When should we be cheerleaders at work? The coaching trend

By Angelo Kinicki  |  Weatherup/Overby Chair in Leadership


From time to time, we can all use a good cheerleader to root us on in our careers. Right now, one of the hottest trends in management is “coaching,” the process in which one person works to help another to improve and develop, sometimes even just serving as a sounding board. We all need coaching at some point.

Most of us also do some type of coaching in our lives, anyway. (Just ask any parent of a teenager.) Though we may think we’re pretty good at it, unfortunately, research and my experience suggest otherwise.

A recent visit to a supermarket once again illustrated the value of good coaching to me. A mom asked her young son to pick out some apples from a bin while she moved on to the herbs. The boy picked up five apples and gently put them in a plastic bag.

The mom then held up the bag, spun it around and asked her son if he thought they were good, to which he nodded. The mom opened the bag, took out each apple for inspection, and pulled out one that was bruised and soft.

The son then shrugged and said, “Why do I need to know about picking apples?” The mom went over to the apple bin, quietly picked through for five “good ones,” and handed him the new bag full of big-blemish-free apples, asking, “Which bag of apples would you like in your lunches?” The session lasted just a couple of minutes.

It was no big deal. It was also clear at the beginning that the boy didn’t think apple picking was a skill he needed. However, his mom quickly influenced him that it might be in his best interest to change his mind and behavior, by making the issue personally relevant.

That is the key to coaching – emphasizing the personal relevance and the importance of the skill or task. So, when is it appropriate for you to take this on and coach someone? First, there has to be a perceived need for coaching.

This usually starts with an observation of a gap -- the difference between a desired state and an actual state. For example, if you want your boss to treat you with respect (a desired state), and he or she yells and swears at you, then you have a gap. Second, the issue must be perceived as important by both parties.

It can’t just be important to you. For example, a client of mine, Ron, recently complained that a peer was constantly interrupting him in meetings. Ron asked for my opinion about Joe’s interruptions and whether I thought it was worth his time to offer Joe feedback and possibly some coaching about his rude behavior.

After cringing, I asked Ron the following questions: What do you want from the feedback and coaching? Do you think Joe believes his behavior is a problem? What reaction do you expect from him? Do you think Joe wants your feedback and coaching? Is this really about him or you?

Ron was shocked, saying, “I hadn’t thought about all that.” Like Ron, most of us see a gap and assume we need to do something about it. This often results in conflict because the other person does not want or need our help or coaching.

In this case, Joe is outgoing, spontaneous and enthusiastic. He does interrupt in meetings. He likes to keep meetings moving by actively contributing and by challenging the team when it gets off track. Therefore, unwanted, unplanned coaching could potentially just curb his enthusiasm.

Coaching is a good thing when it is done appropriately, in a planned, meaningful and mindful way. Simply telling someone to stop interrupting in meetings can cause more harm than good. It could stifle performance. When deciding whether or not to coach, consider the following:

  • Be mindful of your intentions. You should only coach if you genuinely want to help someone or some group.
  • Determine the potential outcomes. Remember, good intentions don’t ensure that someone wants to be coached. You need to consider both the positive and negative consequences that may result from coaching.
  • Assess the personal relevancy of the issue. If the person being coached does not see the issue as important, then he or she will not be receptive to any coaching.

If coaching is planned and executed well, then it can be a welcome management tool in any type of environment.



First published in The Arizona Republic, November 26, 2014.