Every Leader’s No. 1 Role



The role of leaders has changed radically over the past twenty years, along with almost everything else. Over and over they have been pressed with the mantra “Do more with less.” Sometimes this is a good idea and can be very fruitful for a season or two, but after a decade it gets very tiresome. At that point, you simply cannot do more with less. In the same way, cost cutting is good—to a point. But I have seen too many bean counters in leadership positions who have no other tool in their belts beyond cutting costs. I have also seen them ruin great organizations and tens of thousands of people’s lives. At some point the only message that gets heard is: “You people are lazy and you are wasting the organization’s money.” Both the “cut costs” and the “more with less” philosophy have radically altered what it means to be a leader today in practical terms.


The most important part of a team leader’s role is coaching. But this aspect—the most valuable and rewarding task leaders perform—has been almost completely squeezed out of their role over the past twenty years. Some will argue that a leader’s role is to decide what work needs to be done, develop systems and processes, set goals, mobilize the organization’s resources to accomplish those goals, manage people to make it all happen, and measure results. I don’t disagree that most of these are important aspects of a leader’s role. But the best way to accomplish all of this is within the context of coaching.


A leader’s No. 1 role is to coach his or her people.


The problem is that the changes within organizational life have made it so they simply don’t have time for it. By constantly being asked to do more with less and cut costs, they have taken on more of the unimportant urgent things themselves, and set aside the most critical part of their role, coaching. This is one of the great tragedies in the life of modern organizations.


There was a time when we were doing more with less. Now we are doing less with less. Where are the visionary leaders who realize we can do much, much more with just a little bit more resources?


Most people need a coach much more than they need a manager. Don’t get me wrong—people need to be managed. The idea of self-management is delusional and ineffective. People need help prioritizing their work in the context of the organization’s overall goals, and they need to be held accountable. Without accountability, most people become the-worst-version-of-themselves. Even with a strong case for management (though as you know, I prefer to call it leadership), it remains true that the best way to manage (lead) people is to coach them.


The best leaders spend the majority of their time coaching people.


So, why don’t more leaders spend more time coaching their people? Two reasons. First, they are too busy doing things that don’t add value. Second, they have not been taught an effective system of coaching.


Coaching is the number one tool missing from most leaders’ tool kits. I see them come to our Don’t Just Manage—Coach! training, and within the first hour it is clear they have either never been given permission to coach or never been taught how to coach. This inevitably means their past leaders didn’t coach and mentor them.


We are going to solve this problem in this chapter. You will have what you need to get started today. Will you get better over time? Absolutely. Would you benefit from our Don’t Just Manage—Coach! training? Sure, but don’t put off what you can start doing right now. Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do.


Some readers may be tempted to think, “Well, I’m not a manager!” or “I’m not a leader.” That may be true at work. Perhaps you don’t have a leadership role—yet. But we all lead people in different areas of our lives, and a coaching mentality can be a game changer. Do you lead your kids? Sure. You are constantly trying to help them realize what matters most and what matters least. Don’t just tell them; coach them. Don’t have kids? Fine. Do you have nieces and nephews? Do you have people come to your home to do work? When was the last time you ate in a restaurant, went out with friends, hosted a meal? We are all constantly managing people and experiences. And if you are not a leader at work, you have one. Ask your leader to coach you.


The ideas I am sharing in this chapter and throughout this book are not just for leaders. They are for every person in every organization, and they apply to both work and life.


The most important part of a leader’s role is to grow people. If you want the best for your people and from your people, they need coaching. Nobody achieves excellence at anything without coaching. Without coaching, mediocrity is inevitable.


It’s time to create a coaching culture in your organization, department, team, or group. Nothing will have more impact on your culture than coaching. It is the silver bullet of Dynamic Cultures.


Only it is not quick and easy. A culture of excellence is a coaching culture.


If you are a leader, stop thinking of yourself as a manager and start thinking of yourself as a coach. It you are bold enough, put a sign on your door that reads coach.


Here are some quick coaching tips that you can start implementing today:

  1. Make every interaction with your direct reports count. Teach them something you learned in your career, tell them a story about how you failed at something and what you learned, or show them one specific way they can become better in their role.

  2. Students don’t give their teachers homework to do. Don’t let your people bring you half-finished work for you to complete. Coach them on what needs improving and have them try again and again, until they get it right. It is not your role to do their work.

  3. Be coachable yourself. Invite your people to bring to your attention ways you can grow. If you have children, you are already well versed in how this works. They don’t wait to be invited and are not suppressed by political correctness. They just tell you straight up.

  4. Become a student of people. Increase your awareness of fruitful and unproductive social interactions. What is the key to becoming a great writer? People ask me this question all the time. The answer: Develop an intimate knowledge of people. What inspires and engages them? What takes the wind out of their sails and demotivates them? In art and business—and life—nothing takes the place of knowledge of the human person.


Matthew Kelly, The Culture Solution





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