Coaching: Do You Abuse or Encourage?

Coach. Coaching. Coached … It has quickly become one of the most over-used words in our workplace lexicons.

As in, “I coached him on XYZ-thing and he got better” or “All she needs is some additional coaching.”

It’s been used so much that now “coaching” has become synonymous with “telling someone what to do” or “telling someone what they did wrong.” Because that is what we see the most famous coaches doing during sporting events. They bark orders to the players and yell at them when it isn’t done right. They yank players out of the game and plop them on the bench when they’re under-performing. They argue vehemently with referees about unfair decisions … And when things seem to be going well and victory is in grasp, the coach sits down on the cushy-er end of the bench to seemingly do a whole lotta nothing!

As such, “coaching” in the workplace is becoming a negative thing. It’s now associated with aggressive behaviors by those in authority which creates unhealthy competition among subordinates to avoid punishment or dismissal. It results in much attention being given to mediocre performers and crisis incidents while consistent performers and general daily workflow gets ignored.


There is so much more to coaching than what we see happening on the sidelines at games. In fact, I’ve heard my sport-coach friends say that REAL coaching isn’t what’s going on during a game at all. Coaching is what happens during workouts and practice. Coaching is what happens after a win or loss when game film is reviewed. Coaching is what happens after analyzing and scouting out the competition to prepare for the next game.

In our workplaces, coaching is what happens during onboarding and orientation. Coaching is what happens during training. Coaching happens during the ongoing performance feedback we give. Coaching happens when we guide and direct employees in effort to develop their potential … Because coaches set clear expectations for their team. Coaches articulate the vision and definition of success for their team. Coaches create solid training plans for their team to help them meet expectations and achieve success. Coaches devise individual plans for each player on the team to ensure they are working to their full potential, no matter how great or small their role on the team.

Coaching = Teaching

Simply telling someone what to do or telling someone what they’ve done wrong without also equipping them with the skills and tools for success or improvement is NOT coaching or being a coach. Because correction and criticism alone are not coaching. Coaching is about encouraging and preparing a person to perform the duties they’ve been trained to do at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way — then stepping back and cheering the person on to victory while ensuring no unfair obstacles are put in their way.

If we’re not willing or prepare to carry out that definition in our coaching, we shouldn’t use the word. And we shouldn’t be in the game, either.

HR Under the Gunn

I am not a fashionista — I’m too practical, frugal and tomboyish for it. But I love fashion! I read the magazines and blogs; I follow trends and pay attention to designers. And I often combine my love of fashion and reality TV with reality competition shows like Project Runway and The Fashion Fund … So I was really excited when I learned fashion instructor/mentor and long-term co-host of Project Runway, Tim Gunn, was getting his own spin-off show!

On “Under the Gunn”, 12 novice designers are split into 3 teams with each team coached by up-and-coming designer; and each up-and-comer coached by Gunn. The winning designer and the winning coach get a huge prize at the end.

What I immediately found interesting was the relationship of the up-and-comers to the novice designers … Their coaching and developing skills were sorely lacking!

  • One was too nice. The coach was so  concerned with everyone getting along and not upsetting or possibly discouraging any of the novices that barely any feedback was given. The coach let the novices think their work was great — only to be rudely awakened by tough criticism by the judges on the runway.
  • One was too harsh. The coach criticized every choice the novices made until the novices were left with nothing but boring options that lacked innovation. The coach had the novices thinking they weren’t ready for the opportunity and the judges demolished them for playing it too safe.
  • One was too hands-on. The coach literally took the scissors and patterns from the novices and started “fixing” their work for them. The product was something that didn’t reflect the novices’ point of view and couldn’t be defended to the judges.

Sound familiar? It should! Because it happens all the time when HR promotes people into new leadership roles.

It is easy to be awesome when working alone and the only person, ideas and results to worry about are your own. However, making the transition to helping others realize their own ideas and results is much more difficult … So difficult, in fact, many are never able to successfully able to do it. Many end up getting demoted, terminated or settling for mediocre results.

What can HR do about this? How do we get ourselves and other managers out from under the gun?

Tim Gunn makes the answer clear — mentoring.

It would have been easy and made great reality TV drama to leave each of the coaches to their own negative devices, knowing it would lead to everyone’s demise … Instead, Gunn made a central part of the show his stepping to provide coaching to the coaches.

If we want to get ourselves and the managers in our organizations out from under the gun, we have to follow this example. We have to create, encourage and foster mentoring relationships. No matter how high we have ascended, we always have more to learn and can benefit from the guidance and wisdom of someone else.

Mentoring is the only way to ensure everyone’s best efforts and best work are brought to the forefront so the outcomes and the competition are at the best level … Because, deep down, we all want to be the best and beat the best when they’re at their best.

Mentoring is how we get HR from under the gun! Got it? Good. Now, make it werk!

The Best Thing About LinkedIn

Awhile ago, I committed to one post each month about social media/networking in Human Resources. This is that post.

Keep reading.

LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking website. It “links” you with people in your organization and people you’ve worked with in the past. It links you to vendors and service providers that you do or have done business with. It also recommends links based on links you have in common that would indicate you either know or should know each other. And LinkedIn has interactive groups for asking questions and sharing answers about job-related stuff. Plus, there’s a lot of article sharing about business-related topics.

I’ve always called it “the Facebook for work-friends.” I’ve also likened it to the rolodex or business card portfolio books that we used to have before everything went digital and had an app for that (Yes. I had both. Still do. Don’t judge me). LinkedIn is the place to keep social connections that you want to be able to contact from time-to-time and/or when necessary — but don’t necessarily want to connect on a personal level. Because everyone you work or do business with doesn’t have to become your BFF just to stay in touch.

There are 3 things I really love about LinkedIn:

  • Appropriate Sharing. Unlike other social media sites where people are posting about everything from what they ate to what their watching on TV to political rantings to how often their kids go potty, LinkedIn is all business. The status updates, messages, group discussions and information shared all have to do with work-related items. So if you are looking to strengthen your professional network, LinkedIn is definitely the place to be.
  • Recommendations and Endorsements. Whether you’re an employer or an employee, reference checking sucks. The LinkedIn recommendation and endorsement lets clients and co-workers publicly post about the knowledge, skills and abilities you possess so reference-checking isn’t as challending, time-consuming or fruitless. These options are a great way to utilize your professional connections to show off what you know, what you’ve done and bottle your brand of professional awesomesauce.
  • The “Who Viewed Your Profile” Option. LinkedIn is the only social media site that tells you who looks at your profile. That’s my favorite thing about LinkedIn and the place where it “beats” its competitors. LinkedIn lets you know if a potential employer is getting to know more about you. It also let’s you know if an old flame is checking you out or if your college nemesis is checking up on you. There’s no way around that on LinkedIn. So if you don’t want someone to know that you’re all up in thier profile — don’t look at it.

LinkedIn isn’t as exciting or fun as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ or Pinterest. It probably never will be. And that’s ok. It’s about work-related stuff so it doesn’t necessarily have to be. But it is worthwhile and useful … Now if it only allowed you to block people … Hmmm …

HR Lessons from “The Closer” — Don’t Be Like Brenda

This week’s posts are my way of honoring one of my favorite shows on television — The Closer, which ended its 8-year run last week.

In case you’ve never watched, the show follows Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson and her team of detectives as they solve high-profile murder cases for the LAPD. Because of her reputation for closing cases by getting suspects to fully confess to crimes, Brenda is known as a “closer.”

I think she’s a great example for HR and anyone responsible for managing people of how to get the job done! However, Brenda is also a great example of what NOT to do  … I know, I know. It’s just as hard for me to criticize her as it is for fans of the show to hear the criticisms. But keep reading.

Here’s why HR should NOT be like Brenda:

She didn’t develop her team. While Brenda was fantastic at utilizing strengths, she did not do a very good job at developing across disciplines. Did you ever see Lt. Tao do anything that wasn’t related to tech or forensics? Nope. And why was Det. Gabriel the only one ever assigned to research and review financial records? It wasn’t because they weren’t capable of more or different. It’s because they weren’t given the opportunity.

  • Specialities are fantastic and necessary. However, cross-training is still essential. Don’t let your team get stale or stagnant by failing to create opportunities for them to learn new, different things.

She was self-centered. While Brenda always kept the focus on the work, she was very inflexible with others. She wanted what she wanted, when she wanted and how she wanted — and she was unwilling to accept anything else. While most would say that is admirable (and entertaining), it often made working with her difficult. She wasn’t truly interested in partnering or cooperating unless the benefits to her outweighed the benefits to the other party.

  • It cannot be “my way or the highway” all day, everyday if you want to cultivate a healthy workplace and healthy working relationships. Compromise, consideration and compassion are required — and from the start, not just after bullying through an issue has failed. Figure out how to work well with others without losing yourself, sooner rather than later.

She was manipulative. While Brenda made it a point to work across departments and agencies to gain information and close cases faster, she wasn’t always sincere in her efforts. She would often use others to gain the information needed then cut them out or cut them off so she could close the case and get the credit on her own. Her husband worked for the FBI and she steam-rolled him several times for her own gain. She always apologized and felt badly for it … but not badly enough to not do it again.

  • Pooling resources is always a good idea. It gives access to more information and more ideas. It enables the work to be done faster and more thoroughly. Never lose sight of that as the goal. If you’re going to share resources, be prepared and willing to share accolades as well.

She was insubordinate. While Brenda was focused, efficient and commanding in her role as Deputy Chief, she was rarely deferential. She was known to ignore and downright disregard orders from her superiors. She frowned on rules and procedures and the politics associated with her job. That approach eventually sent her on a trajectory that changed her career, her life and the lives of the people closest to her. Arguably, it stifled her growth and advancement — and that of those around her.

  • Rules and procedures were not meant to be broken — they were meant to be followed. And politics, while not always fun or helpful or necessary, are a reality. Learn to be successful and accomplish your goals with the parameter and spirit of the rules in mind. Know how to lead — but also know when to follow. You can’t help anyone if your need to be “right” or “superior” marginalizes you or (worst case) gets you fired.

Don’t misunderstand. Even with all her faults and flaws, I still love my Brenda Leigh! However, after years of these kinds of behaviors, it is understandable why it was time for her and for the LAPD to make changes. So Brenda resigned her job and moved on. Her “Priority Homicide” team has been renamed “Major Crimes” — and they are continuing without her under new command … The spinoff show, entitled Major Crimes, is clearly different!

So the final post in this series is going to attempt to answer the question: Is Major Crimes better than The Closer? Stay tuned.


In case you missed it, read Part 1 of this series — Be Like Brenda.

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