Part 6: The Supervisor as a Coach

How supervisors can coach their staff to become better employees


     If you're already a supervisor, or if you're working to become one, this article can help prepare you for one of your main responsibilities: facilitating the professional growth and development of the people you supervise. There is so much material out there that with a little effort and time, you can develop expertise in this often-overlooked dimension of leadership.

Helping Your Subordinates Grow

     How do you help your subordinates grow? Management guru Ken Blanchard, in his book Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership, provides a structured approach. His methodology includes components of coaching. What follows is an adaptation combining Blanchard's situational leadership model and "coaching" as presented in the National Fire Academy course "Leadership III: Strategies for Supervisory Success."

     A common strength of these approaches is that they take into account the varying developmental levels of the people you work with. You'll have to use different strategies and tactics to meet the various needs of people at different stages of their careers and different performance levels in specific areas.

     It is important to note that supervision and coaching are collaborative processes. You work with those you supervise, providing guidance and structure for them, and together you work out a course of action. If your subordinates don't participate in the process and develop a feeling of ownership, neither you nor your subordinates will make much progress.

What Is Coaching?

     What comes to mind when you hear the word coach? A tough, knowledgeable, inspirational person prowling the sideline during the game? The person who taught you to swing a bat, racket or club? Today there are even "life coaches" and "executive coaches." What do coaches do? They help people grow, improve and perform better.

     Remember that one of your roles as a supervisor is to evaluate the performance of your team members. For an illustrated guide to this, see Coaching Analysis Model #1 (Figure 1), drawn from a 2006 Washington State University supervisory training publication. After evaluating and describing a subordinate's performance, you have four courses of action: You can challenge, train, counsel or mentor them. Keep these in mind—we'll come back to them.

Situational Leadership

     Successful organizations have dynamic and effective leaders who influence others to participate in achieving the organization's goals. A dynamic and effective leader responds to the needs of his followers, adjusts his leadership style to meet those needs, and accomplishes organizational goals through committed and competent employees. A supervisor who utilizes Blanchard's concept of situational leadership to facilitate the growth and development of subordinates will need three basic skills: flexibility, diagnosis and communication.

     Flexibility allows you to shift appropriately between directive and supportive behaviors—the basic behaviors in situational leadership. Use directive behavior when you need to make a decision quickly or when the consequences are significant. Use this style with people who are inexperienced or using new skills. You tell your subordinate what to do, as well as when, where and how, and closely supervise their performance. Your subordinate does not participate in problem-solving or decision-making. This is one-way communication. On the other hand, supportive behavior is two-way: You encourage your subordinate to become involved in problem-solving and decision-making.

     These leadership behaviors form the two axes that demonstrate four leadership styles: directing, coaching, supporting and delegating (see Figure 2). These are similar to the four outcomes of Coaching Analysis Model #1: train, counsel, challenge, mentor.

Evaluation and Diagnosis

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