the decision making ability or awareness of the bigger picture (the consequences of their actions or lack of actions) to do the right things at the right time to get the result through skill.
They essentially have 50 things to do but can only do 40, so 10 things will always be left.
Only they are not always left because people can change the way they get results. When people are motivated, they work harder. This can be by putting in extra hours, missing breaks or just working more intensely than they normally would.
The definition of hard work backs this up:
noun: Hard Work
“A great deal of effort or endurance”
Great deal of effort = Increase in level of intensity.
Great deal of endurance = Increase in time worked.
By increasing the level of effort and the length of time worked it leads people (coach and coachee) to believe they have reached their goal, when they have not.
As the saying goes the reward for hard work is:
This is dangerous, now you have a recipe for someone working very hard to then fail!
Now they have 70 things to do but can still only do 40!
They will work extremely hard and the reward will be disappointing failure. This is not a good strategy for continued learning and it can sour the leadership coaching work you do with them.
You can overcome this by focusing more on the way you agree for people to do the job. For example:
“When you try this I do not want you to work longer hours than you normally work”
By doing this you ensure that any improvement is from an increase in skill and not just effort. People can still work hard but this should be done in planning and reflection of the task and not the task itself.
Think of it like this:
When we ignore someone achieving a result through hard work, we are doing the equivalent of a sprinter celebrating for completing the 100 metre distance and ignoring the time it takes him to do it.
When someone works extra hours on a project they are effectively still completing the 100m sprint (the end result), but because they don’t have the necessary sprinting skills, they will take a lot longer to complete the race!
In business or any large busy organisation we don’t get to see the “whole race” – we only get to see the start point and what was achieved. So it is easy to make the mistake of not recognising when someone is working really hard to cover up for their lack of skills.
This is made even more difficult for you as a coach due to the fact that people like to make out they are finding things easier than they really are.
That’s why our sprinter could fake this:
When in reality hard work is covering up for their lack of skill. Without the hard work their performance would actually be this this!
So far we’ve covered simple coaching techniques you can use in easy to understand, step by step instructions (Management Coaching).
In Leadership Coaching we’ve covered proven goal setting methods and the most common errors managers and leaders make when they are coaching. These are especially useful when:
1. The stakes are high and deadlines are tight
2. You are finding yourself getting frustrated by the lack of progress with the person you are coaching.
We’ve covered some rock solid leadership coaching principles and discussed the importance of managing how much time and how intensely someone is working on a project.
Executive coaching is the next level of coaching and this is much more focused on how you coach.
This section looks at the effects you have on yourself and others whilst going through the coaching process.
The reason for this:
If you can get people to improve but you make them feel insecure and miserable – and at the same time you drive yourself mad with frustration, are you really a good coach?
Being able to coach people to predictably improve is a big milestone to hit on the coaching journey – it just isn’t the finished article.
To get to a level where you can coach people to improve AND you both enjoy the process really is the pinnacle of coaching.
To achieve this, you need executive coaching techniques. The problem is that these can take years to learn. But don’t sweat it, we’ve done the hard work for you!