During many of my coaching calls, I’m often asked for guidance around helping CEOs be “coaches” for their employees.
When leaders coach they commonly make the mistake of downplaying their role as the CEO. This creates confusion in the employee and unproductive coaching on the part of the CEO. To be successful, it’s important that the CEO keeps these roles clear. For example, a CEO holds employees accountable for results, whereas a coach helps the employee improve their skills to achieve those results. CEOs that coach both mandate the goals and help the employee develop the ability to accomplish them. That is no small feat.
Defining these roles and their unique responsibilities will help you transition between the two and push a motivated employee towards a positive improvement in performance.
Role 1: Be the CEO
When a CEO coaches an employee, he never stops being the leader. He cannot pretend he doesn’t have a performance expectation of his employee while he is coaching them.
Place your coaching within the large context of work expectations. Trying to coach without first addressing expectations is wasted coaching time and produces poor results.
The CEO must clearly articulate expectations and ensure the employee commits to them. This is your first job: explaining what you want accomplished, by whom, by when, and with how much decision-making authority. This clarity dramatically raises the likelihood of success for both the employee and the CEO.
But just because you’ve been clear, that doesn’t mean the employee gladly accepts the task and implements it. Before you consider a coaching relationship with an employee, you need to make sure the employee exhibits these three key commitments:
- Understanding the goal. The employee needs to communicate clearly an understanding of the business goal even if the employee doesn’t agree with it. What is required of the employee to complete the goal? What level of importance does the CEO place on it? To ensure understanding, it is important that the CEO asks the employee to paraphrase his or her understanding of the expectations.
- Emotionally committing to the goal. The employee must assign the priority for the work that corresponds to the priority assigned by the CEO. Part of the commitment process is allowing the employee to express concerns, worries and resistance to the CEO’s expectations. Here, your role as the CEO is to listen to the concerns and reassure the employee. Secure an adequate commitment from the employee before moving forward.
- Taking the necessary initiative. With commitment comes initiative, such as:
- The employee begins to speak of the expectation as part of their work.
- The employee lets the full weight of the expectation implications sink into their awareness.
- The employee takes on some of the anxiety of the responsibility for it.
- The employee accepts the management of the positive and negative consequences of it.
- The employee brings his or her own ideas and communicates them without the CEO having to solicit them.
Without all three of these commitment levels in place, coaching an employee is premature and will likely be unsuccessful. Don’t attempt moving into a coaching role if you don’t have total buy-in.
Role 2: Be the Coach.
- Assess the employee. Before you get into the nuts and bolts of coaching, give the employee a pre-assessment of your own. What is the employee’s skill or competency level? How high would you rate his or her commitment level to your company and your vision? Does the employee lack confidence to execute tasks and make decisions without direct oversight? Identifying these gaps will provide you with clear insight as to where the employee needs to be coached.
- Assess and adjust your management style. A good CEO must match his or her style to the employee’s needs and encourage C-Suite staff and managers to do the same. This can help both accelerate the employee’s development and decrease the frustration both may feel. This situational leadership model could be doubly important if your workforce runs the gamut from baby boomers on down to millennials.
- Familiarize yourself with the employee’s challenges. This will help you get more specific about the challenges your employee faces. It will also test the employee’s willingness to reflect on his or her personal responsibility for performance issues. If necessary, shadow the employee for a day. Familiarize yourself with the employee’s work routine and try to examine it from the employee’s point of view. It’s important to keep ownership of performance with the employee, but don’t be blind to any ways your management might be causing problems on the ground floor, or any organization misalignment you may uncover.
- Make an action plan. Work with the employee to identify patterns both good and bad. Plan steps that will maximize the good habits and work towards eliminating the bad. Set clear, specific goals that these steps will help the employee to hit.
- Make a clean break between roles. Be clear about when you transition from the coaching role back to being the CEO. And going forward, be clear with your communications as to which role you are playing in a given situation. Is this a “How can I help?” coaching conversation or a “This needs to get done” CEO conversation? Be clear verbally with the employee and stay within the boundaries of the appropriate role.
- Debrief. An open evaluation will be necessary to ensure the relationship is beneficial, including follow-up feedback on the employee’s progress associated with the business goal. Is the employee hitting targets or still falling short? Do you see enough progress that you think this 5 or 6 can become an 8 or 9?
Remember, your coaching is an option that an employee can accept or decline. But following through on the steps that you two work out should not be optional. An employee who is not receptive to your coaching is wasting your most valuable asset as CEO: your time. That’s when you’ll know it’s time to put away your coaching hat and do what good CEOs do: hire someone better.