A Coach Approach

There are many different schools of thought when it comes to managing and leading people and/or projects. It seems that everyone has ideas, opinions, or strategies on the right way or wrong way of doing it. How do you know which one is best for you and your teams? The answer is not always as obvious as we would like. What I do know is that the best strategies combine elements of multiple disciplines, incorporate not only rational intelligence but also emotional intelligence, and serve to provide people a sense of contribution and growth.

For my part, I certainly have a strong sense of what works, as well as what doesn’t work when it comes to leading successful teams. I’ve been on both sides of that equation and have been the leader responsible for leading teams to victorious outcomes as well as devastating failures. And the differences between the two outcomes can be minimal and seemingly inconsequential. In this article, I’ll offer a glimpse into what I consider to be a positive, sustainable model for leadership – the coach approach.

Coaching has recently become a hot buzzword in the business world. There are Leadership Coaches, Career Coaches, Life Coaches, Executive Coaches… you get the idea. There are about as many different types of coaches as there are people to be coached. I’m not writing this article as a promotional piece to sell coaching, but rather to highlight a few of the core competencies of professional coaching that can help create a solid foundation for personal as well as team leadership. (The following come from my training with The Coaches Training Institute, a world-renowned coach training organization that has trained tens of thousands of coaches and leaders in organizations around the world.)

1. Listening. Such a simple concept, and yet so often ignored, abused, or misunderstood. For most of us, to be listened to is an extraordinary experience – mostly because it is so rare. Everyone is in such a hurry these days, and no one really has the time to listen any more. And, the truth is as a leader you do not have the time to NOT listen.

One of the biggest issues with listening is that most of us don’t really listen at a very deep level. We’re preoccupied with our own issues, we’re formulating our responses instead of really listening, and we tend to hear the words while missing the deeper meaning. For a coach, that is akin to career suicide. For a PM, it’s easily the same. It’s incumbent on each of us to cultivate a habit of listening. For those of us in relationships, just think of how well they go when we’re not listening to our significant other. It should be no different when it comes to listening to your team members.

2. Curiosity. Of course, we all know what it means to be curious. It all starts with a question. But most of us think of curiosity and immediately think of getting answers to our questions. I’m talking about something more. There is a quality to curiosity that is much deeper than information gathering. Think back to what it was like when you were a child – simply curious just to know and learn about the people and the world around you. Open to whatever comes up.

Authentic curiosity can be a great way to build and deepen a relationship. By its very nature, it lacks judgment. It can give us a glimpse into what makes that other person tick, who they are, and how they see themselves in their own life. It creates a wonderful pathway to understanding. And, when we can better understand each other, there is an opportunity to create trust.

3. Self-Management. This one is tricky. I say that from personal experience, and I’m sure you’ll agree. How many times in the course of our day, in conversations with others, do we suddenly find ourselves partially or even completely disconnected? We get bumped off course by a word or phrase that triggers a memory in us, an external sound like a siren, or the momentary realization that we forgot to do something. And sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to get back on track. Just think of what that’s like when you’re on the receiving end and the person across from you is obviously agitated, distracted, or worse – tuned out.

Self-management is all about the skills of self-awareness and recovery. It’s about your ability to be aware of those times when you get distracted or become disengaged, and then to get back, to reconnect with the other person. Few things can discourage people and create a feeling of insignificance like the sense that they’re being tuned out, what they have to say doesn’t matter.

These are just 3 of the many core competencies of professional coaching that can greatly enhance your ability to be a transformation leader, to connect with your teams on a much deeper level, and ultimately to create powerful, committed, sustainable teams and to lead those teams to greater levels of success.

In my opinion, all Project Managers (truly anyone who is a leader) should become well acquainted with their interpersonal skills, and work to develop them more fully. In the end, your ability to connect with team members, to create sustainable relationships, and to foster an environment that supports the individuals will directly impact your success as a PM and may just lead to everyone having more fun at work. And who wouldn’t want to have more fun at work?

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2 thoughts on “A Coach Approach”

  1. Thank you for your kind comments, Kimberly. Truly, listening is one of the most valuable skills for anyone to achieve success in any area of life, and unfortunately, one of the least practiced! And I applaud your openness and authenticity in your comments about self management. That is exactly why you are a great leader! We all have areas that we can improve upon, and my sense is that you are the kind of person we can all admire. Glad you found inspiration in my words, and I look forward to giving more value to the PM Community through my work.

  2. Kevin, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your incredibly valuable insights on improving results in teams. I’ve been working in business leadership and project management for over 20 years, as a consultant for the past decade, and have worked with dozens of teams over extended periods of time. Absolutely the most powerful tool in a leader’s communication toolbox is listening with great curiosity to the perspectives of others. In fact I teach “generous listening” in every workshop I facilitate because this kind of listening has the power to transform relationships and make the impossible possible. I first learned this kind of listening from my incredible role model Barbara Fittipaldi in 1995. It truly changed my life, not only my work. As for self-management, well, I still need a “rewind and erase” button on my mouth, and people can easily sense my negative emotional states. I’ve got a lot of work to do to truly become the kind of person I admire, but reading your article has given me a dose of inspiration to continue on this endless journey. Thank you!

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