Leadership Guru/Author on ‘Light Touch Coaching’

This article was originally posted on Fox Business

Last week I attended the annual Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conference in Las Vegas, the largest gathering of human resources professionals in the world. While there I had the opportunity to sit down with Marcus Buckingham, author of the newly released Stand Out 2.0. Buckingham spoke about how leaders at every level can develop their employees by focusing on strengths.    

Build Self-awareness

One of the greatest challenges in our workforce is that “we have people coming into the workplace who are fundamentally inarticulate about who they are.” In other words, they either don’t know their strengths or don’t know how to talk about them. Buckingham believes “we tend to go through life trying to fill the gaps of who we are.” However, “it’s really difficult to understand who you are from inside the frame.” Buckingham notes that “the challenge for any individual is to know enough about yourself to know how to craft your work to get the best of you, which demands an awful lot of self-awareness, mostly about what invigorates you in life.” The fact is “most of us are not very articulate when it comes to being able to describe our own psychological oxygen.”

To change this Buckingham believes we must create a common language to help people effectively describe what is unique about themselves and how they think, build relationships, and are driven. The purpose of StandOut 2.0 is to provide a credible and curated language to help individuals evaluate their strengths, effectively talk about them, and guide them in making more informed choices about their work. Whatever process you use, it’s important for mangers at all levels to take the lead in initiating conversations with their individual team members about their strengths.      

Tweak To Their Strengths

Once you have helped your employees build awareness of their strengths it’s important that as a manager you take the time to tweak their roles so as to leverage those strengths.  Buckingham points out that helping individuals to know which particular aspects of their job are fulfilling may seem “very soft and squishy” except when you realize that on the most productive teams where people steal less and have fewer accidents, “somehow the team leader has crafted roles where a lot of the activities are those that are fulfilling.” Buckingham admits that “it might not happen with a flip of the fingers,” but it will happen iteratively over time as you put together a team where you gradually tweak each role to mostly play to the strengths of the individual in that role.

Coach with a Light Touch 

Once roles have been tweaked it’s important to get behind your team members and support their efforts. One way to accomplish this is through light touch coaching. To effectively coach your team you must be touching your people at least once a week and it doesn’t have to be highly time consuming. Buckingham believe s there are three basic elements to light touch coaching:  

Check priorities: Always start with where they are. Ask each team member to tell you what their priorities are and be ready to react to what you hear.

Ask what they loved and loathed: In order to find out where your team members are Buckingham recommends asking two simple questions: What did you love last week and what did you loathe last week? This will help give you insight into how much of their time is focused on strengths. 

Offer a practical tweak: Buckingham explains that it’s not as much about providing feedback as it is about providing input for the future. In other words, be forward focused and offer simple tangible tweaks that will help the team member adjust their behavior. Light touch coaching is about fine tuning over time.  


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