Project Practitioners > Coaching - The Rocket Science of Managing

Coaching - The Rocket Science of Managing

By Ed Reynolds

So, if you delegate well, you're supposed to stay completely out of the picture, right? Nothing could be further from the truth. Now that you've delegated, you need to make sure everything stays on course. It's rocket science. When a rocket goes off course, you give it mid-course corrections, whenever possible. It cost you dearly to put it in the air; blowing it up is a last resort.

My boss, Mike and I were in a meeting negotiating terms with some suppliers. I was making good progress and Mike had taken a delegating posture until I made said something he disagreed with. “Forget what he said,” Mike chimed in, “The heart of the matter is such and such.” It was a slap in the face. I lost the suppliers’ respect and never commanded their attention again in those negotiations. Rocket destroyed after leaving the pad. Negotiating point lost, as well. In my annual review, Mike brought up that incident and told me that he had to take control because he could see I was losing them.

Years later, at another company, my boss Ron and I were meeting with a large contingent from an important customer. Convincing them the breadth of our roadmap would serve their needs well into the future was critical to winning their business. I was a big fan of one of our products and digressed into a detailed discussion of our competitive advantages in that space. “Ed knows this space better than anybody,” Ron said, “It’s an excellent topic for a one-subject meeting but why don’t you tell them more about our other offerings?” Rocket saved. Proper trajectory restored. Right after the meeting, Ron pulled me aside and told me what a great job I had done. He reminded me to stay focused on the meeting objective and aware of the time.

Good coaching is praise, constructive criticism and advice. It sounds less like, “You were losing them,” and more like, “It seemed like you were having trouble with such and such. You might think about trying so and so.” It’s a little like training a dog - praise the behaviors you want to continue. Identify the negative outcomes of the behaviors you want to stop (e.g., run out of time before you finish). Suggest new approaches to encourage altogether new behaviors. Coaching needs to be “on the spot” to be effective. It sticks best in safe surroundings; sometimes, you can yell it out while they are on the field but typically, you have to pull somebody aside. Keep notes on coaching you’ve provided and review them with the employee to see if it’s working.

Coaching that doesn’t stick might be a good subject for a meeting where the employee tells you why your coaching style isn’t working for them. Even good coaches need coaching.

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