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By Amy Franko

Athletics have always played an important role in my life.

As an adult, running is my passion. I’ve been honored to “give back” through this sport I love by volunteering as an assistant coach for the Girls on the Run program. Girls on the Run teaches life and leadership skills within the context of a running program.

We’re gearing up for the next running season, and it gives me an opportunity to think about the practice of coaching. It’s a term that made its way from athletic fields to business offices decades ago with the introduction of executive coaches. Lately, however, we hear more about a coaching approach being leveraged within business on a daily basis. And coaching is often celebrated as being superior to the practice of “managing.”

So will managers go away to be replaced by coaches? Some trend reports say yes.

But I don’t see this as an “either / or” proposition. There’s no getting around the fact that there will always be projects and issues to manage. Today’s leaders will need to both manage and coach.

Easier said than done, I know. As a leader, it’s difficult to avoid getting sucked into managerial minutia. And then the coaching gets pushed to the back burner. The key is continually rebalancing our priorities.

Effect on the Sales Team

From my experience, one place this happens more than others is within sales organizations. Pressure to produce in sales is always strong, and it’s not unusual for top performers to be elevated to leadership positions, without receiving any leadership training.

Take for example one of my acquaintances, who is a sales representative and serves as an individual contributor on his team. For years he had a great boss; a manager who trusted his people. That manager made time for each of the 10 members of his team individually, and kept up through regular team calls, too. He was eager to help them grow, and looked for development opportunities. The team was happy, and successful, too. The manager struck a beneficial balance between coaching and managing. But then that manager left the company for a different opportunity. Enter the new manager, who has no previous leadership experience. All coaching-related activities for the team were pushed to the side. And yes, productivity has declined, as has team engagement.

It’s a frequent scenario. Individual contributors who are meeting and beating their number are promoted to leadership. There’s an automatic assumption that because they know how to sell, they also will be stellar in a leadership role.

But there’s a gap. As an individual contributor, a person is responsible only for himself. When promoted, he becomes responsible for eight to12 others as a frontline leader. He probably doesn’t have individual customers—he’s now leading team. A mindset shift must take place.

How can that be turned around? Upskilling sales leaders to become coaches and mentors is as important—if not more important—than focusing on individual contributors. Like many frontline leaders, sales leaders are often under-invested in, despite the fact that they have the most direct access to those who generate revenue for the organization.

Make sure you have curriculum and performance resources that specifically address the sales leader and empower them to coach individual contributors.

A Matter of Time

One tactical way to start addressing this issue is for sales managers is to know where their time is currently invested and where it’s wasted. Track a typical week in the life, and write down everything you’re doing– capturing a snapshot of your time. Then analyze.

You will likely be surprised at what you find.

What is your time being dedicated to? Meetings? Individual contributor tasks? Leadership tasks? Next, categorize the tasks so you can understand the balance. For example, do you just spend a small percentage of time coaching, but 50 percent of your time in meetings? Look for opportunities to delegate, outsource or delete any non-productive tasks.

The reality is a lot of us are busy, but not necessarily productive.

Try one of these tools to help track your time and boost productivity. Or, you can be like me, and go decidedly low-tech. I keep a good old-fashioned tracking sheet for my activities.

High Priority

As someone in leadership role, you must make conscious decision that you want to devote time to coaching your team and make it a priority.

Make it meaningful. Look at ways to better prioritize your week to allow meaningful time to coach. It’s mindset and skill. Then think about what will happen if your whole team analyzes how much of their time is being invested to move business forward. Help them analyze and reprioritize, too. (That’s coaching!)

It takes teamwork. Sales, especially, is seen as an individual sport. My old boss used to say that sales people are “coin operated.” There’s some truth to that statement. They most likely are “Type A” folks, mainly focused on their piece of the pie. But as a leader, you need your contributors to perform individually, as well as a team. Help them understand there’s something bigger at stake. That’s how you build a more cohesive team.

Mind the gap. Determine where skill gaps exist on your team. It’s your job to advocate that they get the training they need to advance and be their best. On the flip side, when you see a team member with a notable strength, give them the opportunity to model for the rest of the team. Not all the coaching has to come directly from you. Peer-to-peer coaching is a beneficial option, too.

Individual empowerment. It’s important that the team members can articulate their greatest opportunities, challenges and obstacles. Part of the coaching process is encouraging others to make those realizations themselves, so that you’re not saying, “I’m the expert, and I have all the answers.” Rather, help them shine the light and let them share their ideas. Ask them how they see themselves making goal and what solutions they recommend for their challenges. By doing that, you have turned the conversation around and empowered your team to be creative problem solvers. As the coach, you can help to refine solutions or remove obstacles.

Let it go. A word of caution: you might think you have the better answers. (And you very well might.) This is the time to embrace your self-awareness and allow your team to develop ideas and implement them. If it doesn’t work? They will learn from their mistakes, just like you did. As the coach you have to step back and allow them to try even though they might fail. Risk, after all, is integral to growth and learning.

This quote from Sir John Whitmore sums it all up well.

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them learn, rather than teaching them.”

What will you do today to incorporate more coaching into your routine and unlock your team’s potential?


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