The Three Main Jobs of a Leader (part 3 of 3)

By Tom Davidson

While the previous two blog posts in this series covered the first two of your primary responsibilities, this one focuses on the leader’s role in coaching the performance of others. Read more about it, below. 

As a leader, there are some things only you can do, not because others can’t do them but because you must do them yourself if you want to have a deliberate impact on your team, department or organization. They are:

1. Communicating the vision – Painting a clear and compelling picture of what your unit will look like in the future
2. Role-modeling what you want from others – Exemplifying the demeanor and behaviors you want to see in others
3. Coaching the team and individuals – Maximizing the discretionary effort of the people on your team

Coaching the team and individuals
While the previous two blog posts in this series covered the first two of your primary responsibilities, this one focuses on the leader’s role in coaching the performance of others. You actually have four choices in how to help others perform at their best, what I call the four hats of performance management because you pick the one you need for each situation. They are:

Training – Providing skills and knowledge to enable employees to perform their jobs. As a leader, part of your job is to assess the skill level of each person on your team, and if there is a gap in their skills or knowledge base, then you have to fill it with the proper training. This may be formal training (internal or external to the organization) or on-the-job training that you or others might provide. Training is only the right solution when the individual is lacking a skill or critical knowledge; it does not change motivational or environmental factors that are often at the heart of performance problems.

Coaching – Providing feedback and assistance to employees for continuous job performance improvement, skill expansion, and empowerment. Coaching is for high and average performers who could (and would like to) do even better in their jobs, probably the vast majority of your team members. In coaching, the leader conducts regular one-on-one discussions with their associates, illuminating what they do well and what could be even better, often pinpointed by the associates themselves. When wearing the coaching “hat,” leaders are learning partners who have positive and high expectations of their direct reports and also help them see and surmount individual obstacles.

Counseling – Working with poor performers for improvement to acceptable performance levels as a last resort before separation from the organization. The counseling “hat” is reserved for those rare occasions when an individual has consistently underperformed, missed reasonable goals or contradicted organizational values in their behaviors. This kind of conversation should follow many other attempts to improve performance, including training and coaching, where those interventions have failed. Counseling is a very direct and authoritative conversation that makes it clear that consequences, including termination, are inevitable if the behavior is not corrected in a certain period of time.

Mentoring – Working with the best employees to help them reach their highest potential, often in leadership roles. A mentoring relationship is one where a successful and experienced expert shares what they’ve learned with someone who wants to have similar success in that expertise. In such conversations (formal or informal), the leader gives special insights on what they learned and how they learned it, thus accelerating the readiness of the associate. For more information about mentoring, I recommend The Elements of Mentoring by W. Brad Johnson.

As the leader, you are at the intersection of what each of your team members need and what the organization needs; making you the lynchpin to their success but only if you do the three essential functions of your job: communicating the vision, role-modeling what you want, and coaching the team and individuals.

In your experience, what are some other vital functions for leaders?

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