The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, December 1, 2002

Motivation is not just carrot and stick
Peeyush Agnihotri

The Coaching Manager
by James M. Hunt and Joseph R. Weintraub. Response Books, Sage Publications. Rs 295. Pages 252.

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.
— John F. Kennedy

The Coaching ManagerWE need to learn certain things second hand. There is not enough time for us to make all mistakes ourselves. This axiom holds true in the world of corporate management where one mistake might prove to be a boon for the competitors and nemesis for the one who made the error.

Just as dedicated coaching is essential to bring out the potential talent in a competitive sportsperson, coaching managers are needed to develop top talent in business. The Coaching Manager is a book full of real-life examples from the corporate world to promote employee development through learning. The learning here is usually imparted by corporate managers and leaders.

To borrow a quote from General Electric Corporation, leadership actually consists of four Es — Energy, or the ability to cope with change; energising, or motivating others; edge, or the self-confidence needed to make tough calls; and execution, delivering.

As the book explains, "Developmental coaching is a helping relationship between a manager and his or her employees for the growth and development of the latter and in turn the organisation. It’s ironical that the most talented persons in a business organisation are typically least likely to receive any coaching."


The authors note that individuals with high level of emotional intelligence have a more clear sense of what is needed from them as employees. The book also suggests that coaching managers need to give more feedback to employees so as to develop a mirror through which the latter can analyse themselves more clearly. A good coaching manager is one who is able to inculcate a sense of self-appraisal in an employee while running the organisation effectively.

Listing the qualities of a good coaching manager, authors opine that he should not believe in the "swim or sink" theory of employee development wherein individuals are given challenging assignments: those who are successful advance, while failed ones face a stalled career graph. Instead, in helping their employees develop they should exercise less control and more autonomy. Drawing an analogy, they must act like a gardener who plants the right flowers (read employees): create a context, provide some support and help out in distress.

Though initially managers and employees might feel threatened by the level of openness needed in learning, yet this might not be an exercise in futility. One should learn from mistakes. The book quotes an example from the initial days of IBM. An executive whose project had gone awry came down to submit his resignation. At this, Thomas Watson Sr., the company’s founder, responded: "Why would I want to lose you? I’ve just invested a lot of money in you." Financial costs were important but Watson felt that in the process the executive had learnt something more valuable. Today, IBM needs no introduction.

To get a feel of the problem firsthand, managers should actually step in the shoes of their employees. By doing so, they may actually become accessible to employees; thereby helping them bring up more learning issues.

Similarly, each and every employee feedback needs to be analysed in perspective and not in parts. Managers should avoid seeing a distorted image and view the performance with a certain amount of tentativeness. In one of the chapters, it’s been beautifully explained how after four hours of hard toil in the morning, road construction workers were given a well-deserved coffee break at a time that coincided with the morning office rush hours. Commuters could actually be seen cursing these workers for wasting time and taxpayers’ dollars just because that’s what they saw. What they failed to see was unadulterated toil that started well before dawn.

Lending some modern ‘e’ (electronic) touch to the whole issue of coaching managers, authors found out that some managers use e-mail, telephone and videoconferencing to give advice and that telephone is by far the most popular form of information dissemination. Software packages that describe lists of competencies, development tips and competency-specific coaching advice are now readily available. Cisco has it on the corporate Intranet. As an after-action review, e-mail interview asking what went well, what went wrong and what was learnt should be encouraged. However, authors are of the view that coaching dialogue is likely to remain high-touch than hi-tech. Nothing can beat face-to-face problem-solving conversation.

That is why this fifth ‘e’ could not find a place in leadership qualities. Perhaps.