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‘Breaking Bad’ Coaching Habits

Sep 29, 2016

Recently, I was observing a coaching workshop. My colleague was doing a great job helping managers to recognize bad habits and change their behavior. At one point, a participant said, “this is great and actually really helpful, but I can’t help noticing it’s the exact opposite of most of the coaching training we’ve had in the past”. My colleague said, “yes, this is a big part of the problem and its time the training industry makes a real change. I hope this helps”.

We have heard this hundreds of times. Here are some habits we help leaders change…

Here Are 5 Things Most Managers Do Very Well. And Must Change…

Leading Questions

We know from the neuro-sciences that leading questions activate the suspicion center in the brain. We have yet to meet a manager who knows this. When we capture and code managers actual coaching interactions, we find overwhelming majority use multiple leading questions. They often say they do this help the learner come to the conclusion themselves. More often than not, it’s a clever way to avoid saying the hard things. Some coaching methodologies actually insist that the role of the coach is solely to ask questions and actively discourage them from sharing their own opinion.

Over-Managing Emotion

We have observed thousands of coaching exchanges where the manager puts more effort into managing the emotions of their employees than they do raising their performance. Their goal is to ensure that feelings are not hurt, defensiveness is not activated and empathy and understanding is displayed. In achieving this goal, managers rarely raise their real concerns. And people can’t change if they don’t know there is a gap—and get some support in closing it.

Psychoanalyzing the Employee

Another behavior we consistently observe in coaching is managers making attributions about the mental state of their employees, rather than focusing on things that are observable and actionable. Managers will say things like, I just don’t think they care, or they lack a sense of urgency, or simply I don’t think they’re motivated enough. Most people we talk to don’t want a shrink. They tell us they really want the straight story so they can move forward. Many coaching models explicitly guide managers to assess whether the root cause of the performance issue is related to motivation/attitude or related to skills and resources.

Avoiding The Tough Conversations. A Great Way to Help Your Competitors

It’s natural to avoid tough conversations and leaders wait too long to address performance issues, if they ever do. Yet, a lot of the material out there advises leaders that they need to build the right relationship before they can coach, or that they need to wait until the employee is “ready” to be coached. Waiting to have the right performance conversations is good for competitors—and bad for our own companies and our people.

Over-Engineering the Process

Many coaching models ask leaders to assess a number of factors in the situation and the personality of the employee before coaching. That makes a certain sense in theory, but it’s almost impossible to do. Even if you could make the diagnoses accurately, people generally aren’t capable of altering their behavior that well on the fly.

These 5 coaching habits are now deeply rooted and continue to be taught and reinforced by training. The Cambridge team has decades of research and experience helping organizations replace bad habits with behaviors that:

  • Transform performance,
  • Create a high performance coaching norm that actually works, and
  • Change the nature of relationships between managers and their people.