One Change Leaders Can Make Right Now to Improve Tough Corrective Coaching, Part 2

My intent in this series is to address the leadership issue about which I am asked frequently in my teaching and consulting: How do I correct someone without it being agonizing (and unproductive) for me and the person? How do I tell someone they’re not doing it right and they need to be better?

In Part 1, I addressed the most important factor I see in these leadership situations.

These corrective coaching sessions are difficult because they are risky. At best, you are likely to surprise the person you lead, at worst, hurt them. You may have to deal with their negative emotions and the relational mess that creates… …Very simply, here’s the one thing you can change: Approach the corrective coaching from their perspective and not yours.

Despite the inherent risk, these are important conversations. And, if done properly, can strengthen the leadership relationship and improve performance.

The research indicates that we default to what is a path of least resistance for us. Perfectionists tend to offer too much corrective feedback too often. It becomes overwhelming for the person being corrected and unproductive. Conflict avoiders tend to avoid correction, in hopes that things will get better by osmosis, which of course seldom works. Other leaders try oblique attacks. They’ll send an email to an entire group of people to correct one person. “Lets remember how important it is to be on time for meetings…” when there is only one person of the 10 who has a problem with on-time attendance.

At best, this kind of corrective coaching is unproductive. At worst, it actually makes things worse.

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So, the one thing you can change as a leader is begin to learn what type of corrective coaching works best for each individual you lead. One-size-fits-all doesn’t fit. Your size may not fit someone you lead.

Note: This series assumes that the behavior is correctable. If you are at the point of terminating or dismissing the person in question, other principles are in play. This post assumes you want the relationship, the person wants the relationship with you and can succeed long-term.

The most important practice overall, once you identify what works best for each individual you lead, is to be proactive – to set up clear expectations for performance, interpersonal behavior, team dynamics, etc. at the beginning of the relationship (or performance cycle). And, while I will write a post about that later, I find that it usually doesn’t help when a leader is having trouble with the issue because it’s too late to be proactive.

So, let’s start in the middle of the problem.

Let’s assume you’ve done the work that you need to do to determine the best context in which to offer corrective coaching and feedback for that particular person. My suggestion is that, before the conversation, determine two critical truths: First,  in what specific way would you like performance to change. Second – and most important since we often forget – why is that change desirable?

When you work on the why, you connect the performance change to something bigger. As a leader, you’re not just correcting because of a particular perspective or opinion you have, but because the performance is connected to something meaningful in terms of your organization’s overall purpose.

For instance:

You coach your associate pastor to submit more accurate expense reports because integrity-beyond-reproach is one of your stated church values.

You ask your IT staff member to improve his self-awareness and interpersonal behavior (including active listening, saying please and thank you, etc.) because the IT department’s mission notes the importance of recognizing that technology serves people, not vice versa.

You ask the head of your Sunday School department to recruit and train new Sunday School teachers rather than defaulting to the same teachers over and over again because expanding class opportunities was an important Board 24-month objective.

Making a meaningful connection between the corrective coaching and “the bigger picture” can ensure that the person gains a greater understanding of their role in relationship to the organizational purpose. It can also help make sure you are not simply addressing a pet peeve of yours. (If you can’t connect the behavior to something bigger, it may not be worth correcting.)

I had one client tell me that when she started to think this way, she realized that their church’s “bigger picture” (mission, vision, values, strategic plan, job descriptions, etc.) needed as much corrective coaching as the individuals on staff.

Up next, self evaluation and asking the right questions.