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Empowering Your Employee through Supervisory Coaching

In one of my latest coaching sessions the manager I was coaching told me he met with his newer employee to coach her. He said he praised her for the things she was doing right. “Wonderful”, I said. Then he told me how he proceeded to tell her where she needs to improve and specifically what she should do to accomplish that. I believed I may have cringed at this point.

I stopped him and asked if I could make a suggestion. He agreed. I explained that there will be times to offer directives and then there will be times to offer coaching. Coaching will empower them to think for themselves and will make them take ownership of their own ideas (that they suggested, when asked). The look on his face said “how do you get them to do that”. I went on to explain that when he told her what she needed to improve, the next thing he said should have been an open-ended question to help her think of her own solution.

Of course, this won’t always work, but the world isn’t perfect. It is definitely worth an attempt. At this moment, to ask her how she thought she could work to improve this particular skill or task would hopefully empower her to provide her own solution(s). Hopefully, her solution is something you can agree with. It is not about doing it the exact way you envision it. It is more about getting the same expected result by taking a unique path to that result. Just make sure your expectations of the results are crystal clear and this shouldn’t be an issue. Paint a detailed picture of what that result will look like.

At this point the follow-up with your employee is crucial. In a 2015 Harvard Business Review article by Amy Gallo, Gallo explains it like this. “The good news is that the coaching process is meant to build trust.” Quoted in the article is a colleague of Gallo. “Monitoring and checking in is built in from the beginning so it doesn’t look like you’re checking up on them when they’re doing something wrong,” says Susan David, a founder of the Harvard/McLean Institute of Coaching and author of the HBR article “Emotional Agility. “Don’t get too hung up on how trustworthy the person is. Trust the process. You may want to set explicit expectations, saying something like, …“OK, let’s map out what this might look like. What are the three steps you’re going to take and by when?”… Then you can follow up appropriately”, explains Gallo.

At this point if it seems like the person isn’t getting it and doesn’t meet your objectives you both agreed to, it’s time to remind yourself that this is not a perfect world, hence the limits of coaching are upon you. You may want to ask for assistance from HR, or let the person know their employment there isn’t working out.

“Coaching is meant to be about positive change,” says Harvard’s Susan David. Sometimes coaching employees can be difficult, but just remember as long as you are focused on the difficulty you won’t be moving forward. As a coach it is your job to create a shared perspective, not an opposing view. Make sure you are focused on what you agree on get your coachee to agree that you see eye-to-eye on those things. Stay focused on those strengths and find a solution on that shared perspective…or the last resort…end the relationship.


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