Be a Better Coach and Mentor

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Adapted from “Wait, I’m the Boss?!?” by Peter Economy (reprinted with permission from Career Press, an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser).

The list is never-ending when it comes to why you should help your employees improve and develop themselves. From a business standpoint, in particular, doing so increases the quality of their job performance. What’s also important is that, as a manager, you are in the best position to support employees so they can develop themselves and benefit your organization. From on-the-job learning opportunities and mentoring to tasks and assignments, the training, development, and guidance a manager offers is unique and critical for employee development.

Still not sure that employee development should be a priority? Here are a few highlighted reasons (among many) that should convince you.

You­ can­ give­ them­ learning­ opportunities: Do some of your employees continually make mistakes on assignments? Even if the task appears easy to execute, it is possible your employees lack the knowledge of how to perform the assignment in question. Your employees may not be incompetent—they may just need someone like you to provide them with guidance, support, and learning opportunities.

You­ will­ need­ someone­ to­ take ­over: Whether it’s for the long term, or very briefly, there will be a time when you need someone to step in to take over your high-level duties while you attend to other matters. Prepare your employees accordingly, so your organization can move forward in your absence.

Better­ employees­ work­ smarter: Why would you turn down the opportunity to develop your employees if it means helping them work more effectively and strategically? Find out what your employees have yet to learn about their jobs and responsibilities, then make a concerted effort to give them the support and information they need.

Your­ employees ­will­ appreciate­ challenges: Some employees are stuck in dull office settings where everything remains the same every day. This leads to decreased energy, motivation, and productivity in the workplace. But if you prioritize developing your employees, any challenges they face in the process will stimulate and motivate them.

Your­ employees­ are­ worth­ it: If anything, you must develop your employees because new employees cost a lot of time and money to recruit and train. Invest in your employees today so you don’t have to waste time and money on replacements tomorrow!

How can you possibly lose if your employees win? When properly and successfully developed, your employees gain high-level skills and capabilities that will, in turn, bring incredible value to your company.

How to Develop Your People

Employee development is a deliberate, continuous process that requires managers to support their employees. If either managers or employees lose focus during this process, employees won’t develop and the organization will have to endure hardships brought by its underdeveloped workers. As a manager, work with your employees to identify areas of improvement, implement development opportunities, and provide resources and support so the needs of your organization can be met.

Consider the following steps to develop employees in order to meet your organization’s future challenges:

Step­ 1:­ Schedule ­a­ meeting­ with ­your­ employee. After assessing your employee’s performance, meet with them to discuss your vision for them, as well as where they hope to go in the organization.

Step­ 2:­ Have­ conversations­ about­ strengths­ and­ weaknesses. Next, have an honest discussion about employee strengths and weaknesses. Identify the areas they can develop to meet challenges and move forward in the company.

Step ­3:­ Assess­ the ­present. Determine the current state of your employee’s talents and skills and see where they show potential.

Step­ 4:­ Create­ a­ career­ development­ plan. Outline what formal support you can give your employee to develop their skills and detail scheduled milestones.

Step­ 5:­ Ensure­ both­ parties­ follow­ through. Honor your agreement to provide your employee with the support they need, and check on progress regularly.

Creating Plans for Career Development

Career development plans can be thorough and detailed, but at their core, they must contain these key elements:

  • Learning­ goals­ that­ are­ specific. Identify specific learning goals when meeting with an employee to talk career development and planning. No matter the level of employment or experience, all individuals in your organization can benefit from having these types of goals—we all have room to improve.
  • Goal­ resources. Once you have discussed learning goals, identify and provide the resources that are required to support your employee with their objectives. These resources can include team assignments, formal training, job shadowing, and more.
  • Employee­ resources­ and­ responsibilities. Both manager and employee are responsible for an employee’s career development. Although a company can pay for training and other development opportunities, an employee should still work on their career in their free time.
  • Deadlines­ for­ learning­ goals. If goal accomplishment milestones aren’t scheduled, how can a career development plan ever be effective? The best goal schedules give employees flexibility, as well as enough time for daily tasks and career development progress.
  • Progress­ measurement­ standards. For every goal, be sure to have a clear method for measuring goal completion.

How to Be a Great Coach

Critical to an employee’s learning process is coaching, which is instrumental for developing self-confidence, acquiring new skills, and learning new things. Anyone can be a good coach— even you, as a manager.

You may be getting familiar with the roles of a manager, but did you know being a coach means being a counselor, colleague, and cheerleader, all at the same time? Much like other business skills, you can always practice and improve the traits a good coach has. Which ones are you employing right now, and which need more work?

Giving­ support­ and­ encouragement: There are many opportunities for new and veteran employees to feel discouraged on the job. A coach knows how to step in and

help inspire everyone to get them back on task.

Emphasizing­ team­ success: Rather than growing one team member in particular, a coach knows that a team’s overall performance is most important. This requires the efforts of every team member.

Inspiring­ team ­members: Coaches are especially skilled at inspiring others to do their best and achieve team success.

Creating­ supportive­ environments: A great coach knows the importance of a workplace environment that fosters growth and allows success.

Providing­ feedback: ­Coaches provide continual and consistent feedback that helps employees know what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. At the same time, employees must let coaches know when help is needed.

Coaching is an activity that requires paying close attention to your employees’ specific needs, weaknesses, and strengths. The support you give will vary between team members. Employees who are more independent will require fewer progress checks, while those workers who need help will necessitate a higher level of support.

No matter your coaching style, here are the techniques the best coaches use to elicit stellar performances from their employees.

  • Explaining­ the ­“why”: Coaches don’t just tell employees what to do, they tell them why they’re doing it. The most effective coaches always provide big-picture perspective and context for workers.
  • Being­ available­ for ­employees: Keep your door open to your employees, walk through your office, and always make an effort to visit them at their desks. Doing this lets employees know you are available. In this way, they know who to go to for their needs.
  • Being­ a­ sounding­ board: Are your employees finding themselves in a predicament? Coaches help employees work through issues by using active listening skills and talking through new ideas and approaches with employees.
  • Offering­ help: Workloads can be overwhelming, especially for employees who are just learning their new jobs. Coaches help employees work through transitional phases by taking measures to relieve the pressure, like reassigning current duties to other employees.
  • Transferring­ knowledge: Another way coaches help is by giving their personal knowledge and perspective to employees in response to the unique needs of each team member. Coaches have faced many situations during their tenure, and their experiences can help newer employees.
  • Showing,­ not­ just­ telling: There is no better way of teaching and learning than this method. Lead your workers through work processes by explaining procedures while performing a task, by having them complete the same procedure while you explain steps, and then by having them explain steps while they perform the task again.

An overwhelming portion of your job as a manager consists of building a foundation of small successes every day that will lead to larger victories in the future. Coaches, on the other hand, focus their daily energy on assessing employee progress and seeing how worker strengths, opportunities, and turning points can be capitalized.

You can follow a number of guidelines to handle any employee concern. These include openly giving positive feedback, having relaxed discussions about concerns and areas of improvement, lending a listening ear, and following through with check-ins and support. Make sure you are patient, and express enthusiasm about your confidence in your employee, as well. They will appreciate it and can use this boost to perform well.

Adapted and reprinted with permission from Career Press, an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser from “Wait, I’m the Boss?!?” by Peter Economy. The book is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher at or 800.423.7087. For more information, visit:

Peter Economy is the bestselling author of “Managing for Dummies” (more than 600,000 copies sold globally) and is The Leadership Guy at INC.COM who averages more than 500,000 page views a month for his more than 1,500 columns published to date. He routinely works with C-level executives, executive coaches, and business consultants worldwide. Visit him online at