One of the most powerful ways to create a culture of development within your organization is to set the expectation that a primary role of a people leader is to be a development coach for his/her team members.

This is the fourth post in the series “Creating a Culture of Development”. In my last post we discussed the importance of values and one value I proposed was recognizing that development is an ongoing process requiring effort on everyone’s part. If we believe that that the individual must take ownership for his/her career, then the manager’s role becomes one of supporting that ownership and coaching is a key part of that support.

It is sometimes difficult for managers to shift from being a performance evaluator to a development coach. This is because development coaching is different than performance coaching, and the manager must be willing to be in the “passenger seat” and allow the employee to “drive” the conversation and agenda.

What specifically can people leaders do to be effective development coaches? Here are eight ideas:

  1. First, recognize that employee development is a fundamental responsibility of your role. As a people leader, you’re responsible for the team’s results but also the people who produce those results. Your success will be measured in part from the growth and development of the team members.
  2. Regularly reserve time for development discussions. While employees should proactively schedule time to review and discuss their development goals, the manager’s role is to ensure these discussions happen and don’t morph into a routine work review driven by the manager. I discussed this point in detail in a previous post.
  3. Demonstrate genuine interest in the individual. We have to go beyond the mechanics of allocating the time and sincerely want to establish a supportive and helpful relationship. You have to get out of your head and see the world through the eyes of your team member. Being genuine will go a long way towards making up for imperfections in your skill as a coach. A key part of having genuine interest is in following up on things you commit to from the discussion.
  4. Ask insightful, open-ended questions. Simply asking questions that follow your curiosity and cause the person to reflect on what they’re doing and what they want can be very powerful. Ask about what they’re trying to accomplish and where they need help. Keep the questions simple and don’t ask multiple questions at one time. Examples of simple, yet powerful questions might be: What are you trying to achieve? How will you know when you get there? What do you need from me?
  5. Once you ask the question, listen carefully to the response. Take a few notes on what the person says. Notice the non-verbal cues as well. Most executive coaches learn as much from how something is stated as they do from what is actually said. If you find a lull in the conversation, ask the person where she would like to go next in the discussion.
  6. If you have thoughts, reactions or feedback, don’t interrupt and start telling the person what he/she should do, rather ask the person for permission to share your perspective. Share the feedback in a way that is constructive, actionable and relevant to the person’s career goals. If the genuine connection discussed above is established, then any feedback or recommendations you provide will be taken in a context of really trying to help.
  7. One of the main benefits you bring as a people leader should be a good grasp of resources that can help the person develop the identified skills. This includes not only sharing information on educational or training offerings, but also your insights about potential projects or assignments. Additionally, introducing the person to someone in your network who could be a source of information or serve as a coach might be extremely helpful.
  8. Finally, a good development coach also provides support by holding the person accountable in follow-up discussions. Your role should be to encourage the team member, check on progress, as well as ensure execution of any commitments you have made.

It may seem like the above is a lot to ask of a people leader, especially for those who have many direct or informal reports. I will admit it does take time and effort; however, people leaders who follow the above steps will find that their reputation as a strong developer of talent will grow, which builds and reinforces the organization’s overall development culture. A strong case can then be made as to why today’s talented and mobile workforce should join (and stay with) your team.