Wick Communications

Make time to coach

In Management on 11 Sep 2014 at 9:46 pm


“When you are swamped with your own work, how can you make time to coach your employees and do it well?” That is Angela Herrin’s question beginning an hour-long webinar available now for free from the Harvard Business Review.

Is there a more important question for Wick managers to consider? I don’t think so. Strange, then, how little we talk about it.

The HBR webinar is essentially a lecture by Ed Batista, a leadership coach and instructor at Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He uses a lot of biz-babble – “growth mindsets” and “momentary cheerleading” and “experiential learning” and “diagnostic inquiry.” Despite that, he makes a lot of sense.

“I (once) came into a job with a model of leadership that said, ‘I needed to have the best ideas, and I needed to champion them really aggressively,’” Batista said. “Essentially, I needed to win.” Batista says he benefitted from a mentor who suggested a leadership coach. The coach helped Batista realize he was alienating people and that his job wasn’t a solo pursuit, but that he needed others to be effective. Isn’t that true of all of us at Wick? …

I highly suggest listening to the entire webinar. Download it and do it while you’re going on your morning walk or something. Until then, some takeaways for managers:

Coaching begins with inquiry. Start by asking your colleague what he wants to talk about. Don’t give advice too early. You want to ask questions so that employees come up with appropriate answers themselves. As manager, you don’t have to have all the answers yourself.

Coaching isn’t a last chance. It works best with high-potential employees. If people are resistant, you will have to first break down that resistance by building trust. It won’t work with someone who doesn’t care to improve.

Focused attention is key. You can’t multitask coaching. Your direct reports want eye contact and an emotional contact. You can’t do it over your shoulder while emailing the mayor. Focus is more important than time.

Look for coaching moments. This isn’t a calendared, performance review. Sometimes it happens on the way to lunch or walking through the hall. Make it normal.

There is a reason why good coaches and mentors are so rare. It’s nuanced, it’s hard and it takes continual work – and it begins with the acknowledgment that you don’t know everything. But very little is more important in the long run.

Correction: This version corrects Batista’s title. He is an instructor for the Stanford Graduate School of Business.



  1. Thanks, Clay–I’m glad you liked the webinar, and I think you pulled out some of the most salient points. I chagrined to hear that you felt that I used a lot of “biz babble.” Avoiding jargon is always a goal of mine, whether in my writing, in a coaching session, or in life more generally. I even wrote a post that addresses this topic: In Defense of Normal (A Coaching Manifesto), http://www.edbatista.com/2012/02/in-defense-of-normal.html.

    I don’t find the phrases you cite particularly jargon-y, but that’s likely a function of the fact that I’ve been an executive coach for nearly a decade and back at Stanford for almost eight years, and that language is just a regular feature of my landscape–which is a great reminder. I’ll still use those terms, but I’ll be thoughtful about their impact.

    Also, it’s nice to see my work as a coach being shared with journalists. My first work out of undergrad was as a cub reporter for the San Carlos/Belmont Enquirer-Bulletin, and then as senior editor for that chain of Peninsula weeklies, owned at the time by the Chicago Tribune. I stayed for less than two years because I became deeply involved in writing about homelessness in the Bay Area and wanted to work on the front lines, but it was a terrific start to my career, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.

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