The Coaching Effect Blog

3 Behaviors Leaders Need to Effectively Coach Through Change

Posted by Bill Eckstrom

July 9, 2019

Bill and Bill You’ve all read about it, heard about it and likely tried to implement it.  You intellectually understand the concept and perhaps have seen the benefits.  But very few leaders are emotionally ready to follow through on one of the most basic and challenging growth perpetuating behaviors - coaching through change. How do I know this?  By looking at the data of leaders at all levels who, despite understanding how activity and behavior change will lead to improved team sales results, either consciously or subconsciously continue doing the same things and obtaining the same results.

For example, approximately 60% of frontline managers are so change averse they won’t execute basic coaching activities and do them with enough quality, even after acknowledging and understanding the benefits. And correspondingly, 60% of senior leaders who have committed to adoption, do very little to hold their frontline leaders accountable to coaching objectives. This is a growth limiting, order promoting coaching flaw that is pervasive in most companies.

What does coaching through change feel like?  It’s painful. It makes one question their decisions. It’s UNCOMFORTABLE! When executive leadership questions your decision, will you support it? When your team complains, will you stick with your decision? 

The Coaching Effect

The poster child of coaching through change is my old boss whom I wrote about in our book The Coaching Effect.  Mitch was my National Sales Manager of the medical equipment company, had perfected what I believe to be a learnable skill, coaching through change. When a logical decision was made, he didn’t allow emotion, or much else, to alter the decision for a period of time, generally a year.

An example of Mitch’s resolve goes something like this: Simplistically, and at a high-level, there are only two ways to grow sales; increase the revenue per sales person or add more sales people (or do both).  In that spirit, for us to grow revenue it made perfect sense to carve out a new territory within the western region, of which I was the manager, and add a ninth sales person to my team. The market was there, the geography was workable (or so I thought), and after doing the calculations Mitch and I made the call—I would make a new hire.

Q&A with myself and "Mitch" at our most recent Summit

When I communicated our small expansion to my sales team they were not as affirming and did their best to talk me out of the decision.  Their reasoning made sense—our biggest competitor was headquartered in this region and had huge market share. We had very few customers in the new territory, little if any brand recognition, and it would therefore take a long time, too long they thought, to start making sales. The geography was also challenging to work due to weather conditions, the Dakotas, Minnesota and northern Iowa weren’t an attractive territory to drive many months a year. My team believed I was setting up the new person to fail.

I admit, I caved. The emotions of pleasing my team overrode the logic Mitch and I determined the previous month. But, when I approached Mitch with what I believed to be a better decision, he listened, but again emulated great coaching by reminding me why our decision and the reasoning behind it were sound.  The bottom line: no more acquiescing. He informed me I needed to execute our plan and in one year we would reevaluate the effectiveness.

What allowed Mitch to be so good at coaching through change? When combing through our research I can identify three behaviors. 

1) He had a trust-based relationship with me.  Despite making what may have been perceived as unpopular decisions, his management team trusted him.  Trust-based relationships between coaches and their teams are endemic to healthy, consistent growth.

2) He was able to identify and separate logic versus emotion. This is a learnable skill that begins with daily practice of quiet time (perhaps meditation) where you begin to consciously acknowledge your emotions.

3) His decisions were logical and supported by data, perhaps inextricably linked to #2. Not that he didn’t care what others thought, he weighed this into his equation.  But one could never argue with the logic of his moves.

The most significant growth decisions leaders make will create discomfort for their teams. I know this because growth only occurs in a state of discomfort (as I mention in the TEDx Talk below). 

And while discomfort is something we viscerally avoid, those leaders who are willing to coach through the discomfort caused by change will realize significant growth on the other side. Oh, and by the way, the new sales person hired in the new territory not only succeeded, but she broke sales records in her first year.  Dang!  Mitch was right again. 


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