Wanted: Coaches—Wimps Need Not Apply

I was a wimp for three years.  I was a coach for twelve more after that.  Add it up and I spent fifteen years in sales leadership at a Fortune 50 company.  Not surprisingly, my success as a leader came in those final twelve years.  I realized, with the help of the people I was leading, that they wanted candor not coddling.

Like so many well-intentioned leaders, I believed the counselors and the HR people who seem to have cornered the market on business coaching philosophy.  As a result, I saw good people stagnate and low performers believe their performance was adequate.  In both cases, I was not doing my job as a coach and results suffered.

Most counselors measure success based on how their clients feel.  HR professionals are more concerned with proper (legal) performance management than results oriented coaching.  Coaches however must focus on the growth of their people and tangible results.

Example of Wimpy Sales Coaching

“We had a good day Bob.  I really liked what I saw with the last two clients.  I could tell you had great rapport with the clients and their staffs.  You were on top of answering their objections with relevant data.  And, you provided them with some solutions they had not considered to date.  Nice job.

One opportunity for growth you may consider is doing more with your largest targets outside of pre-planned sales appointments. I know that has not been your thing in the past, but the rest of the team has implemented this strategy and I would like you to give it a shot.”

Wimpy coaching sounds very nice and very supportive. But when I did it, it was usually about conflict avoidance versus doing what was best for that person.

Three Ways Coaches Become Wimps

1.    Watered Down Feedback

The Theory: Tell them three things they did well before you talk about a weakness.  (See paragraph 1 in example above)

  • High Performing Professionals: They know where they excel.  They want to hear how to get better.   Otherwise I am wasting their time.
  • Low Performers:  What they hear is they are doing many things well and one thing needs work, but it is not a big deal.

Solution:  Get to the point! If it is a big enough weakness to discuss, then lead with it.  Be sure you make impact by sharing the positive impact the change will make, and the negative impact of not changing (especially with low performers).

2.    Euphemisms

The Theory:  Use words that convey the meaning without being inflammatory.  (See: “Opportunity for growth”)

  • Euphemisms by their very nature limit the impact of the message.  As a coach, my primary goal is to make that person better as a result of my time with them.  If they do not understand the importance of the message I am sending to them because of my wimpy language, that is my fault, not theirs.

Solution:  Call a spade a spade! A weakness is a weakness.  As a coach I find that plain, straight-forward, everyday language communicates my message better and is better received than the counseling and HR driven jargon that is prominent today.

3.    Vagaries:

The Theory:  Approach the issue carefully.  You want to attack the problem not the person. (See:  “I would like you to give it a shot”)

  • The problem is Bob’s unwillingness to implement the same strategies as the rest of the team.  Just telling him to give it a shot because it has worked for others is another form of conflict avoidance I used in the past.

Solution: By being direct about his lack of progress, asking why, and coaching the issue, I am attacking the problem.  As a coach, I am there to make him better.  Period!  If Bob knows that is always my goal, I can be direct.  I have built that trust and that expectation.

The Bottom Line: 

My approach runs counter to the norms of business coaching. But just because something is supported by a lot of well-educated counselors and HR professionals, does not mean it is effective.  The bottom line of coaching is the growth of my people and the results they deliver.

As I grew from a wimp to a coach, my teams grew as well.  Many told me I was the first leader who had ever been direct with them.  They thanked me and told me not to stop.

Coaches, did you hear that…They thanked me!

Question:

I believe that candor is what people want from their coaches not coddling.  Which type of coach did you grow the most with?

4 Responses to “Wanted: Coaches—Wimps Need Not Apply”

  1. Dad, Jim Anderson March 16, 2012 at 11:10 am #

    DAVID,
    I wouldn’t blame all HR’s for the “wimpy” counselling. I would say “some” HR’s do it that way.
    Or am I being too “wimpy”.

    Actually, I like this.

    DAD

    • Dave Anderson March 16, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

      I did not wish to imply all, but in my experience and the experience of many, many friends and acquaintances, I will leave it at a “Majority.”

      Anyone out there think I just WIMPED OUT?

      Dave

  2. Robin Green July 19, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

    I think you have hit on something here that separates great coaches from the not so great. I think “wimpy” coaches (we have all been there) resort to some of the less candid styles in an effort to be liked…it’s sort of a path of least resistance.

    To me, the one thing I owe my team is this – you will always know where you stand with me. It may be better than you thought…or worse than you thought. But you deserve to know.

    As you point out well in your post, once there is trust, candor can follow. When there is trust, you can forget all the vagaries & euphemism’s and just tell it like it is…and that goes both ways. I have had direct reports give me feedback that I didn’t particularly care for. But because of the trust level – though it stung – I took it as helpful feedback and used it to grow.

    Keep up the good work, Dave.

    • Dave Anderson July 22, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

      Thanks Robin. You always add greatly to the discussion.

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