This book won’t make you a successful coach or manager overnight (well, no such book exists really). A few things make this book worth reading:
- It’s concise (165 pages, but it’s a thin book and the chapters are not packed with text; very readable for that busy executive);
- Chapters end with summary notes;
- It doesn’t try to dump theory on the reader; the writing style is direct and personable. While I don’t really know who JK Smart is, i.e. not as any particularly outstanding manager or executive, the writing is credible;
- It starts off the book by making you — the manager — examine yourself and motives, and this point is also repeated at certain parts of the book (which I think is important as an effective coach).
- There are examples of the author’s actual experience in coaching a staff to illustrate the point being made (nevermind that the examples might be annecdotal).
Chapter 2 – “Lack of self-belief is the single biggest block to excellent performance.” Yet there is also an explanation how “our beliefs hinder us from using them”, so we need to “find and challenge our hindering beliefs”. Summary notes says: “Stop being so hard on yourself: being judgemental and self-critical never helped anyone improve”; “Take the acid test: ask yourself if you’re happy with the results that you are achieving”; “If you’re not happy, don’t just sit there; do something about it.”
Chapter 4 – On why you can’t just send staff on a training course and expect things to turn out all right (i.e. come back “cured”). The ultimate responsibility for staff development lies with the manager, not an external trainer who know nothing about the person’s performance. I like the part where author explains how as managers, we might sometimes project our beliefs, characteristics, personality, thoughts etc. unfairly on the staff. And why sometimes some staff seem to “push our right buttons” (one explanation is that our subconscious wants us to be ‘perfect’ or close to it, so it may keep showing the parts which we deny onto others, and we get worked up because others show that characteristic). My understanding is this — if someone has poor report writing skills, is that necessarily something to be upset about? Perhaps why we get upset as a manager is that we don’t like to see ourselves have poor writing skills, so we project that characteristic onto others and we get worked up when the staff does something to remind us of this aspect of what we don’t like.
Chapter 5 – On why sometimes our feedback and coaching don’t work. “Coaching isn’t just about passing on our wisdom” (OK, I’m sometimes guilty of that! I realise that’s why after “coaching sessions”, the staff may repeat the same behaviour). The author suggests a manager should treat the person being coached as how one would treat a colleague/ peer who has not met work expectations but whom one doesn’t have “criticism rights” over. In short, as a manager, we should resist the temptation to criticise or use our formal authority, but look at it from an observer’s point of view (not easy, but the point is we consciously ask if we are observing or just criticising). Author cited experience of how the “Tell and Sell” method of coaching didn’t work for this staff who like to think things through and draw their own conculsions.
Chapter 6 – On why performance might not improve even when coaching works. Sounds contradictory, but here’s the summary: You might not be addressing the root cause and hence developing/ coaching on the wrong aspect of performance; “Managers are sometimes a factor affecting performance that reduces team member impact” (guilty as charged); “Work with people, not on them” (do you treat team members as equal partners in their development?)
Chapter 7 – “Do not try to correct weaknesses: try to outweigh them with strengths”; Manager should creatively tap on what the person already has.
Chapter 9 – Memorable quote: “I learned that if I’d been a better coach, I’d have spent more time analyzing Jenny’s performance and less time judging it, so I’d improved our relationship as well as her skills”. I think basically this reinforces the point that being an effective manager requires effective EQ and not just IQ alone.
Chapter 10 – “How do you make sure your coaching process will work?” In summary: Recognise that everyone has different ways of learning; Coaching is about unlocking potential; Do we coach people the way THEY want to be coached, or the way WE want to be coached? and “You can’t like everyone in your team” so ask ourselves if that has impacted on the relationship with the team (in short, we have to learn to RESPOND rather than REACT”.
Chapter 11 – Key points: Don’t judge others by our standards, i.e. don’t presume to think we know why some people act that way, based on the way we understand ourselves — because we all think differently; “What matters is not how people go about things but the effects they create”; It’s OK to guess about people but “don’t act without testing that understanding”.
Chapter 12 – This chapter is more of saying the responsibilities of the person being coached. Key points: The person being coached must be willing to see themselves as they are, and be committed to raising their performance standards. They must manage their own learning process. The coach can focus on creating a “good coaching environment” (author seems to suggest it’s about creating trust and taking the first step to be open about our own characteristics and preferences work-wise). “Hold them responsible for their own development”; “Be detached, fair and committed to doing your best for them”; A manager should be willing to challenge our own assumptions on our effectiveness as a coach/ manager.
Chapter 13 – How to choose an area to improve (ask where we’d like to see better results). At the same time, author warns that managers must look at actual results and not judge. Don’t decide that a person is not managing their time well because that is an interpretation. Should note what is actually observed (e.g. “missed deadline”, or staff “appears to be harassed and stressed”).
Chapter 14 – “How do you give feedback and come to a shared understanding of the issues?” — I like this part where it says “Sometimes feedback is all that’s needed”, i.e. no need to force the colleague to accept the observation. It could be really up to the colleague to accept the feedback. The manager might simply need to just bring something to their attention and watch what happens. This chapter also covers quite a bit on the art of giving feedback, and using techniques like “rich narratives”. “To come to a shared understanding, you need to know the person’s insights into the issues”. “Use feedback to kick-start the analysis process”. Don’t judge when giving feedback. “Always end feedback with a question to generate discussion”. “In the end, it’s their analysis that counts not yours” (i.e. don’t succumb to the temptation to win the point rather than the person).
NOTE: This chapter may be the crux of the entire feedback process. But it’s still an art (of coaching and feedback) at the end of the day. If I may sum up this chapter based on my understanding, it’ll be that to arrive at a shared understanding, the manager should try to delve into how the colleague perceives an issue (i.e. down to their ‘belief level’).
Chapter 15 – “How do you help them create and manage a deveopment opportunity?” — “You can’t achieve something you can’t visualise”; take incremental steps.
Chapter 16 – “How do you ensure they learn and use what they’ve learnt?” — Author suggests that manager should restrain from rushing in and giving insights to the other person’s learning experience. Better to try to get them to arrive at their own insights. Suggests monthly performance reviews for learning; giving timely feedback (the sooner the better). NOTE: Feedback also applies to desired behaviours/ outcomes and not just for undesired behaviours only.
Chapter 18 – When staff need help to see themselves more clearly: “How do you know someone isn’t self-aware?” (Seven points listed, p. 117). Summary points — managers have to bite the bullet and just give feedback; There’s no easy way of raising a person’s self-awareness, and there can be no development if there is no self-awareness; People need time to come to new insights about themselves.
Chapter 19 – Summary points: “Our first conclusions about events are not often our best” (so best to calm down and reframe it when we are not so emotional); “If you don’t leave people upbeat, they will associate change with pain”.
Chapter 21 – Author suggests one should “not try to motivate, encourage and appreciate (without meaning)” because it never works if colleagues are not feeling motivated internally. Suggestion is to “just tell them what you see” and let them do the rest in motivating themselves. “Point out where there is progress”.
Appendix 1 essentially consolidates the main points; serves as a good summary chapter for almost the entire book.