The Coaching Effect Blog

The Coaching Effect Blog

    How the Best Leaders, Managers, Coaches, & Teachers Drive Discretionary Effort

    by Bill Eckstrom / August 27, 2019

    Editor's Note: This post has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness on August 5th, 2020. Photo by Hattie Kingsley Photography.

    He saw through my juvenile behavior which, according to him, was not masking my ability. And while in his class I was expected to behave like a gentleman, which seemed more achievable to me than getting an “A” on a test. My 8th grade core classes teacher, Mr. Yahnke, saw talent in me that was not only missed by other teachers, but something I certainly didn’t see myself. And as a result, he was about to obtain vast amounts of discretionary effort from me.

    Mr. Yahnke strived to engage me in class by asking for my opinion on any topic. He called on me when my hand was not raised and treated me in a way that made me feel smart.  He complimented my work when appropriate, challenged me when it wasn’t, and was also quick to call me up front for a brief, private conversation when I was behaving inappropriately.  He likely knew how close I was to falling off the academic edge, so he worked to help me discover my own intelligence and believed I was infinitely capable of achieving good grades.

    When in his class, I went from a C- average to a high A average. Though I couldn’t have described it then, what I felt was Mr. Yahnke taught in a way ordinary teachers were not teaching which resulted in my discretionary effort.

    What is Discretionary Effort?

    Discretionary effort is the additional mental and physical output that one provides because of an environment or human interaction. Those in positions of formal authority — coaches, leaders, teachers, etc. — can obtain discretionary effort from others, but it must be consciously provided by an employee, student, player, or anyone for growth to occur. 



    Discretionary effort can manifest quickly.

    What Discretionary Effort Looks Like

    For example, how one feels after hearing a motivational talk or reading something that inspires them. It can result from fear or anger (not a healthy way for it to show up), but the real challenge is maintaining it over time, not hours or days, but months and years.

    It also appears in expected ways.

    People providing discretionary effort come early and stay late at work, they make an extra call, they do an extra lap, lift an extra set, do the extra credit, and engage on deeper levels within their respective environment. But it may also show in unexpected or unseen ways; calls from recruiters are not answered or messages returned, there is more thought about their role when away from the office/gym/classroom, those exhibiting discretionary effort generally perpetuate a positive growth culture and lead by example.

    How to Drive More Discretionary Effort

    While every organization would love to reap the benefits described above from their respective team members, most are not willing to put in place the tools and processes that ensure leaders (I prefer to use the word "coach" vs. "leader" so I use them interchangeably) are behaving in a way to create discretionary effort.

    To maximize discretionary effort, leaders would need to behave more like a high-growth coach, which is not the way most are used to behaving. The highest performing coaches we studied in business spend more time with people on their teams. 

    Leadership Activities That Drive Discretionary Effort

    Though this topic will be expanded upon another day, coaching is more complex than leadership because it always involves a team—one can’t be a coach without a team; however, one can exhibit leadership behaviors with no team involved.

    Creating vs. Draining Discretionary Effort

    While I could write forever on discretionary effort (and I may someday), our book, The Coaching Effect, does a thorough job of explaining how discretionary effort is created by coaches/leaders/manages—in a work environment. The purpose of this blog, however, is to trigger critical thought, create discomfort and make you wonder if you are one who creates discretionary effort or are you one who sucks it from your team.

    While we would all like to think, because we have earned a leadership role, we are great at coaching for improved discretionary effort, our data paints quite a different picture. There are 40% of people currently in a leadership role are bad at coaching, and not only are they bad, they are not willing to change coaching behaviors in a way to increase the discretionary effort from those on their team. (Tweet this)

    Measuring Discretionary Effort

    Want to know how you are doing? Want to know how your leaders are doing? Want to know how to create permanent behavior change that creates more discretionary effort?  Follow the next four steps:

    1. Measure the current effectiveness of your existing leaders

    2. Educate and develop them so they know how to not just lead, but coach

    3. Implement with a plan. Provide accountability partners and create an evolution, not a revolution

    4. Track with the latest technologies there is always a way to track progress and ROI of the first three steps

    Any organization, department, coach, or leader can now quantify their discretionary effort effectiveness, and everyone in those respective roles should want to know. (Tweet This)  Without knowing, teams go on, not performing to their potential, and mistakenly believe they are fine. Or worse yet, like me, they believe they are stupid. Teams perform this way because they don’t know what great looks like, feels like, and naïveté can be bliss for everyone.

    It’s time to no longer be naïve.

    Thank you, Mr. Yahnke, for giving me the material to write this piece. But most importantly, thank you for caring enough to obtain so much discretionary effort from me!

    For more ideas of how to earn more discretionary from your team, download the first chapter of our best-selling book. 

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    Bill Eckstrom

    Bill Eckstrom

    William Eckstrom is the CEO and Founder of the Ecsell Institute. Bill has spent his entire career in the sales management and leadership arena. In 2008, he founded Ecsell Institute to fill a void he witnessed and personally experienced in the sales leadership profession. He's went on to present a viral TEDx Talk and co-authored the best-selling book, "The Coaching Effect."