Why Being a Coach and Mentor Pays Off for Leaders

Coaching is not just for the folks at the sidelines guiding players on the basketball court, or just those professionals hired to help an executive up his or her game.

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  • Smart leaders know they can be coaches in most any business situation. Every leader can be a coach and mentor, regardless of their formal role or level in an organization.

    High-performing leaders know the effort they put into coaching and mentoring others pays off not only in the productivity, job satisfaction, and career growth of subordinates, but also in their own status within their organization. 

    What I Mean by Coach and Mentor

    In the context of my model of emotional intelligence, coaching and mentoring aren’t just roles - they’re skills, a frame of mind, and an approach to working with others. And, like all skills, the Coach and Mentor Competency is an ability that leaders can develop.

    It comes down to the ability to foster the long-term learning or development of others by giving feedback and support.

    In this competence, you have a genuine interest in helping others develop further strengths. You give timely constructive guidance. You understand the person's goals, and you try to find challenges for them that will provide growth opportunities.

    Support That Works

    Think about one of your direct reports and an area where they could stand to improve. What’s the best way to help that person move forward? To point out where they’re lacking skill? Or to talk with that person about how gaining skill in that area could help them progress toward their own goals? Keep in mind, it’s not about dictating what youthink they should do, it’s a collaborative process where both parties are open and on board with such development.

    See Coach and Mentor: A Primer, by Daniel Goleman and fellow EI professionals

    Research done by my friend, Richard Boyatzis of Case Western Reserve University, and his colleagues, provides some insight into the strategy that will be most effective. They looked at coaching sessions focused on a person’s hopes and aspirations versus on their deficiencies.

    For some of the sessions, they asked people to describe their dreams for where they’ll be in ten years. For other sessions, they asked people about their difficulties in accomplishing their current work and assignments. Different parts of their subjects’ brains were activated depending on which type of coaching they received. Focusing on future possibilities, hope, and strengths that help us move toward a desired end activates a part of the nervous system that eases stress and is generally calming. That positive approach stimulated sections of the brain related to being open to new situations. On the other hand, focusing on problems, fear, or apparent weaknesses stimulates the part of our nervous system associated with our body’s stress reactions. The subjects in the “how is your work going” sessions had brain areas activated that are known to indicate self-consciousness and guilt.

    What happens when brain areas related to stress are activated? People close down and narrow what they can perceive or the range of options they entertain. Worst of all, they become cognitively impaired, thinking with less clarity. Coaching that focuses on a person’s negatives—poor performance and weaknesses—creates stress and hampers the coachee’s ability to perform well. In contrast, a focus on a person’s strengths, dreams, and aspirations has the opposite effect, energizing and motivating that person to learn better.

    It’s not that we should ignore performance lapses, but that the overall negative-to-positive feedback should pitch to the positive.

    Start with Yourself

    How can you develop the Coach and Mentor Competency? Start with yourself. Ask yourself or talk with a friend about these questions:

    What are your goals?

    How might developing the Coach and Mentor Competency help you move toward achieving those goals?

    What strengths do you bring to this effort?

    Who nurtured your dreams and helped you develop yourself?

    What did they do to support you?

    What concrete step would that supporter encourage you to take toward enhancing your skill in being a coach and mentor?

    By starting with yourself, you’ll get practice providing coaching and mentoring to someone else and experience what it is like to receive this kind of support. When you’re ready to take it a step further, be open to conversations of inquiry with your subordinates. You cannot force your advice on people, but you can have genuine conversations where you ask questions and offer support in a way that fuels growth. 

    Originally published onLinkedin Pulse

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  • Daniel Goleman @DanielGolemanEI
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