By Brian Chernett
Ever heard anyone say - “I never ask my people to do anything that I couldn’t do myself?” They’ve obviously never heard about leverage. Would you only use a crane to lift weights that you could lift yourself or load a lorry only with what you can carry on your back? Of course not — and it's the same with people.
Modern business is complex and involves finding and using a variety of skills that contribute to the success of the business. The chances of you being able to do every task competently yourself is low and deluding yourself that you can, may be dangerous to the health of the business. If the only brain that matters in the business is yours, your business will be limited to what you know.
So how do you take the leap from being the single guiding light into a business of many specialists who together create something that is better than any one person could have produced, where the whole is greater than the sum of all the parts?
The first and significant step is to recognise that the change is happening and to embrace it. Fighting it simply produces tension and often results in your brighter people moving on. From spending much of your time in making decisions, meeting suppliers, selling to customers and whatever else day to day work looks like for you, you need to make a switch to setting direction, motivating people and providing the environment in which they can succeed. It is a whole new set of skills and you will need to learn them.
Setting direction is about knowing where the business is heading and what the results will be like when it gets there. It is not about deciding how each team member will get there.
Motivated people will provide their own solutions to that particular problem and they may just be better, more elegant and more profitable than yours. Keeping people motivated and moving in the same direction is your most important role as a Chief Executive. Some of your key people will be working in areas where you have experience and knowledge and some will not. Regardless of which area they fall into, your role is to get the best out of them. It is, perhaps, easier to do that with people who do jobs you don’t know inside out because you have to judge their performance objectively. With practice you can do the same for all.
Getting the best out of your people requires an ability to coach them. Coaching generally involves a structured process such as that employed by the G R O W model developed by Sir John Whitmore and is aimed at short to medium term performance improvements. There will be a number of steps through which problems an be explored and solutions developed. GROW for example identifies the Goals to be achieved, the current Reality of the situation, explores Opportunities to overcome current problems or delays and comes up with an action plan (What’s next in the GROW model). Once solutions have been agreed, they can be monitored using the same process.
Coaching elicits a wide range of reactions amongst business people. Some can see no place for it in business - it is too ‘touchy feely’ and ‘real’ managers just get on with it, do their jobs and “don’t need all that stuff”. Others ignore the ‘new age’ connotations of coaching and recognise that good sportspeople become great sportspeople with the right coaching and that good businesspeople also need help to become great. Coaching is as much about having the right attitude as it is about training.
If you are already a good listener — to verbal and non-verbal communication — the chances are that you already coach people and help them. The key to applying coaching across your business is to do it in a structured fashion and to do it consistently. There are many techniques that will help you to refine your coaching skills. Open questioning encourages the person being coached to seek their own answers and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) or Psychology courses can help you with picking up on the often underlying issues that people cannot or will not volunteer to you.
The better you get at coaching, the more you’ll feel comfortable in asking people to perform way beyond your own capabilities and limitations. It is all about leverage. Small efforts can produce major effects.