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Avoid a Leadership Coaching Fumble: 3 Game-Changing Rules

Going For The Fumble

Are you among the millions of people who love to watch the Super Bowl? Office chatter in the weeks leading up to the event often focuses on predictions for the Big Game. Both teams are usually packed with outstanding talent, but the winner is inevitably the one with the best execution and the fewest “fumbles.” The same goes for implementing a coaching program inside your organization.

While coaching is a powerful tool for professional development, many organizations drop the ball when it comes to using it effectively. Here are three essential rules for the playbook to maximize your investment in leadership coaching.

  1. Use coaching the right way.

Many organizations think of coaching as a penalty for poor performers: “Derrick in Sales is really struggling. Let’s set him up with some coaching and get that fixed.”

Can coaching help those with low productivity or bad habits? Of course. But coaching is infinitely more effective as a proactive form of professional development.

Organizations that make coaching part of the regular game plan consistently provide leaders and high potentials with the tools necessary for success. Working with a coach becomes a positive way to gain new skills, insight, and confidence (which inevitably translates into better results). When coaching is used as a last resort—after a manager’s efforts to correct behavior or improve performance have failed—it becomes the desperate “Hail Mary pass” at the very end of the fourth quarter. It could work, but the chances are really slim.

  1. Coach the right person.

Before your organization invests in coaching, think carefully about how to get the most for your money. Who should actually receive the coaching? Sideline the low performers who may or may not still be on your payroll in six months. Instead, focus your resources on the people who can actually help you win the game: the leaders and managers charged with guiding and inspiring everyone else. Smart coaching can transform these supervisors into superstars with a much greater capacity to impact the bottom line.

Think about why that makes more financial sense. An employee’s performance issues could stem from a manager who cannot clearly communicate what is expected or offer substantial feedback. If your leaders are failing, you’re doomed from the coin toss.

I know firsthand that leaders face big challenges in coaching their subordinates. These are just a few of the questions I frequently hear from them:

  1. “How do I have that conversation without putting the employee on the defense?”

  2. “How can I be direct and honest without completely tanking the department morale?

  3. “How can I get this person to take more responsibility so I can do more of what they pay me to do as an executive?”

With proper coaching, leaders can become skilled at handling conflicts and managing difficult relationships. On a broader scale, well-coached leaders can even change your organization’s culture to include improved communication, more powerful alignment, and greater accountability. Many organizations today are recognizing this advantage, and I am happy to report that more of them are training their leaders on a coach-approach.

  1. Pick the right coach.

Finding the right coach for your organization depends on a wide range of factors: your business strategies, culture, industry norms, your need for a talent pipeline, your succession planning, and the potential readiness of your leaders to move up. It’s never a one-size-fits-all solution.

For starters, focus on quality. Make sure to select a certified coach who has a deep knowledge of organizational dynamics and actual experience working in leadership roles. This context will be essential for fully understanding your situation and being able to relate to your challenges. A great coach has “been there” and knows how to spot gaps in behaviors you might not be able to detect.

That said, coaching is a process where the coachee does the work, the learning, and solution creation. Even though it is nice to have a coach who knows your business, don’t get too stuck on that. Masterful coaches can still add tremendous value without knowing your specific industry. How can you find a top-quality coach? Check references and interview them yourself; hire the most experienced ones.

Next, look for competency and credentials. Go to to learn more about the certification levels, competencies, and ethics that govern coaches in the International Coach Federation (ICF). When chosen carefully, the right coach can become a long-term partner and a priceless resource for your organization.

Whether we’re facing fierce competitors on the football field or in the marketplace, sometimes our only edge is the ability to execute. My best advice: don’t fumble when it comes to your leadership coaching.

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