It’s Everybody’s Job: Coaching the Coaches

Written By: Kristin Baird, MHA, BSN, RN

Coach is a word that has multiple meanings. With football season approaching, it’s likely that the first thing to spring to mind when you hear this word is the kind of coach that leads players to victory. Historically, a coach was a horse-drawn carriage—today we still use the word coach to refer to railroad cars, or to a certain seating section on an airplane. It can be a noun when we refer to a coach. It can be a verb when we say coaching.

In business settings, a coach is someone who is part instructor and part motivator. He or she provides direction, inspiration and an example for others to follow. Leaders have a unique opportunity to serve as both coaches and role models. Others observe us and our behaviors, often emulating us. Even front line employees can be casual coaches but don’t put much thought into the role.

Supervisors, managers and leaders, though, have a more formal role to play. Unfortunately, they may also fail to recognize the critical nature of their coaching role, or know exactly what’s expected of them as coaches. It’s rare, in fact, for organizations to give much thought to explicitly instructing those who manage or supervise people about how to effectively coach them—or to reward or sanction them based on how well they do.

Consider, though, what a significant impact supervisors, managers and leaders have on their healthcare team and, ultimately, on the patients they serve, if coaching were not an afterthought, but a concerted area of focus and attention. Every manager in your organization—every individual responsible for leading other people, whether or not they’re involved in direct patient care—needs to be an effective coach. They need to get out from behind their desks; they need to walk around; they need to observe those they lead; and they need to give real time feedback, both positive and constructive—and they need to model the behaviors they wish to see. Importantly, they also need to be comfortable in this role.

That’s not something that happens by chance. Coaches are made, not born, which means that organizational leaders must foster coaching skills and not assume that their managers and supervisors know how to coach. A coaching culture starts at the top by both setting the expectation, and providing skill development.

Baird Group helps organizational leaders to set coaching expectations by asking three key questions about their managers:

  • Do they (managers) know what to do?
  • Do they know how to do it?
  • Do they want to do it?

Senior leaders set the stage for the coaching culture. They are the coaches at the helm of the organization. They need to ensure that their direct reports explicitly understand their role as a coach to those they lead (“Do they know what to do?”). They then need to ensure that their direct reports have the knowledge, skill and ability to serve in this role (“Do they know how to do it?”). Finally, they need to create a climate and environment that supports and engages them in these efforts, because they know their role as a coach is important to staff, and to patients (“Do they want to do it?”). This presumes, of course, that the senior leaders can also answer “yes” to these three questions.

Mid-level managers then engage in this same process with those who report to them, and so on down through the organization. Managers can set their coaching plans by asking the same three questions of their staff members. Do they know what to do? (Standards). Do they know how to do it? (Training). And do they want to do it? (Attitude and engagement).

In most organizations we work with, we find that this role of coaching is often taken very much for granted. And, in truth, as I look back on my own leadership career, I’ll admit there have been times when I’ve taken for granted that those who reported to me somehow knew what was expected, knew how to be a good coach, and wanted to serve in that role.

They don’t. You need to support them by setting the expectation and helping them develop the essential skills. Start by answering those three critical questions and, if the answer to any of these questions is “no,” give us a call. Coaching is a big part of what we do.

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