Good Coaching – When a Goal Isn’t a Goal

What does it mean to be a better communicator?  What does it mean to treat people fairly?  What does it mean to be a better listener or better manage meetings?  As a coach helping leaders set goals, we often hear these types of goals people want to set and at face value they are wonderful.  Who wouldn’t want to be a better communicator?  But these goals are worthless because they are much too vague and as a result, there is not specific actions that can be applied to them.  To improve your coaching value, it is critical to drill down on exactly how people define these popular subjects so they can get very specific on how they will measure their progress.

When organizations call us in for a coaching assignment, 69% of the time the directive is to help a certain team or leader improve their communication.  But what does that mean?  Do leaders need to better explain things, talk less, listen more, be more succinct, ask better questions, quit interrupting at every chance, use more motivating language, focus on solutions, not problems, use email less and more face to face meetings, be more urgent.  What does “better” mean?  Typically, even the coachee can’t define it.  They just feel like there is some room for improvement somewhere there and that’s kind of it.  If left there your follow up accountability as a coach is empty.  You may ask an accountability question like “So how are you doing with your goal of being a better communicator”.  Your coachee answers “good I guess”.  Yes, they guess because without a clear definition of communication, there is no specific action to take and no known result to measure.

Consider this one VP who finished peoples sentences for them (common bad habit of high learning index people).  Her bad habit was squashing team engagement because here bad habit took away the purpose for being engaged.  Her communication goal was to let people finish sentences so her team would feel value and engage.  In every team meeting for five days, she shared her communication goal, assigned a person to track it.  She was also required to ask a question at the end of each statement made by a team member to change her thought habit of chiming in and instead pursue understanding.  This was also tracked.  Interesting how she had a significant improvement in the very first team meeting because she was being measured followed by consecutive meetings with no interruptions, only questions.  She slides backwards from time to time when due dates are approaching but the words “better communicator” was defined and as a result the goal was measured and achieved.