Employees Say They Need Their Bosses to be Coaches Not Referees

More than half of US employees said their boss is a referee instead of a coach, according to a recent survey by Development Dimensions International (DDI), a global human resource consulting firm.

While a coach proactively helps employees before they are in a position to make a mistake, a referee boss waits for the mistake to call a penalty and tell the employee what they should have done instead. The coach helps the employee achieve a success while the referee is waiting to call the foul.

"Of course, a boss has to coach an employee if a mistake has been made, but they shouldn't be waiting for the error," Jim Concelman, manager, leadership development, DDI. "While it is a lot easier to see a mistake and correct it, people learn more through success than through failure, so bosses should ensure that employees are experiencing as many successes as possible. Successful employees lead to a more successful organization."

Get ahead of the game

The average NFL coach works 80 hours a week combining on the-field skill practice, drills and one-on-one sessions, and begins preparing for the season months in advance. A winning coach doesn't wait to see what happens on the field on game day-they begin preparing players for passing scenarios and defense strategies that could present themselves during a game, so they are armed with a strategy to succeed in the situation.

Bosses need to approach coaching opportunities like they are preparing for a game everyday, coaching on client interactions, presentation content or negotiation skills on an ongoing basis. While this may require more time and attention on the front end, the boss will spend less time solving problems and reacting after a task is complete.

A stronger offense

So how does a boss become a proactive coach? First of all, they have to know the employee enough to understand their strengths and weaknesses and how to challenge them with new assignments. "Bosses need to be good at observing and tracking performance to identify the areas where the employee may need assistance," Concelman says. They should also be looking out for new and challenging situations and responsibilities that the employee is about to tackle.

Open the dialogue by inquiring how they intend to handle the task, and then discuss the plan together. It's critical to be sure that while they are receiving your input, they also feel like they own the task, and are responsible for the outcome and the resulting success.

Once the project is off the ground, check in regularly to be sure they have the resources they need and are making progress against the goal. "Then catch them doing something right, instead of doing something wrong, and tell them about their success," Concelman adds.

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