Creating Great Bosses

This is the first in a series of articles about using coaching to turn employee development into a competitive advantage for retaining great talent.  The most common reason people leave their jobs is because of their relationship with their boss. Individuals need leadership development to become great bosses.  Hands on, customized coaching is the superior alternative too broad based training.

Why are your employees leaving? The most common reason employees give is that they do not like their boss. But what differentiates a good boss from a bad boss? And why do all these employees in different industries provide the same answer? When people say that they left because of their boss, what they really mean is they are being underutilized and their work either does not align with their strengths or does not seem to add value to the company. It is easy for someone to blame their boss, but there appears to be a deeper reason: a systemic breakdown in people leadership development in corporate America. This breakdown can be fixed in a variety of ways, but most employees should want a personal coach to help them with their development.   

The article “The Top 10 Reasons Why Employees Quit Their Jobs,” discusses the most common factors in turnover. Unsurprisingly, relationship with their boss is at the top of the list. But the article only scratches the surface when it asserts that bosses just need to make an effort. An article in The Harvard Business Review (HBR) titled “Why People Really Quit Their Jobs” explores just what that effort should look like. “Managers can play a major role in designing motivating, meaningful jobs.” To do this, managers need to start by understanding their employees’ strengths and passions and tailoring jobs to fit those employees. That sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, my 17 years of consulting and corporate experience has proven that the problem is deeper than something managers can fix on their own.  

Managers are often elevated to people management roles by doing great individual technical work and not because they have managerial training or an aptitude for understanding people. Therefore, many managers don’t have the tools to accurately seek out strengths and passions and then create roles for each of their employees while meeting the team’s business goals. Managers can’t bring this all together on their own; they need a corporate culture to incentivize this behavior and to give managers the time and space to create the strategy and execute it.

Companies often attempt to provide leadership development through high-level training programs for high potentials as they move their way up the ladder. I participated in one of these programs, and while I felt like I learned a lot, I am not sure I got much better at my job. An article in McKinsey Quarterly states “adults typically retain just 10 percent of what they hear in classroom lectures, versus nearly two-thirds when they learn by doing. Furthermore, burgeoning leaders, no matter how talented, often struggle to transfer even their most powerful off-site experiences into changed behavior on the front line.” Here are the top three reasons given for the failure of leadership development programs:

  1. Overlooking Context
  2. Decoupling reflection from real work
  3. Underestimating mind-sets (underlying belief system of the individual)

So, if we suspect that many of our managers are not equipped to create an environment that helps employees find fulfillment, and training is not an effective solution, what is?  

Individual coaching can be that effective solution. A good coach forces a person to reflect, deal with feedback honestly and deeply, and drive his/her own development within a structured and safe environment. Because the person is doing something, rather than listening to a lecture, retention of new learning jumps from 10% to 66%. A coach will ask the right questions to help the person understand the context of their learnings. What were the circumstances of the situation? When does a person feel at ease to perform his/her best, and how can that feeling be replicated? Coaching can be incorporated fully into the workplace, unlike training. Incremental coaching homework assignments push people to implement behavioral changes in the work place, and then one-on-one coaching sessions give people the space to reflect on the results of the behavior change. Finally, the biggest advantage coaching has over all other forms of development is that it is customized. If underlying mindsets are holding people back from fully realizing their potential, then coaching provides a safe space to explore those mindsets. Sustainable behavior changes cannot occur without an examination of the root cause.

People managers who receive one-on-one coaching will come away with an enhanced perspective on how to manage others and improve their own results. New skillsets can include asking open-ended, non-leading questions, learning a structured approach for reflection, creating his/her own development plan, and helping employees create and implement development plans. The coach can even work with the people manager to better align their current employees’ use of strengths and passions with the organization’s goals. Coaching can turn your managers into great bosses, which will help you retain your great employees.