Growing up, my mother used to tell my brother and me: “Do as I say, not as I do.” That didn’t work out any better for her than it probably does for anyone else. For decades, many business managers have been essentially using this same approach. Today, they are seeing that it doesn’t work like it once might have. Things have changed. Workers are different. A new approach to management is needed. Managers need to start thinking and acting like head-coaches.
Once upon a time in our industry, most people began successful careers by developing expertise in a technical or functional area of work. Doing their job well meant having the right answers. If they could prove themself to be a technical expert, they would climb the ladder and eventually move into management. At that point, their job was mostly to ensure that their subordinates had the same answers they did.
Today's managers cannot have all the answers. To deal with this new reality, companies are moving away from traditional command-and-control practices to more of a "head-coach" type of approach.
In this model, managers give support and guidance rather than specific instructions. Employees learn how to adapt to constantly changing situations. This allows them to figure things out for themselves and come up with their own solutions to problems.
Business leaders tend to be strong personalities with their own opinions. One reason they became self-employed was to do things the way they wanted to do them. For leaders who are accustomed to tackling performance problems by telling people what to do, a coaching approach often feels too “soft.” What’s more, it can make them psychologically uncomfortable, because it deprives them of their most familiar management tool, which is asserting their authority.
Typically, when leaders think and act like coaches, they are focusing on helping their team gain both short-term and long-term wins. Coaching leaders are focused on continuous momentum, helping people gain traction by gaining short-term wins while working toward long term goals.
Managers Versus Coaches
Traditional managers often drive employees, micromanage, demand respect, rely on authority, generate fear, command, and use employees.
A coach develops their employees. They make employees feel valuable. Coaches trust, inspire, and motivate. Coaches get things done through their employees. Coaches ask questions designed to get employees thinking about how they can overcome problems and progress towards their own success.
Questions Asked by a Traditional Manager
- Why were you late today and why are you late so often?
- Why are you leading your team in callbacks?
- When are you going to start getting to work on time?
Questions Asked by a Head Coach
- When you were able to get to work on time, what situation made the difference?
- What is the difference between a service call that results in a callback and your many other service calls that did not?
- What would have to change for you to be sure you could always [insert specific scenario]?
Make Coaching the Central Part of Your Company Culture
It is not enough for you to act like a head coach. The entire management team must embrace and adopt this style. Follow this simple five-step process to change your company’s culture.
1. Explain the “Why.” You don’t want managers to think that coaching is the latest fad, and that you will get bored with it in a month or two. Articulate the purpose of thinking and acting like coaches.
2. Model the coaching behavior. If you want the people you work with to embrace coaching, you first need to embrace it yourself. The best head coaches understand what it takes to be a great leader, and they live by those rules every day—even when no one is watching them. Remember, it is not “do as I say,” it is “do as I do.”
3. Become a teacher above all else. Transform your company into a genuine learning organization and build individual employee capability throughout the entire company.
4. Ask better questions. Encourage the team to abandon precision questioning that can leave people feeling defensive. Take a more coaching-oriented approach that involves asking questions such as, “What are you trying to do?” “What’s working?” “What’s not working?” And “How can we help?
5. Remove the barriers and impediments to success. Head coaches are always looking for and removing barriers and impediments to success. Always ask your teammates “What are your current barriers or impediments?” Let them know what your plans are for removing them.
When you embrace a head coach style over a “commander” role, you not only increase your productivity and lead your team better, but you empower that whole team to be accountable and to strive for improvement on their own, without your constant oversight. Managers can succeed in the short term, but coaches foster a culture of success and teamwork that promises long-term results and an ever-improving team.
Ready to take a deeper dive into leadership styles with comprehensive training materials and customizable resources? Visit EGIA.org/CBS to start a free 30-day trial with Contractor University, and instantly unlock powerful training systems on leadership, company planning and much more.
James Leichter is a founding faculty member at EGIA Contractor University. Learn more about EGIA and Contractor University. He is a longtime HVAC contractor, consultant, and public speaker. Leichter is president and CEO at Aptora Corporation, a maker of contracting business management software. He is the editor of MrHVAC.com and FlatRateSoftware.com. James is a shareholder at RA Tax and Accounting, Inc.