Coaching From a Distance

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Coaching From a Distance

With the sudden, COVID-inspired shift to WFH, one topic that has come to the fore is productivity. How do we get it? How can we possibly verify and measure it in light of physical separation? How can we coach people to better outcomes? Fair questions.

One emergent point of view is that the manager/leader should focus principally on outcomes and not really concern themselves so much with the work process or methods used to attain them, let alone try to measure a person’s degree of ‘busyness’. The operative logic being that we should simply trust people to keep themselves busy with assigned tasks, and let the results speak for themselves. That makes sense, to a point.

I’m firmly of the opinion that most people are trustworthy and, over time, many (most?) earn the right to be considered a professional. One operative definition of that term to me being that, when I’m working with a true professional, I never have to look over my shoulder to be sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I use that gauge a lot. But people don’t get to, let alone maintain that distinction without gaining and regularly demonstrating a grasp of the fundamentals, and therein lies the rub.

Invariably, when called upon to coach a business leader to higher levels of performance, I find it preferable to start by looking at the internals, the tactics, methods and talents which underlie the individual’s leadership habits… Are they self-aware (as opposed to self-absorbed? How well do they communicate, as in both the taking in and expression of information? Do they have (and are able to clearly express) a good sense of direction?  Do they regularly demonstrate that they care, really care about their teammates? Lacking this perspective, I can do little to benefit their performance as leaders, other than to simply stand back and exhort them to get better, which is about as helpful as looking at someone’s golf scorecard and telling them they need to take fewer strokes.

The same can be said for our efforts to coach our home-bound cohorts from afar. We can’t really impact the outcomes without at least understanding inputs. Trying to understand a person’s work process doesn’t arise out of a lack of trust (usually), but rather, the search for more or better information about how they’re going about getting things done. Do they have a clear definition of the intended path, what’s expected, and why? Do they even know what success looks like? Does their workflow follow a rational path? Do they have the tools, time, and support needed to be fully successful? Do they have sufficient confidence in their ability? Only after we understand these things can we begin to help them move the levers that will lead to better productivity, job satisfaction, and engagement; and yes, those are related Three suggestions for coaching your newly remote workforce:

  1. Find out quickly how each of them learns best. I promise you, they won’t all be the same. Some people prefer to take in information by reading (as in black and white). My Dad was one of those. Some would rather hear the story. Others are more visual learners who want to watch a demonstration, live or on video (YouTubers if you will). Still others learn via active experimentation. They prefer to kick the tires, take it, break it, and put it back together. This knowledge will be of immense help to you in communicating with and coaching them.
  2. Invest the time to quickly build trust with them. Early in the process, get face-to-face with them as much as possible, because that speeds up the trust building. Taking a sincere interest in them, their objectives, fears, foibles, likes and dislikes helps as well. I like to write that stuff down so I can quickly review it before having a coaching session with someone because it helps frame my approach.
  3. Remove fear from the equation. Face it, there’s a lot of fear in the workspace, and this little Coronavirus pandemic thing isn’t helping matters. Fear slows people (all of us) down. It causes us to keep one eye out for our own preservation while trying to get our work done at the same time. The sooner people realize that you care about them, their interests, goals, and concerns, and that you’ll be fair with them, the sooner you’ll gain the benefit of the doubt, which sets the condition for a looser, freer environment where they can be themselves and get stuff (more stuff) done.

Try these tips. I think you’ll like them. I also think you’ll do well to cut yourself some slack. We’re all wrapped pretty tightly of late. If you’ve ever swung a baseball bat, golf club, tennis racquet, hockey stick, or fishing rod, you know that a tight grip can impede your swing, costing distance and accuracy. Staying relaxed and keeping your own head in the game can also be a performance enhancer when coaching others.

Good luck, and let us know if you or your organization would like some help with your leadership game.