As leaders in an organization, we may have had the opportunity to provide and recommend coaching for individuals in our team.
The question is, who needs coaching?
The common answer to this question is that coaching is needed by individuals who are not performing well. For the most part, coaching is used as a final exercise before further disciplinary actions will be taken for underperformance. In my opinion, coaching at this point of the journey is already too late.
Coaching, IMHO, needs to be provided to three types of individuals: the underperformers, those stuck in the messy middle, and the superstars. These are three major phases in someone’s career that could benefit well from coaching.
This would be the top choice if asked on Family Feud. Folks who are not meeting their role’s, the organization’s, and your expectations would definitely need coaching. Though it should be an assumption that touchpoints and feedback sessions have happened before you’ve come to this point.
In providing coaching to underperformers, it’s important that the coach be a third-party source. Someone from a different department, HR, or an external consultant. This is important because the underperformer may not be comfortable being candid with you or other leaders within your team. It maybe that you’re the source of the tension that’s causing their underperformance.
Reassure the underperformer that the coaching will not result in retaliation. Its outcome is to help them improve their performance and to see if there are factors within the organization that should be improved on. This can also be help identify if they are the right fit for the role or the organization.
The Messy Middle
The term “messy middle” is coined by Scott Belsky, chief product officer of Adobe, in his book “The Messy Middle: Finding your way through the hardest and most crucial part of any bold venture.” Though we will not be going through Belsky’s book and research, I wanted to use this term to describe this phase in an individual’s career. The messy middle, IMHO, is a phase where individuals are stuck-not underperforming, but also not performing well enough to move forward.
To me, the messy middle is a limbo in someone’s career where they don’t cause enough impact to be picked up by their managers’ radar for messing up or for doing superbly. Folks in this phase need coaching to help them adjust their approach in their work to get unstuck in this phase. Perhaps a coach can help them identify some behaviors that they can adjust, or some opportunities they can take advantage of. This is an important phase because you don’t want to lose great people for lack of attention.
The hard part of being in this phase is that these individuals seem to be cruising along at a particular altitude. They’re having a hard time shifting the gears of their careers and they seem to have no control of their path any more. Providing them a coach is like giving them a new set of tools that can help them take back that control. Tools that will help them escape this vortex called the messy middle.
If you think you can leave your superstars alone-you’re wrong! You should give equal, if not more, attention to your superstars. These are the individuals who can take your organization to the next level. Partnering your superstars with specific coaches within the organization will help elevate their skills and mastery. Again, find a coach besides yourself. Superstars need a broader perspective of your entire organization. They can only get this if they partner with leaders from a totally different department.
Marshall Goldsmith talked about this in his book, “ What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There.” If you were instrumental in getting them to this superstar phase-it doesn’t mean you’ll be as effective to get them to the next level.
Thus, the famous quote by Frieza: “You fool! This isn’t even my final form! Wait until you see my true power!”
(Before I start this story about me — I’m not insinuating that I’m a superstar. No, no, no.)
In the past 20 years, I’ve had around 13 different roles in my organization. I’ve had almost as many direct managers, and I have quite a handful of senior leaders as my mentors and coaches. I’ve found that I was able to jumpstart my learning and improvements every time I switch to a new manager. The different leadership styles and expectations help stretch my skills and my organizational muscles.
This is the same with mentors and coaches. I actively maintain partnerships with these senior leaders because each of them provides a different view of the organization. Each one of them has different skills and expertise that I can learn from. One helps me develop my public speaking and communications, another helps me navigate corporate politics, another helps me be more instrumental with strategy, and another helps me elevate my operational IQ.
So, who needs coaching?
Everyone needs coaching — the underperformer, the messy middle folks, and the superstars. The manner of coaching and who to pick as the coach have to match the specific needs of the individual. For the most part, you — the direct manager of the person who needs coaching — is not the right person to be the coach. You’ll need to find a third-party to provide the coaching. This would yield the highest probability of success for an underperformer to succeed, a messy middle to break the staleness, and a superstar to elevate to, uhh, reach their final form.
Have you had a great experience coaching or being coached? What made the experience great? Can you share other tips on coaching and when to know an individual requires coaching?
Originally published at https://donvarela.com on September 22, 2020.