Take a moment to think about the best coach you had in your youth. Maybe it was your basketball coach, tennis coach, debate team coach, voice coach … How did they teach you? How did they make you feel? How did they inspire you to try your best?
When I think about my best coach, I think about how much he cared about the growth and personal success of each teammate. He directly and kindly corrected my form and patiently helped me learn new skills. When I fell, he comforted me rather than punishing me. He taught our team about resiliency and vulnerability by sharing stories of challenges he had experienced as an athlete. He cheered us on during our meets, frequently crying tears of joy. He prioritized integrity over winning and made each us feel like we mattered. He wanted us to become good humans first and strong athletes second.
As I think about that experience, I realize that there are many coaching skills that transcend into the workplace. A coach is someone who teaches, helps people meet their goals and reveals their true potential. Isn’t that exactly what we want in our workplaces? Our challenge: How do we train, empower, encourage, challenge, and discipline staff in a way that preserves dignity and respect? How do we coach people in a way that improves performance effectively and encourages people to succeed?
In general, the long-term services and supports (LTSS) profession operating framework is punitive. When a survey team visits an organization it’s typically due to an error or event of some kind, and the plan of correction often includes disciplining or even terminating the “responsible” staff member rather than comforting and coaching them. Annual surveys are about finding deficiencies, rather than supporting and encouraging best practices. The LTSS sector operates under a medical model of care that requires licensed staff to delegate tasks to unlicensed staff, innately setting up a power and control dynamic in the workplace. These underlying systems can make it an uphill battle to positively influence culture. But it can be done.
Leading like a coach comes down to culture, values, and communication (how managers talk to and support their direct reports). Let’s examine the difference between instructing and coaching. “With traditional instruction, teaching typically ends when the new content or skill is mastered. Coaching, however, continues even after content or skill mastery to ensure sustainment…The term ‘coaching’ describes specific actions that include demonstrating, reinforcing, motivating, and providing feedback. These actions share the purpose of improving performance or achieving a specified goal for the individuals or team being coached.¹”
Coaches not only model the expected behaviors, but they provide real-time feedback that is direct yet caring. It should be expected that staff fail sometimes, teams fail sometimes, leaders fail sometimes. To err is human. Take Thomas Edison, for example, creator of the lightbulb. It is said that he developed 1,000 prototypes before finding success. When asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison responded, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times; the light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” So what if we looked at corrective action, performance improvement, or discipline through the lens of failing forward? What if our goal was to acknowledge the error and then support staff toward finding success?
To fail backwards, according to John C. Maxwell, author ofFailing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success, is to blame others for mistakes while promising you’ll never fail again. Failing forward means you take credit for the failure, acknowledging that the failure is simply progress toward a goal, and expect to fail again. People learn from mistakes, and failure is one of the most impactful teachers. Organizations that punish or ignore mistakes teach staff to operate in fear, to hide mistakes, and almost guarantee that the mistake will be repeated. Organizations that celebrate failure or encourage transparency around “near-misses” understand the root cause and develop systems to prevent errors from being repeated. It teaches collaboration, empowerment, and resilience. They fail forward.
Another key trait of a coach is to inspire and motivate your team. Authentic motivation looks different from one leader to the next, but there are common behaviors that coaches can use to motivate others. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality TeamSTEPPS® 2.0 for Long-Term Care, effective ways to motivate team members include:
Helping team members see the bridge between new behaviors and resident safety and outcomes.
Encouraging belief in team members’ ability to succeed. This includes asking powerful questions to identify the source of team members’ perceived expertise, knowledge, or experience and aligning their level of confidence with their abilities.
Expressing enthusiasm among and commitment in team members.
Validating current levels of accomplishment while advocating greater achievement.
Recognizing and reassuring team members when they are successful, such as using a TeamSTEPPS tool or strategy effectively.
Identifying potential challenges, pitfalls, barriers, and unforeseen consequences.
Offering support and assistance and displays empathy toward perceived challenges the team member is facing.
Communicating positive results and outcomes with the team. For example, highlights for the team a potential error that was avoided with the effective use of teamwork behaviors.
LeadingAge also offersNurseLEAD, a free online curriculum including action-oriented modules such as:
Coaching and Supervising
Finally, consider signing up for LeadingAge’sLeading Like a Coach webinarwith Lynn Fossen, Vice President of Strategic Solutions Consulting at Advanced Health Institute, on May 24, 2023. In this webinar, we’re asking the question: What if we stopped employing supervisors and started building and empowering teams like coaches? We’ll discuss how to bring authenticity and connection to the way you lead; consider ways to discipline staff in a positive, uplifting way and eliminate punitive responses; and explore how to apply your organization’s core values in a way that supports a healthy workplace culture.
As we look for ways to retain and engage staff and build staff-centered workplaces in the LTSS sector, leading like a coach is a relatable and applicable method to supporting, growing, and retaining teams.
Access more member resources for leading like a coach here!