LinkedIn recently surveyed 500 L&D professionals across the U.S. and Canada to determine the current state of L&D. Of note, the resulting report cites leadership/people management as the most important skill under L&D’s purview. While this probably isn’t surprising to most readers, what is surprising is that leadership is perennially at the top of the list while many other surveys — specifically employee engagement, employee satisfaction, or employee exit surveys — clearly indicate that the leadership training being offered isn’t having the sustained, positive impact L&D professionals would like.

When asked, Workplace Learning Report respondents detailed the specific leadership/people management skills that are most critical. Below are the top four:

  • Coaching (57%)
  • Leadership Communication (51%)
  • Teams and Collaboration (42%)
  • Employee Engagement (40%)

Again, there are really no surprises here … except that these same results could have been lifted from a survey done a decade or two ago.

In our experiences, we’ve found that most organizations get leadership development — and specifically coaching — wrong. Dead wrong. They miss in three critical ways:

  1. Coaching is used to refer to any employee communication instead of a discrete, purposeful activity. If Bob comes in late, “I need to coach Bob.” If Mary comes to me with personal issue, “I need to coach Mary.” If Clarissa isn’t hitting her numbers, “I need to coach her … maybe to find a new job.”
  2. Coaching is taught as a collection of vague skills or attitudes instead of a very clear process. Many leaders are taught that you need to be a good listener, or be empathetic, or be authentic to be a good coach. Maybe, but those things aren’t enough!
  3. Coaching is viewed as tweaking something leaders are already doing rather than something they need to learn. In my experience, most leaders THINK they’re coaching — deliberately engaging an employee to develop his/her capability or performance — when in fact they’re directing, providing feedback, telling, correcting performance, etc.

Coaching, when taught as a discrete leadership activity using a prescriptive coaching model as a framework, CAN lead to powerful, sustained improvements in:

  • Employee performance
  • Employee engagement
  • Self-assessment and continuous learning
  • Team performance and collaboration
  • How the leader shows up in the minds of employees – helpful, committed, authentic, performance-focused

Out of all of the subject areas we cover in our customized leadership development programs, our module on coaching generates the most “A-ha!” moments for people. Our simple — yet powerful — coaching model and activities help leaders see that what they think they’re doing — providing feedback, telling, directing, sharing, etc. — ISN’T coaching. Those things are useful — even critical. But they’re not coaching.

If we as a L&D community truly want to see feedback on leadership development improve, we need to distinguish the discrete activities that leaders do — like coaching — and help leaders perform those activities consistently, effectively, and confidently.

So, as we marvel at impressive displays of athleticism on the court over the next few weeks, take a moment to observe the coaches on the sidelines and ask yourself if your leaders have what it takes to coach their teams to greatness. Chances are they could use some reinforcement.

For a great coaching support tool, consider asking all managers to download our Performance Checklist mobile app. The app helps supervisors and managers analyze — and improve — the performance of their employees by focusing on eight key elements required for employee success. Leaders can email themselves the suggested interventions as takeaways for easy reference and action.

Download the app And, if your team needs more practice before the big game, we’re always here to help you rewrite your entire coaching playbook. We're coaching experts! Coaching is a core component of our flagship leadership and development program, Unleash Your Leadership Potential. Designed for front-line to mid-level managers, Unleash Your Leadership Potential is an award-winning leadership development program designed to provide leaders with the skills and confidence to build productive, meaningful relationships with employees, to lead effectively, and to develop talent and bench strength through deliberate performance management and coaching.

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