Why You Should Be More Like Serena Williams' Coach

leadership management Mar 03, 2020

Growth happens in small doses. Does this sound familiar: It’s the fourth quarter and you’ve been working long days and weekends to complete performance evaluations for all of your direct reports. You are trying to capture—heck, sometimes even remember—all of the high (and low) points of the year. The expectation is that you document your employees’ achievements and areas for improvement for delivery during a “performance meeting”.

You come to the meeting nervous about how each person will handle the input; whether you’ve described it in ways that lead to learning.

Your employees, on the other hand, come to the same meeting often feeling disempowered or vulnerable. They may even express confusion or frustration with some of your comments, citing your own limited understanding or access to their work. Each person leaves the meeting feeling thankful that it’s over. The appropriate paperwork is submitted to HR. And we begin again, heads down, working…working…working…until next year’s performance review.

I know this isn’t everyone’s experience, but it’s not altogether unfamiliar, is it?

I’ve had this same story that’s been shared with me by clients over and over again. It’s a reflection of the limitations of many of our performance management systems.

Many organizations have formal performance management processes that require annual documentation. This, in and of itself, is not the problem. The problem is that many managers and leaders use this formal process as their primary vehicle for coaching and providing developmentally helpful feedback to people they supervise.

Relying mostly or solely on the end of the year performance reviews does not promote people getting better at their job. People develop skills by practicing and getting real-time coaching that allows for small and immediate adjustments in performance. Here’s a visual: Serena Williams. Serena Williams practices, day after day, with a coach who watches her perform and delivers real-time, behavior-specific feedback.

“Tuck your elbow in closer to your body.” “Close your racquet face.” “Carry the swing all the way through.” When her coach shares input about what could be done better or differently, it isn’t meant to demoralize Serena.

Instead, it gives her access to a perspective that she would not have otherwise. She can’t see herself in the act of performing, but a coach can. Now, apply this example to all masterful performers, from athletes and musicians to executives and exemplary managers.

How does this apply to you, as a manager? You’re the coach. You are in the arena with your team members, providing them with real-time feedback that helps them build competence and confidence. You are coaching them in small and regular intervals, allowing immediate incorporation of feedback that allows for positive results in practice. One of the other invaluable benefits of this stylistic approach is that it creates a large volume of times when you are acting—and being witnessed acting—in the service of your employees, team, and your values.

Next time you tell yourself that feedback can wait, don’t. Remember, your job, as a manager and as a coach, is to help your colleagues be successful now.

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