One assumption we often make is that managers are motivated to help employees learn and grow. That’s not always the case. In fact, many managers have other motives, desired end-results, and circumstances that can get in the way of coaching and developing others. Some of these leadership coaching barriers include:
- Achievement orientation. or the focus on winning regardless of human consequences. The strongly goal-focused manager may not intuitively make the connection between investing in employee growth and “achieving this quarter’s goals.” The two efforts may appear to be in conflict.
- Competition with direct reports. The manager may feel threatened by the eagerness and talent of direct reports. The fear—whether overt or subconscious—of being shown up by those with more experience, more talent, or superior intellectual ability may cause the manager to carefully guard his or her management turf.
- Lack of empathy for employee situation. The manager may have independently worked himself or herself into prominence into a management position. With little help on his or her professional journey, the manager may not have empathy or patience for others who are not as self-reliant.
- Disinterest in personal lives of others. The manager may be hesitant to create a relationship with an employee that would open non-business related subjects for discussion. The manager may choose to stay focused on business-only conversations as a way to maintain distance between his or her personal and professional live.
- Conflicting priorities. Let’s face it—coaching and developing others takes time. When greater value is placed on priorities outside of coaching (whether they be priorities set by the organization or those established by the manager), coaching takes a second seat. Coaching and developing subordinates takes a conscious effort.
- Management peer pressure to maintain wide professional distance between managers and employees. The manager must maintain sufficient objectivity to make well thought-out and balanced decisions. However, insistence on avoiding hierarchy-spanning relationships often prevents organizations from fully engaging their employee’s hearts and hands in the success of the organization.
An example of this last point comes from a recent 360 survey we conducted for managers at a mid-sized U.S.-based organization where many workers work virtually.
“(This manager) does a great job growing his people but may become too friendly with them at times, which can make certain situations a little challenging because of their familiarity with each other.”
So, the peer manager providing feedback clearly believes it safer to keep distance been managers and employees, because situations can be more difficult when relationships are closer.
In my experience, the opposite is true. If a manager builds relationships of trust with employees—and the employee knows the manager has his or her best interest at heart—then when difficult circumstances arise, such problems are more easily handled. The manager can address the issue or situation openly and in a way that allows for the best outcome for both the people and the organization.
Leaders need to see the connection between coaching employees and achieving business objectives; get past personal feelings of uncertainty or inadequacy; have empathy for employees, or want to have it; are willing to get to know employees as more than just human resources in order to help them become more of what they are capable of becoming; and, want to become effective coaches.