Adjust negative attitudes with employee coaching
A lot of confusion surrounds the idea of “employee coaching,” as it invokes perceptions of coddling or otherwise spoiling employees. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The leader-as-coach model simply addresses your approach to leadership—how you choose to lead and touch others’ lives. It doesn’t mean holding others to lower standards, needing to be popular or “friends” with your staff members, or compromising your beliefs. It’s about helping your people do their best work every day with peace of mind, creating the space for them to perform at the highest levels via their discretionary effort.
It’s also about helping them see that your constructive feedback is in their best interest career-wise. Remember, career and professional development remain a top priority in survey after survey for Gen Y millennials and Gen Z Zoomers. Here’s one way to get them there.
The exceptional employee with an attitude
Let’s assume you have an employee who performs exceptionally well but is difficult to deal with, rubs people the wrong way and might otherwise be described as condescending and argumentative. Your best approach is not to avoid the problem, look the other way and sweep it under the rug. It likewise does not lie in yelling, arguing, judging or otherwise reprimanding that individual. Instead, your opener—using coaching principles—might sound like this:
“Tony, I wanted to meet with you privately to discuss something that I think is important to your career. You know they say that the most important decisions about your career will be made when you’re not in the room. That’s the same for you as it is for me and everyone else. There’s something that may be missing awareness that could potentially hold you back, and I’d like to discuss that with you if you’ll allow me. In other words, I want to help you by having your back as you learn to manage and master this so that you can influence what’s being said about you in that proverbial room at some point in the future while you’re not there to defend yourself. Do I have your permission to proceed?” [Yes]
“Right now, you’re knocking it out of the park with your performance, which is great. But that only counts for half of your overall contribution to our company or any other. You’re equally responsible for what I’d call your conduct or behavior—in other words, how you’re coming across to others, your reputation for building up those around you and for serving as a role model in the leadership and communication space. That’s where you’re falling short—significantly short. I’m not saying this to offend or judge you or otherwise hurt your feelings, but your peers tend to avoid you, using words like ‘confrontational,’ ‘aggressive’ and ‘condescending’ to describe you. Does it shock you to hear that?” [No, but …] “There’s no need to defend yourself right now—we’re just talking. There’s no judgment here. But it’s important that we discuss this together to see what, if anything, you want to do to improve this perception problem that exists—and how I can help you get there and what my expectations are.”
Why this approach works
Why does this setup for a potentially crucial conversation work well? Because you’re coming at it from the standpoint of the individual’s interests. You care. There’s no judgment—“Why did you do that? What were you thinking? You always/never do that” and the like are not words that you use. Instead, you’re helping this individual raise awareness about a problem that’s likely been unaddressed for far too long. You can end the meeting like this:
“I’d like to be the person to help you with this—a career mentor and coach who has your back while you make your way through this. I’d like to see you fix this now so that it never holds you back in your career in the future. I want people to say, ‘I know Tony’s a top performer, and he’s a great teambuilder’ as opposed to ‘I know Tony’s a top performer but he has difficulty working with peers and garnering other people’s trust.’ Whether you’d like me to serve as a coach and mentor through this is up to you, but my expectations will remain the same nevertheless: You’ll need to contribute more to fostering greater teamwork and camaraderie, or else I’ll have to question your ultimate fit factor on our team. Does that make sense?” [Yes]
Internal coaching for the win
Internal coaching sets expectations high. It helps you become someone’s favorite boss. It allows you to share with people that you see more in their potential than they may see in themselves. Try this opener the next time you’re dealing with someone with a challenging style, and see if they’ll respond positively to this approach. You could very well provide them with the safety and structure to reinvent themselves in their own, the team’s and the company’s best interests.