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Drop the excuses, make time to coach high performers

Drop the excuses, make time to coach high performers

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A popular song in the Bahamas is titled "Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven, but Nobody Wants to Die." For today’s business leaders, the song could be renamed "Everybody Wants to Grow Their Business, but Nobody Wants to Coach."

Most small-business heads I talk to say they want to coach, but they give three excuses for not doing so:

"My highest performers are already motivated and don’t need coaching."

"I don’t know how to coach."

"I don’t have time to coach."

Each of these popular excuses deserves pointed commentary.

1. "My highest performers are already motivated and don’t need coaching."

Smart leaders give most of their time to higher performers who are already motivated.

Why? Because this strategy delivers a more substantial return on investment. A high performer who improves by 10 percent contributes far more value to the organization than a mediocre performer who improves by 20 percent.

High performers want to be part of an organization oriented toward strength, not one that caters to weakness. When any leader spends most of his time on those who are least motivated, stronger performers often leave.

I reject the commonly accepted yet baseless idea that it is a boss’s job to motivate his employees. This philosophy feeds the dependence of weaker performers by leading them to believe that they are not responsible for their own motivation. It also places undue stress on leaders, who grow frustrated trying to muscle-or smuggle-insight into unmotivated employees who might not be in jobs that best fit them.

The purpose of coaching highly motivated employees is to prepare them for higher levels of leadership responsibility. Someday, they might be running your company.

That brings us to the second excuse for not coaching young leaders:

2. "I don’t know how to coach."

No leader has emerged from the womb knowing how to mentor others. Coaching involves a complicated skill set that must be learned, practiced under experienced supervision and refined over the long term.

Saying you don’t know how to coach is just an excuse. If you want to ride a bicycle across the country, you had better learn to change a flat tire. If you want to sail, it’s important to learn to swim. And if you want to grow your company, it’s vital that you groom and mentor your high-potential leaders.

If you don’t know how, then learn. Consider these tips:

n Talk to your high-potential employees about assisting their leadership growth. State your desire to spend more time learning about what they lose sleep over, their career aspirations, what relationship in the organization is most difficult for them to manage, what they need from you that they’re not getting, what area of their leadership they most want to work on.

n Help them learn more about you. Build a stronger connection with your emerging leaders by openly disclosing your philosophy of leadership, your top personal and professional goals, what keeps you up at night, who has inspired you, the decision you made last year that was toughest emotionally.

n Learn how to respectfully challenge your budding leaders’ behavior, assumptions and ideas. Providing regular meals of challenge-the food of maturity-will help them move from smart to wise.

Build your courage to the point where you will ask questions that no one else will ask:

"What do you avoid talking about with me?"

"How much time each day do you spend thinking?"

"What are you working harder at, being a crack project manager or a leader of people?"

"If your daughter had this same dilemma, how would you advise her?"

"May I talk with you about your appearance?"

It takes time and dedication to become a good coach. So what can be done about the third excuse for not coaching?

3. "I don’t have time to coach."

Are you one of those short-term-thinking leaders who’s more interested in being indispensable than in being smart?

Try this brief exercise: Jot down all of the things you have to do this week that are more important than developing your most promising employees. Ready, write!

I thought so. Another blank sheet of paper!

Of course you have time to coach. The issue isn’t time, it’s will. And you know it.

If you don’t want to coach the people who will eventually succeed you, summon the honesty to acknowledge that mentoring is not your cup of tea. But don’t hide behind the "I don’t have time" defense.

As I sometimes say to clients, "How did someone as busy as you find the time to brush your teeth this morning?"

If you are a leader who thinks about your legacy, coaching the next generation of leaders in your organization might be the single most important strategy you can employ.

No matter how you look at it, if you want your company to grow, someone besides you is going to have to lead others. It’s your job to make sure those future leaders know what they’re doing.

John Engels is the founder of the Advanced Leadership Course and president of Leadership Coaching Inc., a Rochester executive development firm. He can be reached at [email protected].

3/26/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail [email protected].