Becoming a Servant Coach

Business customer care and support concept.

Who was the worst manager you’ve worked for in your career? Imagine their face in your mind for a moment. Now, think of a problem you are currently facing and go ask that manager for their support. As you play this scenario out in your mind, what happens next? Maybe one of these sounds familiar…

I couldn’t find him/her, they are never available (not physically present).

They didn’t listen to me (didn’t actually hear what I said).

They interrupted me or were clearly distracted (not emotionally present).

They offered ideas I had already tried to do (were not helpful at all).

They explained how they would solve the problem (but I didn’t see how that would work for me).

They helped me brainstorm, but provided no additional resources/support (set me up for failure).

What do all of these possible responses have in common? They are rooted in a mindset of self-centeredness. This is a common mistake that many managers make. With power and authority, they fall into the trap of being egocentric. Among other things, this manifests as lousy coaching, which ultimately leads to lost potential, disengagement, and mediocre performance results.

In my previous article, I offered that after a decade of training over 3000 managers in primarily Fortune 500 organizations, I’ve come to believe that the two most critical skills a manager must master are: 1) delivering feedback in a way that inspires learning and 2) coaching people to solve their own challenges. I then provided a model for how managers can learn to become a Feedback Warrior and overcome obstacles to providing critical feedback. In the final article of this series, I’ll reason that the key to better coaching is overcoming a mindset of self-centeredness. In short…

Managers Must Develop a Servant’s Heart 

When in a position of power, managers often feel overly self-important. After all, you earned that title! You worked hard for that promotion and the organization validated your high degree of competence with increased levels of responsibility. Why wouldn’t you (as a manager) coach others from a mindset of expertise?

Managers must learn to override this strong instinct, and develop a Servant’s Heart if they want to be effective coaches. So, what does it mean to be a servant? By definition, a servant is a devoted and helpful follower or supporter. While a servant has needs just like everyone else, they choose to put their personal needs aside in order to take care of others first. Some famous servant leaders throughout history include Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, etc. All of these extraordinary leaders made great personal sacrifices for the benefit of their followers. They also all embodied values like empathy, humility, curiosity, compassion, and stewardship.

Servant Coach with Logo

While serving others before self may not come naturally for many, we all have the capacity to choose our behavior. This is especially relevant for the modern-day manager. If we choose to develop a Servant’s Heart, we can’t help but to coach others to their full potential and inspire superior results.

Let’s take a look at the Servant’s values and how they help us to coach others effectively:

1.    Empathy – Have you ever had the pleasure of being served by a professional waiter at a high-end restaurant? You may recall feeling like you were “very important” and well cared for. That waiter understood your specific needs and desires. They were attuned to your emotions and exactly how they could exceed your expectations. A good waiter is a master empathizer!

Likewise, empathy is an essential ingredient to being a good coach. Frequently, managers want to immediately move to problem-solving, without accounting for the impact of emotions. The irony being that, when you truly feel what others are feeling, you often redefine the problem altogether! A Servant Coach learns how to get present, listen deeply, and use emotions as key data.

2.    Humility – Jesus Christ is considered one of the best examples of a Servant Leader, and His washing of His disciples’ feet in John 13:1-17 is perhaps the most iconic lesson concerning humility. While already revered as their Lord and Master, Jesus magnifies His influence even further by going against the attitudes of time and offering that He came “not to be served, but to serve.” He then (literally) gets His hands dirty, and does the work traditionally done by servants in washing His disciples’ feet.  

Managers, today, will benefit from demonstrating more humility in their coaching conversations. It’s all about identity. If you see yourself as “an expert,” you will be more of an advisor in your coaching conversations. Instead, show up as a facilitator and remind yourself that your coachee is full of unlimited potential. Be humble, resist the urge to “show what you know,” and tap into your coachee’s creativity.

Albert

3.    Curiosity – So how then do we avoid the managerial tendency to immediately give advice? Simple…be deliberately curious. A Servant Coach understands that the best way to serve others in a coaching conversation is by unlocking answers through smart and powerful questions. If you have been deeply listening to your coachee, and empathized with their situation, you can use this data to inform your questions.

Example: It seems like your recent interactions with customers have been really frustrating for you. I get it…all they seem to care about is the end-result, and they don’t want to hear about how your team’s overtime hours are really burning them out.

What is one small thing customers could do to make things slightly less frustrating for you and your team? or When we are frustrated, we tend to not be at our best. What approaches have you tried thus far to resolve the situation, and how did that go?

Also, don’t entirely discount your expertise. Instead, use your expertise to ask a question rather than offer a solution. There are all sorts of coaching question lists out there, and I invite you to keep a few good questions already in your back pocket. However, when a Servant Coach is at his or her best, insightful questions “emerge” from both paying attention to your gut and leveraging your personal experiences.

4.    Compassion – Compassion can be defined as empathy in action. While empathizing in a coaching conversation is helpful, a Servant Coach will not stop there. Once your coachee identifies the next steps towards solving their problem, look for opportunities to support beyond the coaching conversation. Ask, “What resources can I provide to help this person?” or “What obstacles can I remove that will get this person closer to their goal?” Then they commit to making these things happen.

In today’s busy workplaces, it’s too easy for a manager to have a good coaching conversation, then immediately go back to tending to their personal needs. They leave their coachee to fend for themselves, missing the opportunity to expedite their success. Remember that being a Servant Coach is an investment. In showing compassion and taking supportive action, you can’t help but to make others more successful. Your team will then start bending over backwards to return the favor.

Tom Peters

5.    Stewardship – Finally, a Servant Coach thinks ahead and patiently helps people to meet their full potential over time. They balance coaching immediate needs with considering future possibilities and growth opportunities. This is important because Servant Leadership does not mean that you give people exactly what they want, it means giving people what they need. Sometimes that means a little “tough love” may be necessary to encourage stretching outside one’s comfort zones and building new capacities.

Servant Coach will also hold people accountable for what they say they want to do. Especially if the coachee is stretching themselves in a way that makes them uncomfortable. This requires time and energy on your part as a manager. Without systematic process for follow-up, you’ll likely let them off the hook. It’s about stewardship. Great leaders create more leaders. Be the catalyst that ensures the next generation of leaders is well-prepared.

My hope in sharing this article is that more managers will develop a Servant’s Heart and coach more people to their full potential.

If you found this article interesting, I invite you to check out LGG’s Feedback Warrior Servant Coach training offering by clicking here.

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*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of any and all this content is prohibited without the authorized consent of the author.

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