Worst Possible Approach to Coaching Employees & What You Should Do

by Chris Young

worst possible approach to coaching employeesWhen I began my career as a commodity trader right out of grad school in 1997, my first assignment was under a 40 year old "old school" boss who aspired to be one of the "big boys".  He was a brilliant man with creative ideas but we did not connect.  I quickly learned that drinking and partying were how he built rapport and where the "real coaching" was happening.  

I did not drink and I did not party.  

Rapport did not get built and because we did not connect - he did not view me as someone to invest his discretionary coaching time.  Those who drank and partied with him received one-on-one coaching, worked on higher-level projects and had opportunities to shine.  He put me on meaningless tasks where I had zero ability to self direct, there was no purpose in what I was doing, and mastery took an hour or two.  

I quickly requested that I report to my boss's boss where I flourished and did well.

The real problem was - while I was a very good Job Fit for commodity trader, my boss had zero clue how to coach me and little interest in doing so.  He did not connect with me and did not understand how to motivate me to perform at my highest level - to be the creative, problem-solving, decision-making machine I had the potential to be.  

Ultimately both he and the company lost.  He guessed wrong about what motivated me.  

The worst possible approach to coaching your employee team members is "guessing" in combination with ignoring the fundamental employee engagement needs of each individual employee team member.

That is what most managers do...  guess.  Sometimes managers are correct.  Most often managers are wrong because they assume the employee team member is motivated by the same things they are.  

Guessing what motivates a person works if you really do not care about getting the best results nor really connecting with those you are serving.

Dan Pink's book, "Drive", addresses three elements psychologists have identified that are key to employee engagement. If you want to improve your coaching - improve employee engagement through these three powerful common motivators.

  • Self-direction - workplace autonomy is important to employee engagement.  
  • Mastery - the urge to get better at what one does.
  • Purpose - There is a higher-level point to doing what one does. 

From my experience of being in the workforce for over 15 years and as a consultant for over a dozen, I agree with coaching employees through self-direction, mastery, and purpose.  I have also found the following:

Motivation is intensely personal. 

Let me repeat that.  What motivates a human being is intensely personal.  If you want to effectively coach, inspire, and motivate an employee team member - you absolutely must know what that person values.  Some people are motivated by money.  Others are more motivated by making a difference in the world. Depending upon the motivational needs of the job and the individual - our unique motivators can bring significant value add or value reduction. Fortnuately, there are assessment tools that identify what a person values and what motivates them.

Sales Personality Aptitude Test Sample AssessmentAppreciation

Employee team members who are appreciated act appreciated.  With extremely rare exception, people like to know they are doing well.  The best appreciation is the kind your employee team member likes - not what you like.  Consider reading "How Full Is Your Bucket" by Tom Rath to learn more about how to properly appreciate your employee team members.

Custom communication

Some people like a more "task-oriented" language - for others - they want a more "people-oriented" approach.  We naturally speak with others in the manner we like the most.  What you like may be the opposite of what a valued colleague enjoys.  Employee team members will better connect with you when you communicate with them in a manner that they appreciate.  The key to communication is understanding a person's Behavioral Style. The best way to identify a person's desired communication style is through a personality assessment. 

Today is the first day of the rest of your life and that of those you serve.  As a leader / manager - you serve those you work with.  And quite frankly - you need to do a better job.  I need to do a better job of properly coaching the souls that I get to connect with every day.  

The best results come when you are in tune with those who fit their jobs and love what they do.  This means you absolutely must "slow down to speed up".  It takes time and energy to get to really know those you serve and it is so very worth it.

The motivation and work ethic of your employees is critically important to the success of your business. Employees do not need to be coddled, but they do need to be treated with respect and dignity. Here are some coaching styles that have proven ineffective. Knowing that your approach may be ineffective will inevitably be a positive step toward becoming a better manager.