I love asking managers to list all the critical conversations they need to have throughout their careers. Their list of responses are always relevant, regardless of the company I’m working with or the team of managers I’m coaching to become transformational leaders. And yet, practically every response they share focuses on handling challenges or fixing problems. Consequently, managers are consistently stepping over and failing to recognize the most powerful coaching moments right in front of them.
You Just Missed the Train to Coaching Success
Since the majority of managers focus on what’s not working or what needs to change in order to achieve aggressive goals and business objectives, they act like heat seeking missiles. Managers are conditioned to search for, identify, and eradicate any problems in their path to greater success. Why? Because managers love to fix things because they believe that’s the value they bring to their team.
The greater cost here is, managers miss out on so many opportunities to coach people around a win or the positive behavior they’ve observed that needs to be reinforced. Conversely, they focus more time on what their people need to do differently or do better. Essentially, managers focus on failures and what’s not working, rather than successes. And it’s no surprise why. They receive the exact same kind of pressure from their boss and that pressure, which is modeled from the top, then continues to roll downhill.
Here’s a common example. A salesperson just closes a big deal. They’re excited and can’t wait to share this win with their manager. And when they do, the manager’s first visceral response is, “Great job! But what about the other deals in your pipeline that aren’t closing this quarter? So, let’s focus on the deals you're struggling to close.”
While the manager’s intentions may be to help their direct report, herein lies a defining moment for any manager. In that very instance, this manager just missed out on a powerful coaching opportunity to further develop their people’s talents and reinforce the best practices, thinking, and strategies that made them successful!
If managers are always focused on the problems and what’s not working, then how do your people recognize the things they do that are working? Think about how this affects the disposition, morale, and focus of your team? If you’re focusing on the negative, what's going wrong, or what’s not good enough, then what are you modeling for your team? Subsequently, what do you think your people are going to be focusing on when speaking with you, their peers, and customers? The greater cost here is, consider the culture and environment you are now developing within your team.
Shift Your Questions to Focus on What’s Right
The only way you’ll be able to reinforce the positive behaviors you want your direct reports to continually practice and refine, is if the manager places it in their line of vision.
A Global VP of Sales recently came to me with an issue he was having with a struggling sales manager. The VP immediately went into all the things the manager needed help on. It was evident this manager felt discouraged and overwhelmed. She was seriously questioning her ability to effectively manage and lead her team to victory.
After I had an opportunity to coach this VP around how to better handle this conversation, the next time, he asked his manager the following questions before diving into their challenges and concerns.
- Let’s take a step back for a moment. Tell me what’s going well right now?
- What are some of the things you have achieved this week?
- What are you most proud of accomplishing over the last month?
- Can you share with me just one win you’ve observed amongst your team?
Not surprisingly, these questions took the manager off guard. She wasn’t expecting to talk about what she was doing well, especially in the face of a looming problem that needed to be addressed. But this shift in focus resulted in the VP and his manager having one of the most productive and positive conversations they had ever had. The manager walked out of the meeting with an action plan to help her achieve what she wanted most, while also feeling empowered, hopeful, and supported.
This manager left with absolute confidence around what needed to be done and could actually be accomplished—especially now that she had the support of her leader.
Reinforce Best Practices by Coaching the Win
Here’s an example of what a conversation would sound like when coaching a win.
- Congratulations on that sale you just made. Great work here. Before we move on to discuss what’s next on our agenda for this meeting, I’d love to hear more about it. Can you walk me through what happened when you met with that prospect initially?
- You mentioned that they initially pushed back pretty hard. How did you turn them around? What did you do differently this time?
- What did you do really well that you’re proud of?
- How did you respond when the customer initially said they were happy with their current vendor and weren’t interested in talking with you?
- What questions did you ask that you may not have typically asked before?
- How was your disposition and state of mind at the time?
- What (best practices, conversations, questions, activities, etc.) can we identify and embed into your sales process to ensure you use them during every customer interaction to consistently achieve the results you want?
- How did you acknowledge yourself for a job well done?
To build a world-class sales team and reinforce the behaviors you want them to engage in, turn your binoculars around and start magnifying and focusing on what they’re doing right more often than what they’re doing wrong.
Every Conversation Counts
If you’re always focused on what your people are not doing well, then when are you taking the time to reinforce what they are doing effectively? In every conversation and interaction you have, you are either building trust and confidence, or you’re eroding it. The choice is yours.
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