If you want federal government data to support the case, just look at the finalists and winners of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals. When the Partnership for Public Service examined the leadership characteristics of these individuals in past years, being an effective teacher and mentor was an important attribute.
The payoff may be clear, but how to get there is often less so. How should a busy federal leader make the leap from simply delivering performance reviews to coaching and mentoring employees?
Recognizing that most executives are not interested in becoming immersed in coaching principles, my colleague Jeff O’Malley (who is a certified executive coach) developed an abbreviation he often shares with federal leaders —RICE-Q. It stands for results, intuition, curiosity, empowerment and questioning. This is the framework he uses for strengthening coaching abilities, engaging employees, and enhancing performance and results.
Results: Leaders are judged by what they achieve, and effective coaches start with this end in mind. They work with employees to define success at the outset of any task. Sometimes this can be as simple as remembering to ask a few key questions.
For meetings with a direct report, for example, try starting the conversation by asking, "By meeting's end, what do we want to walk away with?” Or if a staff member has a complaint, try: "What would you like to see changed going forward?" The difference between being seen as a great coach or just a supervisor can sometimes be as simple as your ability to guide targeted conversations with your staff.
Intuition: Virtually every leader knows it takes more than technical skills and analytical capabilities to be effective. Great leaders often need to go with their heart and gut, as well as their head, to engage and motivate employees. By paying attention to your people and your intuition, you can connect more effectively with employees, all of whom are driven by something slightly different.
Curiosity: When asked whether they listen to employees, busy managers often admit, “I'm not really listening, I'm just thinking about what I'm going to say next.” Just imagine how much gets lost! Curiosity is one of the best and easiest ways to gain a better understanding about what works and what doesn’t for your employees. All it requires is paying attention to their experiences and perspectives.
Picture a staff member who is frustrated by a certain project. Is your first goal just to get this person on board to move ahead? That would be wrong. Your first goal should be to understand the precise nature of the frustration. What's holding her back, and what would she propose as a solution? You'll notice a rising level of engagement when employees feel like they are being heard.
Empowerment: Of course, it’s not enough just to engage employees. You genuinely need to empower them as well. Coaching is inherently empowering because it puts the onus on the individual, not just the leader. Instead of allowing complaints to go on and on, the leader as coach makes the individual a key part of the solution. That's why forcing someone to answer goal-oriented questions — such as, "What would you like done?" — can be so much more powerful.
Questioning: Questions open up people and possibilities, where advice often narrows the path forward. All queries are not, however, created equal. Good questions are concise, relevant to the person and topic, and focused towards results and goals. Asking good questions takes practice, but the results will make the effort worthwhile.
If you have other tips or techniques regarding how leaders can help employees succeed, please share them by leaving a comment below or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership, is a vice president at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. He also heads the Partnership’s Center for Government Leadership.