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Two typical coaching mistakes and how to avoid them…

Ever had a high performing employee (or boss?) whom others fear? I’m not talking about a bully here, but one who is approachable and attracts followers, but who also inspires fear, especially in people who don’t know him well or are a few levels below him in the hierarchy.

I know when coaching high performing leaders like this, one is tempted to dismiss the impact on a few employees, who may be lacking in their own courage and self confidence. But guru coach Peter Bregman points to the fact that

“If he wants to get the most out of all his employees (and their teams), he needs to create a safe environment in which they can perform their best.”

So what to do? Bregman points to 2 approaches that manager-coaches/coaches often make, and I confess I identified;

  1. “The coach accepts the leader’s perspective that it’s not his problem, that it’s the problem of the people with too delicate a constitution. They shouldn’t quiver in their boots under a legitimate line of questioning. He may be right about them, but he’s not right that it’s not his problem.

As a leader who wants to get the best out of his people, it’s always his problem.

2. The coach tries to help the leader tone down his approach so that he’s not so scary. This is a bad idea. Why? First, most leaders are right that their questions are legitimate.

Second, muting the leader is an exercise in frustration and is unsustainable.

Third, even if that works, performance suffers anyway since the leader is no longer holding people to the high standard they ultimately need and want. In other words, the leader ends up replacing high performance with mediocrity. And for high-performing leaders (and their organisations), that’s unsustainable.”

And it’s tricky as I think I’ve tried both the above approaches! But Bregman, in his wisdom, advocates a third; he proposes that instead of trying to change, or remove his assertiveness, he should rather add a missing ingredient, “he should increase his warmth”. So before he leaps in to questioning mode, which may seem like interrogation, the manager may first acknowledge his staff member, or connect on a personal level.

What I liked about Bregman’s approach is that,

“the solution is not to subdue our strengths but to add ingredients that balance them out. In other words, build complementary skills.”

And what if you hold people with too much care and comfort but tend not to push them? 

Again Bregman advocates that we should not “reduce your warmth — rather push yourself to ask a hard question, without losing your warmth.” It seemed a more sustainable approach. A more strength-embracing one and one I am definitely going to bear in mind in my work with high performers.


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