January 9th, 2023
Put Me In, Coach
According to a study published in Harvard Business Review, 8.9% of employees feel engaged with tough bosses, while 6.7% feel engaged with nice bosses. But 68% of employees feel engaged with bosses who are both nice and tough.
Most of us, at some point in our lives, had a coach—maybe in academics, athletics, talent or some other area. And if you think back to what you remember most about your best coach, chances are good you would describe them as “tough but effective.” If you’re a leader, then you are also a coach. It’s not something you can choose; it’s part of the job. Of course, you can choose not to do it, but, under those circumstances, your leadership role probably won’t last long, or it will be an uphill, ineffective battle at best.
Everyone wants a “nice” leader—someone they can relate to, feel seen and respected by, and who is approachable. But we also crave a structure that positions us for a win. And sometimes that “win” might mean a promotion, but it could also mean finding a different job where your skills or personality are more needed and appreciated.
I interviewed a man for an entry-level position at one of our manufacturing plants who had no training or skill for the job but was willing to learn. I saw his strong work ethic and his commitment to excellence. It was clear that we could “coach him up” within the organization. Eighteen months later, he has risen three pay grades and is on par to become a plant manager. On the other hand, we had a very talented individual with high-level and much-needed skills, but their co-workers found this person toxic and very difficult to work with. It was clear that they needed to be nicely but firmly “coached out” to another job.
Before my appearance on Shark Tank, part of my preparation included watching dozens of previous episodes to learn more about each Shark and how their minds worked. I lost count of the times I heard a Shark tell someone they needed to forget their idea and move on because, in their expert opinion, the product or service they were pitching didn’t have a future. Although sometimes they were more tough than nice, it was clear that the Sharks felt it was far more compassionate to tell these entrepreneurs the tough-love truth, rather than let them continue dumping precious time and resources into an ill-fated idea. I agree.
It’s never easy to “coach out,” but it is the most compassionate thing you can do for the person who just isn’t a fit and for the people who have to deal with the fallout of their misplacement in an organization.
Love for the people you lead is essential, but tough love is the key to organizational health. And if you love the people you lead, you’ll coach them up or coach them out – but you won’t leave them lingering on the bench.
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