When I coach senior-level leaders, my work with them typically extends for several months, with many opportunities to get to know them, ask questions, listen, provide suggestions, and observe their growth.
I've recently been conducting one-hour coaching sessions for several middle managers. These are one-time meetings, 60 minutes long. The client wants to see if middle managers can benefit from just a taste of the coaching that we offer more senior-level leaders.
These one-hour one-off coaching sessions are an entirely new thing. And I've been learning how to make them effective. Here's how I've been approaching it.
I begin by talking about my experiences and what I've learned about building trust and leading people, e.g. the importance of providing appreciative feedback, communicating expectations clearly, and sharing information broadly. I review a set of specific practices. I then ask: In which of these areas do you think you're doing well – and where do you think you could improve?
What I'm trying to see is whether the person appreciates the complexity of leadership and trust building. If I get a superficial response, like: "Oh, I think I'm doing most of these things pretty well," then I have one strategy. If I get a more open response, like: "I know I could work on many of these things," then I take a different track.
For the superficial responder, I ask them to role play a difficult conversation. "Pretend I'm an employee whose work is consistently subpar. Role play how you would handle it." As the role play unfolds, I check to see how effectively the manager maintains trust while communicating the constructive feedback.
For the more nuanced responder, I ask: "What would you like to work on?" One manager asked for help managing change. Another asked about managing her boss. Another said she needed help with time management. Whatever the issue, we spend some time brainstorming strategies.
Before the session ends, I make sure I talk about what happens when trust is lacking – the lack of productivity, the poor morale, the stress, the turnover. I ask them to think about how much more time it takes to manage people who are not motivated. I try to get them to appreciate that investing in building trust pays big dividends down the road.
I wrap up the session by asking: "What's one thing that you will commit to doing for the next month?" The answers have ranged from "provide more appreciative feedback" to "work on the clarity of my expectations." I ask them to write it down. And to practice it.