Teams have shifted.

In the past, leaders ran teams (and organizations) as dictatorships. Labor was plentiful, and jobs were few. Businesses could easily replace people if they didn’t do their jobs well. Employee development and retention were an afterthought.

Now, leading dynamic teams means operating with a growth and talent mobility mindset. Employee development creates motivated employees who exceed expectations and continue to set the bar higher so they can achieve more. Imagine this process happening organically: We’d achieve perfection.

Sadly, many leaders still operate under the assumption that teams cannot function effectively unless someone is there to push, drive, and dangle a carrot and a performance review focused on all of the things the person could do better. This approach often leaves today’s employees dejected and disengaged, with the choice either to stay and be miserable or to leave for greener pastures, because no one took an interest in their success. In our current economic environment, the latter is more likely.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with measuring performance with a written review. Formal documentation of performance isn’t a bad thing, but it should not be the only thing. True performance management is evergreen. It engages employees and helps leaders create conditions that facilitate forward movement and success through coaching and effective feedback loops. Effective leaders empower people to do good work and focus on continuous development through coaching — but this approach is a mindset shift, and as learning and development (L&D) leaders, we have to lead the way.

Here are six ways that we can apply a coaching mindset to managing our own teams, modeling it to our stakeholders as we create leadership development programs:

1. Transparency

Transparency brings people together and helps build trust. To be transparent, leaders must be authentic and deliberate, willing to grow alongside their teams and share and transfer knowledge rather than hoard it as a power-wielding force. Be transparent about your vison and expectations and the roles your team members play. If you can, make sure that they have a say in setting some of the expectations around the work that they do. It will strengthen your relationships and build accountability.

2. Listening for Understanding

Coaches do not give solutions. They ask questions that help people think critically and draw their own solutions. Here are some examples of questions you can ask your team members:

  • Explain this situation: This request helps them define a problem in their own words.)
  • Why is this important, or why is this a problem now?: This question creates focus.
  • What ideas do you have about the solution?: This question encourages critical, creative, strategic thinking.
  • How will you know it’s successful?: This question helps them focus on goals and measurement.
  • Are there any obstacles in the way?: This question helps mitigate risk.
  • What should we do next?: This question creates partnership.

3. Providing Organizational Context to Projects and Tasks

Help people connect the dots between the current task and how it fits into the bigger picture of what the organization does. This conversation will help your team members see that they are more than the work they do and that their impact is broad and meaningful. It will also help them make connections, which enhances their ability to learn.

4. Knowing Their Style

Everyone approaches work a bit differently. By understanding and appreciating the different personalities on your team, you can form complementary work groups. Anticipating the needs of your team members based on their work styles can help you flex your leadership approach in order to create faster successes. Also, by knowing and appreciating your own style, you can remove a barrier to success as a leader. There are a lot of free resources online that you can use to assess your and your team members’ preferences.

5. Giving Meaningful Feedback

Give feedback in the moment and in a way that says you support your employee and his or her learning. Never make people fear making mistakes; great learning comes from great flubs. Be part of their learning journey, and beware of the feedback firehose, where every conversation becomes a coaching conversation.

6. Receiving Feedback Well

Listen to your team’s feedback. If you go into leadership thinking you have all the answers, you will experience major problems. If you are going to give feedback well, you need to learn to receive it with grace.

If we apply the coaching mindset, practice it, reflect on it daily and model it for the teams we support, it will become second nature. When it becomes second nature, it will become part of the way our teams operate. When our teams operate this way, we can more easily pull the concepts through into our training. By modeling coaching for performance, we can lead the way.

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