Hi there. Russell Stratton, Leadership Champion at Bluegem Learning. I work with organizations just like yours to transform average bosses into exceptional leaders, and that helps drive performance of both the individuals in your organization and, also, the teams working with you.
So the other day I was running one of my regular courses, Coaching on the Frontline, with a group of mid-level managers in an organization. One of the questions that came up first of all was why should we take a coach approach? Isn’t it just easier to tell people what to do?
So to illustrate why we pass on a coach approach, I told a little bit of a story, and I referred back to Ken Blanchard and his work on the One Minute Manager series, which you may be familiar with. One of the things they talk about there is the idea of manager as hero. There’s a problem sometimes that we have, particularly when we’re new into a managerial role or new to that particular post, that we feel that we have to be the person that solves all the problems. We have to some way pull open our shirt and there’s the Superman symbol in front that shows that we can solve anything.
The danger with us taking this approach is illustrated by Ken in one of his books, and this was the idea, is imagine that you’re sitting there with your team of people, and let’s say you have 10 employees. The first one comes into your desk and says, “Boss, I’ve got a problem with X,” and as hero, you say, “Don’t worry. Leave it with me.” Now imagine that instead of a problem, that person had a monkey sitting on their shoulder, and when they said, “I’ve got a problem,” and you said, “Leave it with me,” they actually left you their monkey, off of their back and now onto yours. So in listening to this, you might say, “Well, that’s no problem, Russ. I can deal with problems. That’s what I’m here to do.”
But then perhaps your second employee comes in, and says, “Boss, I’ve got a problem.” Remember, this is like a monkey sitting on their back. And you say, “Yeah. Give it to me,” and as a result, they hand it over to you. Now what? You’ve got two monkeys sitting there.
Then the third person, and the fourth person. Then a fifth person, and by the end of the day, you’ve had five or six of your employees come to you with issues that they’ve got with their work that they’ve given to you, and being the hero, you said, “Leave it with me.” Well, if we continue with Ken Blanchard’s monkey analogy, instead of one monkey in your office, you’ve now got six, and what do we know that monkeys do? Well, they eat lots of nuts, and they throw poop, so it’s a complete Gong Show.
Wouldn’t it be better if you learned the skills and techniques that you could be able to coach your people to solve problems for themselves? Not only does that release your time to be focused on some of the key strategic areas you might be working on, but it, also, helps them be able to solve problems for themselves, not just the first time, but the second, the third, and the fourth time it happens. A much better development for them, and a much better use of your time.
So my group listening, they said, “Okay, I can see your point, Russ. That sounds good. But what if I don’t know more about the job than the people that I’m trying to coach? Surely I have to be better than them to be able to coach them.”
So with this, I gave them my second story, and this was based on an interview given by Arrigo Sacchi, former coach with Milan the the Italian National Soccer team, and he was asked in an interview some years ago, “How could you coach elite level players when you yourself have never played soccer above a fourth tier?” His answer to this I thought was quite profound. He said, “To be a jockey, you don’t need to have been a horse first.”
The group laughed, and I said this is the same thing as you’re thinking about as a manager in your organization. To coach an employee to be even better at their job, you don’t have to be better than them at that piece of work. You just need to know enough about the work, so that you can ask the right questions that are going to help them develop those critical thinking skills, so they can problem solve for themselves.
So next time if you’re thinking about, “What do I do if I have a number of staff come in and say, ‘Hey, boss, I’ve got a problem,'” have a pause. Should I try to coach them through, or am I going to take it upon myself to be the hero and solve the hour?
Anyway, I’m Russell Stratton, Bluegem Learning. If you’re interested in more like we’re talking about and would like to talk more about some of the learning solutions I offer, then please check out my website at BluegemLearning.com.