How to Earn the Right to Coach Someone on Their Performance

April 27, 2023 Randy Conley

How do your team members respond to your coaching? Do they seem to view it as your sincere desire to help them achieve their personal and professional goals, and give their full effort in response? Or do you think they interpret it as another not-so-subtle attempt to get them to produce more work and achieve a standard they had little involvement in establishing?

If people don’t seem to be responding favorably to your efforts, perhaps you haven’t yet earned the right to ask them to aim for higher levels of performance.

I’d like to suggest that you mentally reframe performance management. Think of it not as a managerial task but as a relationship—one that is based on trust.

Managing the performance of team members is a key part of every leader’s role; yet, many leaders I encounter are as excited about doing performance management as they are about getting a root canal. Therefore, most managers approach this part of their job with uninspired resignation and a desire to get it over as quickly and painlessly as possible. With an approach like that, is it any wonder that people don’t respond favorably?

But let’s say that you viewed performance management as a relationship built on trust. And let’s say that your people know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you have their best interests at heart and are committed to helping them realize their full potential. Do you think they might be a little more open to your coaching?

Here’s what it looks like in practical terms: as a leader, you behave in a way that clearly communicates to your people how much you value long-term growth vs. short-term goal achievement.

Consider employing one or more of these strategies:

  • Ask your team members what they are interested in doing. Asking a person what they want—novel concept, huh? Many leaders choose not to have this kind of conversation because they are afraid they won’t be able to provide what someone requests. Instead, frame the one-on-one conversation as a time to explore opportunities with no strings attached. I tell team members that nothing is off the table, but I balance it by saying I’m not making any promises; we are simply exploring options. I make it clear that I’m in the person’s corner—and if there is a way we can find alignment between their interests and the needs of the organization, I will do everything in my power to help them achieve their goals.
  • Don’t be constrained by job descriptions. My HR colleagues may cringe a bit here, but I believe leaders need to think beyond job descriptions when it comes to employee growth. Too often we get locked into job descriptions as the defining scope of a person’s responsibilities, including who reports to whom in the chain of command. In reality, we need to consider the job description as a broad outline of how and where the person will contribute to the organization. Managers should work with their people to establish BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) that allow them to develop new skill sets and competencies. Leaders can frame growth as an individual’s chance for résumé enhancement that will benefit them in the future—whether at your organization or somewhere else.
  • Give away parts of your job. Most leaders have far too much on their plates to accomplish on their own, so why not delegate some of your key responsibility areas to competent and motivated team members? It’s hard for some leaders to go this route because it means giving up control and trusting others. It can also be threatening to their egos, as if they are admitting that they aren’t capable of doing it all on their own. Actually, smart leaders use this strategy because it’s a win-win for everyone. Your employees get to take on challenging goals and earn the satisfaction of contributing in important ways—and you deliver on key objectives for your team and develop a strong bench of capable and committed team members.
  • Adopt a mindset of being a developer and exporter of talent. Leaders should consider it a fiduciary responsibility to help their people grow, even at the risk of having them leave for greener pastures at some point in the future. My experience has shown when employees clearly know you are on their side and will do whatever you can to support their growth, they devote even more loyalty to you and will stay with you as long as possible. Who would want to leave an environment where they know their boss bends over backwards to provide opportunities for growth and development? Not many.

Mike Krzyzewski, or “Coach K,” as he’s known, is the winningest coach in college basketball history. Shortly after achieving this designation in 2015, he was asked to share the single most important characteristic a coach needs in order to achieve this level of success.

He replied, “I think you have to be trustworthy. You have to take the time to develop a relationship that’s so strong with each individual player, and hopefully with the team, that they will trust you. They let you in—and if they let you in, you can teach. If they don’t let you in, you’re never going to get there.”

The same is true for any leader in any organization. If you want to coach people to higher levels of performance, you first need their trust. If you have it, all things are possible. And if you don’t? Well, as Coach K said, you’re never going to get there.

About the Author

Randy Conley

Randy Conley is the Vice President & Trust Practice Leader for Blanchard®. He is coauthor of Blanchard’s Building Trust training program and works with organizations around the globe, helping them build trust in the workplace. In 2022, Randy and Ken Blanchard coauthored Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, and most recently, Simple Truths of Leadership Playbook: A 52-Week Game Plan for Becoming a Trusted Servant Leader.

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