Providing direction and coaching to a team is an essential leadership activity. Although they are separate activities, coaching and direction are closely related and can follow each other through the leadership cycle. First, let's define each activity. Coaching, either for good work or not-so-good work, is in effect the act of letting a person know that what they do is important to you. Coaching allows you to give feedback and help a person achieve their goals. Direction, on the other hand, is the process of laying out those goals, verbalizing your vision, and helping the team figure out "where we need to be".
When you coach, the first thing to do is assess each individual's strengths and weaknesses. As a leader with a "bird's eye" view, you can probably do that pretty easily – how does each person deal with empowerment, "fuzzy" situations and interaction with the team? How does each person exhibit leadership behaviors, and behaviors which can be strengthened? You may also need to zero in on issues that are keeping the person or the team from progressing. Once you know the answers to these questions, privately give feedback to the team members. Remember that coaching feedback must first of all be timely – do not let a good (or not so good) event go before you provide feedback. Do it immediately. The coaching you provide must also be specific. Explain in detail the action that's causing you to have the conversation, and then explain how the person can either keep up the good work or improve. You'll find that timely and specific coaching will be extremely useful to the team member – and to you. Finally, part of coaching is development. Give each individual a challenge or two – stretch their goals once they've proven themselves. Alternately, you can provide opportunities for advancement in the form of rotational assignment, training, or seminars.
Your direction, given in between the coaching sessions, can foster your vision for the team. Obviously you have to enunciate that vision clearly for the team – considering talking about the vision in your coaching sessions. When the vision is clear, take the time to set clear priorities – in the overall picture, what comes first, second, and third on the priority list? Next in setting a direction is the clarification of roles and responsibilities. Too often leaders fail to do this under the guise of empowerment. Before a team can feel empowered, they must know what each individual's role is. But once you've defined roles, you can empower the team based on your assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. So your direction starts with a description of the vision and roles and responsibilities, but it continues with the empowerment of the group. Keep each person on track via your coaching sessions. It's easy to see how coaching and direction interact with each other consistently.
When you coach, you provide motivation. But you also provide the ability to correct an uncertain path and identify potential paths. For example, you may find out during your coaching sessions which person has a potential for development, which is a subject matter expert, and which is a "dead end road". When you add the direction element, you're providing new challenges, keeping high performers from getting bored, and making the vision real and tangible for everyone involved.
How can you put coaching and direction into action? Let's start with you. Developing yourself is a great way to coach and direct. In Our Leadership Foundations series, we've already talked about taking an objective look at yourself and your abilities. Do not leave it as a list of strengths and opportunities – act on it by creating a self-development plan. The best thing about a self-development plan is that it works in all areas of your life.
What about coaching and direction at a community level? Try mentoring a person in your community or organization. You can look for someone who is in the same industry, the same church group, or the same sports organization. As you develop yourself, you can take the time to coach and provide direction to another person. In families, coaching is probably one of the more important aspects of this leadership foundation. If you do not see desired behavior in children, for example, take the time to explain what it is you're looking for. In many situations, family included, leaders just forget to put a point on the map and say, "this is where we want to be."
Take the time to provide coaching and direction at work, at home, in the community, and most importantly, to yourself.