There’s an excellent book for managers called: “First Among Equals – How to Manage a Group of Professionals.”, by Patrick McKenna and David Maister. It’s applicable to both new and experienced managers and gives good practical advice on how to manage a range of workplace situations.
I’ve previously summarized the first 4 chapters of the book and in this blog I’ll provide summary notes from chapters 5-8.
Chapter 5: Win permission to coach
Coaching is an activity, not a title or position. It is the process by which you help another person fulfil his or her potential. It requires that you judge well when to intervene and when to stay away.
Coaching is what is required when some member of your group:
1. Is unclear about his or her career path.
2. Asks for advice, assistance, feedback or support.
3. Is taking on a new task or responsibility.
4. Appears frustrated or confused.
5. Seems indecisive or stuck.
6. Is performing inconsistently.
7. Expresses a desire to improve.
8. Performs below acceptable standards.
9. Has a negative attitude that is impeding their work and the work of others.
Before you can even begin to develop and stretch your people’s talent, you must assess whether you have earned the right to be able to do so.
Preparation (planning what you are going to say and how you are going to help) is an important part of any effective coaching process. However many coaching opportunities may be spontaneous, requiring quick action in order to assist a situation or prevent a problem from arising.
There are many challenging dimensions to coaching. Successful group leaders learn how to straddle the line between “too little” and “too much”.
Here are some basic steps that may help in your winning permission to coach:
1. Ask how things are going – your aim is to find out what is on the individual’s mind. Your best approach is to be informal and open-ended. Identify an opportunity to help someone expand on his or her skills, knowledge and abilities. Look for signals or cues indicating that coaching could add value. Take time to tune in to the need behind the words.
2. Confirm that the individual is ready for coaching. “Do you have a few minutes to discuss this? Would you be interested in talking about what happened? Perhaps I can help. Is this a good time or do you want to schedule something later today?”
3. Ask questions to clarify the situation, and offer your support and help. Phrase your questions carefully so they do not pressure the person or imply a negative reaction. Use questions that draw out facts. Try to build awareness, not solve the problem. Determine if the individual has the right information to move forward.
4. Offer information as appropriate. Offer only necessary information. Respond briefly, being careful to take your cue from the other person.
5. Listen actively. Don’t interrupt with your own ideas. From time to time, summarize with your own ideas.
6. Help this person identify possible courses of action. Avoid offering any of your own ideas until the person you are coaching has finished. Encourage them to think aloud.
7. Agree on the next step. Prompt the person to make a firm commitment to action. Clarify what specific steps are required and when.
8. Offer your personal support and confidence. Conclude by expressing your continued interest, your confidence in your colleague’s ability to solve the issue and your offer to help, if and where you can do anything that would support them in accomplishing their objective.
Chapter 6: Listen to build rapport
As a coach, it is important to be a good listener.
What good listeners do:
1. Probe for clarification.
2. Listen for unvoiced emotions.
3. Listen for the story.
4. Summarise well.
6. Listen for what’s different, not for what’s familiar.
7. Take it all seriously (they don’t say ‘you shouldn’t worry about that’).
8. Spot hidden assumptions.
9. Let the other person “get it out of his or her system”.
10. Ask “How do you feel about that”
11. Keep the other person talking (“What else have you considered”)
12. Keep asking for more detail that helps them understand.
13. Get rid of distractions while listening.
14. Focus on hearing your version first.
15. Let you tell your story your way.
16. Stand in your shoes, at least while they’re listening.
17. Ask you how you think they might be of help.
18. Ask what you’ve thought of before telling you what they’ve thought of.
19. Look at (not stare at) the person as her or she speaks.
20. Look for “congruency” (or incongruity) between what the person says and how he or she gestures and postures.
21. Make it seem as if the other person is the only thing that matters and that they have all the time in the world.
22. Encourage by nodding head or giving a slight smile.
23. Show awareness and control of body movement (no moving around, shaking legs, fiddling with a paper clip).
Active listening is the ability to pick up, define and respond accurately to feelings expressed by the other person.
People find it difficult to communicate their feelings about sensitive situations. Yet a critical part of your role as a group leader is to get people to share their issues, and how they feel about them, with you.
Chapter 7: Deal differently with different people.
Not every individual can be managed or inspired the same way. A manager must learn to deal with each individual according to the things that energise that individual.
People think, communicate, decide and behave differently. They also use their time differently, handle emotions differently and deal with conflict and stress differently. The group leader who fails to take these differences into account will rub people the wrong way, mis-communicate and consequently experience great difficulty in establishing rapport and trust.
People can adopt various styles ie
Analytical – wants to get it right
Driver – wants to get it done
Amiable – wants to get along
Expressive – wants to get noticed.
By adapting your approach based on understanding preferences in styles, you increase the receptivity to whatever you are trying to communicate.
To create an effective coaching relationship with any of your people you will need to adjust (temporarily) your natural approach.
Chapter 8: Helping Underperformers
A common mistake in dealing with underperformance is rushing to talk to the underperformer without pausing to consider why he or she is underperforming.
If you are going to make a difference, your task of turning an unproductive person around is often to help him or her find some meaning in what they (and your group) do. If the issues are loss of enthusiasm for the company’s work and/or personal issues, then you need to help the individual rediscover the energy, excitement, passion in the group’s work.
Ask first. Very often we just rush into assumptions about why people are unproductive. The reason is usually not hard to figure out if you have a track record of ongoing informal conversations with your people eg “I get the sense that you’re not fully engaged with everything here. You don’t seem to be showing the normal levels of passion you have shown in the past. Something is going on. I would love to help you if I can. Is there anything I can do?”
Effective group leaders know that the key to improving underperformance is to address it early and proactively before it becomes a full blown problem.
A number of important steps can be taken to help a person whose performance needs attention:
1. Set up a meeting to discuss the performance issue that concerns you.
2. Reassure the person of your confidence in them and your desire to be supportive.
3. Get agreement that a performance issue exists and discuss its causes.
4. Identify and discuss any obstacles to performance beyond the individual’s control.
5. Seek ideas for improvement.
6. Mutually agree on specific actions to be taken to solve the performance issue.
7. Set a specific follow up date to review progress.
Coaching someone to success depends upon systematic, quiet repetition. You will need to use frequent (if gentle) reminders.
The above is a brief summary of chapters 5-8 of “First Among Equals – How to Manage a Group of Professionals by Patrick McKenna and David Maister (The Free Press 2002).