Be a Better Boss = Be a Good Coach
By Judy Feld, MCC, Assoc. Director, ACTP Graduate Certificate Coaching Program
There is no shortage of books and articles on how to be a more effective leader—or a better boss. I see an encouraging consistency in the recommendations and positive examples offered by authors, journalists and those they interview. The emphasis, approach and style show some variation, and every so often one particular narrative hits a responsive note with me in both my roles—executive coach and educator of coaches.
In 2009 Google (the company, not the search engine) launched a plan to devise something “far more important to the future of Google Inc. than its next search algorithm or app.” They wanted to build better bosses and they called their data-driven approach Project Oxygen. [As reported in the New York Times by Adam Bryant, March 13, 2011.] About a year later the “people analytics teams” produced their report—with some high-impact (but not so surprising) results from Project Oxygen. After analyzing performance reviews, feedback surveys and nominations for top-manager awards they correlated phrases, words, praise and complaints to produce a report that incorporated eight best practices for “good bosses.”
Here’s an interesting result: technical expertise ranked last among Google’s eight good behaviors. What ranked first? “Be a good coach. ” Yes—really—I am not making this up. “What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.” Again, not a surprise to those of us who take a coaching approach to leadership.
I’d like to take this a step further and propose that the other seven behaviors can be viewed as incorporating coaching skills and behaviors. Let’s take a look:
Google’s “Good Boss” Traits:
- Be a good coach
- Empower your team and don’t micromanage
- Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being
- Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented [note: Google’s words]]
- Be a good communicator and listen to your team
- Help your employees with career development
- Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
- Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team
Three key pitfalls:
- Have trouble making a transition to the team (Google’s words)
- Lack a consistent approach to performance management and career development
- Spend too little time managing and communicating
Some of the correlations to coaching are obvious; other points need us to connect the dots...
- Be a good coach: Partnering and collaboration are more productive than directing and controlling. Leader coaches ask powerful questions which enable others to examine their underlying assumptions about themselves, their work, and their teams which either contribute to or impede their performance.
- Empower your team and don’t micromanage: The leader can create a broader sphere of influence when he or she doesn’t have to spend valuable time micromanaging. A coaching style frees subordinates to be creative-- for the benefit of the organization.
- Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being: Coaches will tell you they coach the “whole person.” Leader coaches recognize that everyone, regardless of organizational status or position, has the potential to develop beyond current skills and responsibilities. They get to know employees as people, with lives outside of work.
- Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented: Effective leader coaches are proactive rather than reactive. They seek opportunities for growth in themselves and others, and they inspire the commitment of those in their organizations through their words and their actions. They take advantage of people’s existing readiness for change and help to eliminate organizational and personal obstacles that impede action.
- Be a good communicator and listen to your team: Leader coaches listen with the intention to fully understand others rather than to direct or coerce. Coaches practice constructive communication and are able to tell the truth with positive intent.
- Help your employees with career development: Leaders coach for both performance (present results) as well as development (future job, career change, etc.). Coaches see unrealized potential in others and help them to see it for themselves
- Have a clear vision and strategy for the team: Leader coaches are able to sort out the range of issues in a given situation, to see how they relate to each other and to the big picture. They provide clarity and context for meaningful discussions to occur among individuals and organizational teams.
- Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team: Coaches overcome the temptation be the expert and have all the answers. This still allows the boss to understand the challenges of the team and work side-by-side when appropriate and necessary.
Laszlo Bock, Google’s vice president for people operations, says he is particularly struck by the simplicity of the rules, which means most managers don’t have to make huge changes to be good bosses. Bock says, “What it means is, if I’m a manager and I want to get better, and I want more out of my people and I want them to be happier, two of the most important things I can do is just make sure I have some time for them and to be consistent. And that’s more important than doing the rest of the stuff.” That’s coaching—a powerful and impactful model of leadership and management.
You can request the article "Leadership in the Four-Generation Workplace" (B-7) at http://coachnet.com/business/resources-articles.html
For some additional tips on creative collaboration you may request a free chapter of our book SmartMatch Alliances which can be ordered at
Judy Feld, MCC, was the 2003 ICF President. She has been a full-time executive and professional coach since 1995 and the co-founder of the Executive and Professional Coaching Program in the School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas http://som.utdallas.edu/coaching. Feld is the co-author of SmartMatch Alliances http://www.coachnet.com/info/resources-smartmatch.html and a mentor to innovative coaches www.coachnet.com.