Anyone who has had a good coach recognizes their value. From outside the relationship, it can be hard to see why. Our coaches usually don’t look like they could do what they are asking us to do, usually they can’t. Their skill set differs from our skill set — we can do but they can stand outside of ourselves and see how we can do better. They push us when we are worried. They motivate us. They encourage us. They guide us. When we have an awesome coach, we experience the amazing growth and power both within ourselves and see it in our team.
Within the work environment, we find coaches in many places. Our peers serve as informal coaches to help get us past a particular problem or give us feedback on what we need to improve. Our friends help us deal with challenging relationships. Our managers have the more formal role of helping us get better and removing obstacles to our success. Every manager takes on the role to push their employees onward – to encourage them to work harder or smarter and get the job done. The best managers do this for the benefit of their employees, just as a coach serves those they are coaching. They desire to see us improve and grow. They want us to go on to do things they know they could never do but know we are capable of.
Up and down the management chain, managers push their employees to carry out things that the employees aren’t sure they can do. Because this is often successful, managers continue to push. In a good working relationship, this can be a great growth opportunity for us and we all get better; however, it often degrades overtime as managers stop listening to concerns and just start believing their employees can do anything. The managers take on greater risks and hope their employees will deliver the goods (and if not, at least be left holding the bag if things go south). This can work while the risks are paying off even if they result in some “Hail Mary’s”, but over time breaks down the trust. It stops being about the employees growth and starts being about the managers successes. Over time the employees sandbag their expectations so that when management pushes back, it’s still possible. Over time this creates a dangerous game of deceit where no one wins. It’s a recipe for catastrophe.
That’s not to say that managers shouldn’t push their employees either – we can do far more than we know how to do and often we need someone to push us into the challenge. When it’s happening properly, there is a give and take. A good manager will push their people but provide space for things not to work the first time. They will take the blame if they push to far instead of passing it through to their employees if things don’t go right. They listen to the amount of stress their employees are under, just as a coach recognizes they can hurt their performer by pushing them too hard.
We all have coaches, formal or informal, who can help us improve. We should seek out the good ones as they can have a significant positive impact on our lives. Likewise, we should be good coaches ourselves. If we find ourselves coaching others, we should take that role seriously, listening and working to help the one we coach grow. If we also succeed when they succeed, we should be careful of pushing too hard and instead continue to listen and develop trust. Both finding and being a good coach can be difficult, but it’s well worth the effort.