How you give feedback is all wrong; probably because you were taught the old sandwich technique. You know the one, open with a positive statement followed by constructive criticism, then close with a positive statement. Quite frankly, it’s a crappy sandwich. It’s the antithesis of John Wooden’s, the famed basketball coach, comment that “Young people need models, not critics.” As a leader, you have to give – and your people are eager to get – feedback. But “constructive criticism” is backward looking, doesn’t model a better way, and is vague regarding desirable performance. Criticism is useless without vision. And this is where coaching can work magic – combining problem solving (criticism) with performance goals (vision).
Criticism comes from the Greek Kritikos, able to make judgment. Leadership and coaching are synonymous with judgment. An attentive coach can discern, perceive and recognize strengths and qualities in their people and how to set them up for success. In fact, Marcus Buckingham’s research in, Now, Discover Your Strengths, proves that coaching to strengths is more powerful than advice for overcoming weaknesses. Coaching is more powerful than criticism.
Coaching replaces the old crappy sandwich technique of qualitative feedback with directional feedback. Our minds are naturally goal oriented, and effective feedback has to provide direction, not just point out the person’s fault of ineffective actions. So step up your leadership effectiveness by applying more insights from coaching. Here are six lessons that will build the bench strength of your players. Use these lessons as you continuously evolve from critic to coach.
Strengthen their strength: Discern strengths and abilities in your people and assign them tasks and challenges that bring out those strengths. Most development conversations are criticism based, they focus on diminishing weaknesses. While assessments can usefully identify areas for development, work tirelessly to find and leverage their strong suits. Remember, the perception of weakness dims when strengths shine brighter.
Challenge and encourage: While of the sidelines, basketball coaches remind players about strategy, give real-time feedback, and assess the court to make tactical changes. Back in the locker room, the coach praises, encourages, regroups, and extracts learning from the game. As an organizational leader your coaching is similarly divided between reactive and proactive feedback – give real-time feedback on the field of play, and set time for big picture reviews, too.
Commit to the long haul: Coaching is not a onetime shot. Phil Jackson coached his teams to 11 NBA Championships. He worked with his teams on and off season, developing talent over time. Competence grows with time, and as it develops, so does confidence. Lethargic leaders pray that people will “just get it.” Committed leaders willingly walk the coaching journey with their people. This builds far more than skill; it develops engagement and loyalty.
Master a range of interventions: Coaching is not a fix all. Some players are suspended, and some are cut from the team. Your people’s needs vary with ability and attitude; there are times for teaching, coaching, challenging, delegating, disciplining, and firing. Use the right approach for the situation; it will bring more power and accuracy to your coaching moments.
Develop individuals AND teams: While there is no “I” in TEAM, teams are not an indistinguishable clump of thinkers and feelers. Leaders who coach walk a fine line – developing individual ability while looking out for the good of the many; keeping both needs in mind simultaneously is the mark of great leader coaches.
Have a game plan: Don’t just wing it, have a game plan for your key people. Define your vision of team work, develop individual members’ decision making skills, and develop the players’ abilities to collaborate and make decisions together. Then leave lots of space for the addressing the individual.