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Key Skills for Effective Coaching

In August, in Beyond the Turf, Mary Gillett worked you through some of the lenses that can be used to see how well your club is staying “green" from a financial perspective. This understanding can be useful when preparing your own budget request for both operating and capital funds. Staying within your department, this month Lyn Purdy looks at one of the most challenging areas for superintendents; people. The challenges are many, but once you have someone on board, knowing how to coach is crucial.

Key Skills for Effective Coaching
Lyn Purdy, Ivey Business School

Ask any superintendent about their biggest challenge and we bet that it revolves around people. Finding good people is tough, motivating them day in and day out, as well as encouraging them to stay can all be difficult. One thread that runs through all these challenges is the need to be excellent coaches since this can impact motivation, retention, and so forth.

A key aspect to your staff performing well on the job is having the necessary skills. If your staff members are not performing up to your expectations, then, as a leader, it is your role to coach them on their performance. Superintendents often ask: What should the coaching process look like? What are the skills that I need to be an effective coach?

It is critical to remember three key aspects of the coaching process. First, coaching is a two-way process; it is a dialogue with your staff member not a one-way dictate! Second, it involves listening; gathering information and digesting it. Third, it is followed up with action; helping, supporting, and advising the staff member whose performance you are trying to influence. In order to be an effective coach, you must be willing to engage in two main activities – active listening and guiding your staff member so that performance can be improved.

Active Listening
To be an effective coach, you must hear and understand both the issue (what is the problem that is being encountered while trying to execute the task) and the feelings (what is the attitude towards the underlying problem) that your staff member is trying to convey.

In order to do this more effectively, you can use open-ended questions to get your staff to talk more about their challenges. Open-ended questions are those that do not have simple yes/no answers. They encourage dialogue. After staff have communicated some of their concerns, you can restate and summarize what they have said to ensure that what you have heard is what they intended to say. In addition, if you are unclear about what has been said or want more depth, then be sure to probe and ask more questions.

As the staff member is talking, it is important for you to show interest in what they say. Often this interest can be conveyed through non-verbal cues – looking them in the eye, being attentive and not gazing around the room, etc. Sometimes, you will have to remain silent so that the staff member has enough time and opportunity to get their feelings out regarding the situation. It can often be difficult to be silent – you may see an obvious solution to the situation or you just want to get the situation handled quickly; nonetheless, it is key to give them the time to express themselves in their own words. I think that for many superintendents, this is a challenge since they are typically “action-oriented" and want to get on with the work. But know this can come across as one-sided and top down.

Being prepared to offer help, training, and guidance so staff members can improve their performance
When staff members are having difficulty in performing their job, it can be a stressful situation for them. They may have a difficult time discussing it with you for a variety of reasons – they are embarrassed, they do not understand what they have done wrong, they me be fearful of the consequences, they don’t know how to improve, etc. Given these factors, it is critical that you are empathetic but not sympathetic – try to perceive the situation from your staff member’s perspective and help reduce their anxiety. It is also important that you are seen as genuine in your desire to help them improve.

An important aspect to a successful coaching session is that you create an appropriate environment. Your staff need to feel that they can express their emotions (e.g., anger at you, themselves, another staff member) and that you are not going to be judgmental of what they say. You also want them to take ownership of their problems and to help them find an appropriate solution – not just one that you provide to them. If you can get input from them about how they could best resolve the problem or what they may need to improve their performance, then they will be much more committed to seeing through the actions that come out of your meeting.

As in any performance conversation, before the meeting ends, you must ensure that both you and the staff member have the same understanding of the steps forward. You also need to set up follow up to see if what has been agreed upon is actually happening. Follow ups are new opportunities for coaching.

Remember, coaching may seem like a lot of work to you but the more you do it, the easier it will become and the less time that will be needed in any one meeting. It can be surprising how much can be accomplished even in a short ten-minute meeting!

Moving to the bigger people picture, effective coaching can save a lot of time and managerial energy since a well-coached team stays motivated, is more likely to stay on the job, gets the job done better, is more engaged, and is more likely to recommend you and your club as a great place to work.