Employees want managers who are invested in their personal and professional growth. To keep top performers engaged, leaders need to be able to mentor and coach those who want to learn new skills.
But if you try to coach your employees without any preparation, you may push them to change in ways they're not comfortable with, warns leadership coach Peter Bregman in Harvard Business Review.
Before you commit to coaching an employee, you need to ask them two questions, he writes. Bregman, who has coached hundreds of leaders, argues that any employee can grow—if they answer "yes" to both questions.
Question 1: Do you want to improve this skill?
If your employee says "no," trying to coach her anyway will be a waste of your time, argues Bregman. Nobody can improve if they're not interested in getting better.
Instead, consider whether you're trying to coach your employee on the right skill. She may not be interested in sharpening her research skills, but she may want to learn how to create a knockout budget presentation. As a leader, it's your responsibility to listen to your employees' interests and help them find meaningful ways to grow.
Ask your employees what skills they want to build during entry interviews and one-on-one meetings. Ideally, these personalized career conversations continue throughout an employee's tenure to keep star performers engaged.
Question 2: Are you willing to feel uncomfortable?
Learning anything new is uncomfortable, writes Bregman. You have to try new things that may feel weird and might not work right away, he adds. And you'll likely feel frustrated or embarrassed when you make a mistake.
But if your employees aren't willing to feel the discomfort of doing things differently, they're not ready to grow, he argues. As a leader, you can make this discomfort less intimidating by creating a supportive work environment.
Frame the opportunity as a chance to learn, not as a performance situation, recommends Dan Cable, a professor of organization behavior at London Business School. If employees feel like they'll be judged for mistakes they make while learning, they may feel "anxious, risk-averse, and less willing to persist through difficulty," adds Cable.
And don't pressure your employees to master a new skill within a few days. Instead, follow the same principles teachers use in the classroom: introduce the material in chunks and gradually build employees' confidence to take on more complicated tasks (Bregman, Harvard Business Review, 11/9/18).
Read more about workplace mentorships
8 habits of highly effective coaches
3 things all mentors should provide
The 9 essential coaching skills the best leaders use
5 ways to be a better mentor
Angela Duckworth's two best strategies for building grit in your employees
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