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World Class Leaders Are Coaches, Not Managers

While many leaders think managing is the key to success, world class executives coach their teams to new heights.

Successful leaders act like coaches rather than managers to gain the best from their teams.

Having devoted more than a decade to studying highly effective executives of highly productive organizations, Brian Souza discovered that what separates world-class leaders from most managers was not necessarily their IQ, strategic vision, operational prowess or even charismatic personality. 

Instead, Souza says, “The fundamental difference primarily came down to one thing: their approach.  They didn’t act like a manager; they acted like a coach.”

In his new book, The Weekly Coaching Conversation: A Business Fable About Taking Your Game and Your Team to the Next Level (Evolve Publishing, July 2012), Souza, who is president of ProductivityDrivers, explains that like coaches, world-class leaders understand that the only way to systematically improve individual performance is by giving constructive coaching and developmental feedback.  In fact, he says, numerous studies have proven that there’s a direct correlation between the quantity and quality of coaching that a person receives and his or her level of performance improvement.

According to Souza, herein lies the problem:  Most managers today are spending only four hours per employee per year discussing their team’s performance — which is why the vast majority of employees are performing only at 60% of their potential.  Souza says: “Relying on quarterly performance reviews is not nearly enough to move the needle.  Relying on someone else to come in and train your team won’t get the job done.  Coaching and developing your people is not an event; it’s an ongoing process that should be inextricably tied to everything you do on a weekly basis.”

Souza maintains that the root cause of the issue has to do with the fact that while the world has changed considerably throughout the past 20 years, the primary charter of a manager’s role hasn’t.  “For decades, we’ve been taught that a manager’s primary job is to find the right people and put them in the right seats.  But we now realize that’s no longer enough.  A manager’s job isn’t done at that point.  In fact, it’s just beginning.”

According to Souza, when it comes to the people side of management, coaching and developing employees is the single most important skill managers must master in order to take their careers, their team’s performance and their organization’s productivity to the next level.  Souza describes a three-part framework in the book:

  • Redefine the Role — Managers must change their mind-set and understand that the single most important aspect of their job is to coach and develop their team in order to get its members to consistently perform to the maximum of their potential.  As Souza says:  “Coaching is not something that you, as a manager, must do. A coach is someone that you, as a leader, must become.”
  • Create the Environment — Before managers attempt to facilitate constructive coaching conversations with their teams, it’s imperative that they first create an environment that’s conducive to coaching.  As Souza says: “To get your team to become coachable, you must first become coachable.  To get your team to open up, you must first open up.  To get your team to embrace developmental feedback, you must first embrace developmental feedback.  As a coach, you set the standard for your team to follow.  And your personal example is the most powerful leadership tool you have.”
  • Change the Conversation — The objective is to transform the dynamics of the conversation managers are already having with their team members into the dynamics of a constructive coaching conversation.  In his new book, Souza explains that long-term success requires short-term focus.  And the fastest way to improve employee performance is for managers to help their teams set weekly process-oriented goals and then positively reinforce small, incremental improvements.  Souza teaches managers not to “just celebrate the touchdowns, but to celebrate the first downs” and to “embrace mistakes as coachable moments.”

Souza tells how he decided to write the book as a fable. “While I did my best to pack as many new insights, actionable takeaways and nuggets of wisdom as I could into these pages, I wanted this book to be entertaining first, and educational second.  I wanted people to actually want to read this book, not feel that they had to because it was a gift from their boss.”

The story is about that first step everyone takes on the journey to becoming a leader. 

The plot centers on how Brad, a sales manager, gets an impromptu Ivy League lesson in leadership from an old college football coach at a dive bar. 

After recently turning around one of his company’s worst-performing divisions and being named “Sales Leader of the Year,” Brad thinks he has all the answers.  That is, until he meets Coach. 

With the business acumen of Jack Welch and the motivational intensity of Vince Lombardi, Coach is a bundle of contradictions.  At one moment he’s jokingly ranting mild obscenities, and the next he’s dispensing wisdom like the Dalai Lama.  At times he can be as militant as a drill sergeant and others as mellow as a Rastafarian.  Despite his many contradictions, one thing is certain: Coach’s new management approach is a game-changer.

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