The Manager of the Future Thinks Like a Coach

Gary Magenta
Gary Magenta,
SVP & Author of The Un-Bossy Boss,
Root Inc.

Whether you’re a CEO, senior manager, or recent college grad just entering the workforce, I have no doubt that you’ve been hearing the term “employee engagement” all over the place. Because many companies are performing so poorly in this area – 70 percent of employees are disengaged according to Gallup – it’s on everyone’s minds and is a topic frequently covered by the most popular blogs and news outlets. Companies track it, measure it, and discuss it so much that it’s starting to feel like it’s losing some meaning. So, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves what employee engagement is all about.

Employee engagement isn’t earned by pleasing people with extra vacation days or busting the afternoon slump with free cappuccinos. It’s about helping employees connect their work, and their passions, to your organization’s goals. It’s about empowering people to deliver to their full potential by executing their company’s strategy – because they understand it. It’s about making sure they know how their responsibilities impact the business – because all employees play a role in an organization’s success or failure or loss. If you can make this happen, your people will feel satisfied at work, the organization will prosper, and everyone wins.

So, if we know it’s possible to achieve positive employee engagement by helping everyone understand the organization’s strategy and how they relate to it, then why are so many companies missing the mark?

Here’s the reality: managers are the conduit between the strategy (delivered to them by the leadership) and the frontline employees who have responsibility for bringing the strategy to life. Positioned as the “middleman,” a manager can either be the choke point or the enabler. Highly effective managers connect and engage with employees in a way that allows them to, in turn, connect and engage with the business.

Creating Great Managers – The Coaching Mindset

After years of being an entrepreneur, I decided to take a corporate position. I uprooted my family and moved to a new city for this job. When I met my boss on my first day of work, he said to me: “Oh, you’re starting today? I don’t have a place for you to sit yet. And why are we paying you so much?” You can imagine I knew almost immediately I had made a huge mistake. I had been excited to work for this company, and nothing about the organization itself had changed except my opinion of it – all because of a manager who didn’t know how to connect with or care about his people.

So, how can a manager go from good to great and do a better job at creating engaged employees? It’s time to think like a coach. No, this isn’t a new responsibility that you need to tack onto their to-do list. It’s simply a mindset shift in how you relate to and talk to your people.

A great manager knows to how to unleash the potential of individual employees by building true, meaningful connections. Need some guidance to make this happen? Acting as a coach who knows how to ask Powerful Questions can bring out the best in your people. Powerful Questions are:

  • Open-ended – They cannot be answered in a single word; they elicit thoughtful responses.
  • Non-judgmental – They aren’t leading; they don’t encompass your personal views.
  • Provocative – They challenge thinking and probe for new thoughts.
  • Respectful – They consider your employees’ feelings and emotions in order to obtain honest answers.

By asking Powerful Questions, you can discover more about people’s motivations and help them discover how to best support, contribute, and deliver the desired results for the business, the team, and themselves.

The 12 Questions You Need to Start Asking Now

1. What is most important for you to talk about?

What’s #1 on your employees’ minds? This should become important to you, too! Remember, employees bring their whole selves to work. What they may need to talk about may have nothing to do with work, but it may directly impact their performance. Even when you raise a topic, be sure to uncover what’s most important for the employee to discuss within that subject.

2. What are your desired results?

Ask employees about the results they want to achieve. This empowers them to establish goals they can own. Once you, as the manager, understand your employees’ desired results, you can help them shape goals that will support their success.

3. What are your actual results today, and how did they come to be?

Your employees need to understand where they are starting. Then they can identify the gaps between actual and desired results. This question can be very revealing as employees talk about things that they believe have held them back. Pay particular attention to this part of the conversation, as it can often confirm or identify the need to re-address what is really most important to talk about (see #1).

4. What’s really happening, and what are the judgments you added to your story?

Coaching employees requires you to help them separate facts from judgments or views. Listen carefully and distinguish between facts that can be substantiated and judgments that are subjective. Your employees might even regard their judgments as beliefs. Your job is to help them understand the difference.

5. What attitude or outlook do you have based on your judgments?

An employee’s judgments influence their attitudes when working toward desired results. You may witness an “aha” moment when an employee realizes for the first time that achieving the desired results may require a shift or adjustment on their part.

6. What speech or words are you using, and how is that impacting your ability to achieve the results you want?

Listen carefully to the speech an employee uses to describe current results, attitudes, and judgments. Listen for thinking words, feeling words, and tone of voice. All these can help or hinder their ability to achieve their goals. When an employee considers their speech and tone, they can see the impact they have on their actions, results, and even the people around them.

7. How are your judgments and attitudes showing up physically?

Observe and ask about facial expressions, body movements, posture, gestures, and breathing patterns. Ask employees to pay attention to how they respond physically to their judgments. This will help them recognize ways their judgments affect their physical being. It may be tense shoulders, rolling eyes, or something less noticeable, but these physical manifestations of judgments and attitudes can either aid or block success.

8. What actions will your current thinking (judgments, attitude, speech, or physicality) likely inspire?

Help employees create needed shifts in their approach to reaching their desired results. Sometimes the slightest adjustment in one area can open up new possibilities. A sustainable shift will occur when people identify the need for it themselves.

9. If nothing were in your way and you knew that it would all turn out well, what would you do?

Stories your employees tell themselves may prevent them from reaching their goals. They may perceive obstacles that aren’t really present or as insurmountable as they thought. Allowing them to devise solutions with no restrictions or constraints can help them create new stories and work to attain those solutions.

10. May I offer you my observations?

By offering your observations as a coach, you can offer a new lens through which your employees can view themselves. Your employee might agree with your observations or reject them. Either way, you’re helping them gain the clarity needed to shift their judgments. The key here is to ask if you may offer your observations before offering them. This demonstrates respect for their ability and a willingness to listen.

11. What new practices can you put into place to ensure your success?

Asking employees to formulate their new practices allows them to take ownership of their future and gives you a common connection point. Over time, you can check in on their new practices and help determine if they are working or not. This is a perfect opportunity to offer suggestions and brainstorm.

12. Are you willing to take action? By when? And if not, why not?

If an employee is unwilling to take action, your Powerful Questions must focus on exactly what is holding them back and why. This may require greater understanding about your employee’s judgments of the situation at hand. While you may repeat some previously asked questions, you’ll be asking them within a new context – that of an unwillingness to take action.

As a bonus, always ask “What else?” in a coaching conversation. This Powerful Question is so flexible that it can be used at almost any time. Keep this question in mind and incorporate it as needed into and among the 12 Powerful Questions. It can be difficult for employees to think of everything they want to say in the moment of your meeting. The question “What else?” gives them an opportunity to truly reflect and bring additional thoughts to the surface.

So, there you have it: an overview of how a good manager can transform into a great one. With a team of great managers, a company is bound for success because it will be full of engaged, committed employees who understand the current and future state of the business and know how they connect to it. What are you waiting for? It’s time to go from good to great and make the 12 Powerful Questions your own.

The Un-Bossy Boss is currently available on Amazon.