by Jim Struck
as published in Mr. Struck’s column in ACA International’s newsletter Management Trends 


Leading people well is not easy.  The process of leading is about information. Information about what we expect, information about how to do their job, information about their success, information about their production, information about our success, information about their behavior.  Our days are often filled with a rich exchange of information.  Information that they provide to us (through their behavior, their performance, their attendance, their questions, their answers), and information that we provide them.  What we deliver, the frequency of the information, and how we deliver it is often the key to a successful employee and a successful relationship with an employee.


What happens if we subtly shift a portion of our conversations with our people?  What happens if in that shift we talked more frequently about what they want.  What if in our conversations we begin to have them evaluate their own behavior and the degree that their behavior was helping them get what they want?  What if those conversations promoted more self-accountability and self-responsibility?  What would happen if we were able to stop trying to control people to get what we wanted?  What if I just stop here and provide you a couple of months of space and time to explore the answers?  I’d have a lot less to write in this column! J


These were some of the very questions we asked at our agency back in 1999.  What we knew was that we were tired of being “parents” to our employees and believed that we were sending too many mixed messages about our stated values and how we lived them daily.  We talked about respect and integrity, timeliness, caring, yet our employee manual and some of our behavior reflected a “rules” mentality that was about what people couldn’t do.  We spent inordinate amounts of time dealing with attendance and tardiness issues and trying to get under-performing staff to perform.  As president I realized that much of our employee manual was designed to protect us, but I, and others among our team, believed there was a supervisory model that fit our culture and would better enable us to create a more powerful higher performing culture.


We ended up adopting a coaching model (RealTime CoachingTM (RTC) by Ron Ernst, Leadership Horizons, Carmel, IN) because we really liked RTC’s approach to self-accountability and self-responsibility.  While I’m happy to chronicle the three year journey if you contact me, this space is better served in talking about results.  First a little background.


In order for us to affect change in our life we have the choice of changing how we think about things and/or how we do things.  This is directly related to what we value, or what our needs are.  The gap between what we want in any given situation and where our current behavior is in terms of getting us what we want forms the dynamic tension of all change.  The greater the gap the greater the motivation.  If we can understand what a person wants and we can help them evaluate how their behavior is helping them or hurting them, we help them form the basis for change.


The other piece of this dynamic for Mutual was to help our leadership understand what their behavioral tendencies were as a leader.  Did they tend to be people that “did to”, used authority as their major means of motivating (my way or the highway)?  Were they persons that tended to “do for?”  “I don’t have time right now for you to learn how to do this, so I’ll just do it myself.”  Or, “I gave this to you to do and you screwed it up, so now I’ll just do it myself.” 


It is likely we have all experienced bosses or parents who were one or both of these.  We grow up thinking that the predominant way for me to relate when I’m a leader is using our authority to get things done, or not delegating fully.  Both of these styles are styles tied to control models.  “I want to control the outcome so I’m either going to use my authority with you or I’m going to take back what I delegated when things go wrong.”  If you’ve been the recipient of this type of leadership you have experienced the frustration and discouragement of this approach.


The obvious change is to learn how to “do with.”  The “do with” behavior is about collaboration, teamwork, partnering with another in order to insure that everyone wins.

At the core of “do with” behavior is the coach.  The person that helps you evaluate what you want, how your current behavior is helping you, how motivated you are, and finally, what the plan might look like to help you get there.


The power of this behavior is in the language.  It is the language of respect, care, concern, partnering.  “John, how do you like your job?  What opportunities would you like to see for yourself over the next six months?  Will your current behavior help you get there?  What might you need to do differently?  How motivated are you to make that change happen?  Is that level of motivation going to get you there?  What steps might you take today or tomorrow that would help you get started?  Are there some obstacles that I can help you with?” 


This language doesn’t change remarkably as the situation changes.  Whether you are dealing with an attendance issue, an attitude issue, a performance issue, or just determining what a person with good skills would like to do long term, you are still focusing on the individual, what they want, and having them evaluate their own behavior.  The evaluation of an individual’s behavior is the single greatest power in coaching.  That evaluation is about creating awareness and the degree to which they wish to solve the issue.  Lots of very good things happen when an individual fully sees how they are helping or hurting themselves from getting what they want.


The coaching model helps determine one of the key aspects to leadership…who owns the problem?  Very often I watch leaders expend a great deal of energy around a situation when the issue is not theirs, it is the employee’s.  Coaching keeps the issue squarely where it needs to be.  Consequently, you begin to see more self-accountability and self-responsibility.  One of the key by-products of implementing RealTime Coaching at Mutual was those people who didn’t want to be responsible or accountable began to self-select out of the organization.  It was a truly welcomed consequence that we did not predict.


Was it perfect?  No.  The degree that senior management used the tools to emulate the behavior the better we did.  Having people pair up and select a “coaching buddy” helped to reinforce a coaching mentality and we experienced lots of successes.  We began to be able to have the more difficult conversations on a timelier basis.  Attendance issues didn’t magically disappear, but they diminished and there was a clearer path to whose problem it was to solve.  At one point we even turned over the tracking of the issue to the work units.  We needed to teach them how to more professionally talk about corrective actions with their peers, but it was amazing how the whole dynamic changed when the peer groups were in charge of the attendance.


In my 35 years in leadership I have not found a better “system” for fostering individual and organizational health and productivity by changing the dynamic of how we talked to one another.  The “do with” model is also an incredible parenting tool. 


We can have four different generations working in our organizations (the Veteran, the Baby boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y).  Coaching with any generation is successful because it helps teach everyone how to get more of what they want.  This in turn enables organizations to get more of what they want…motivated people.


You want to change your culture?  Change your conversations.