indicatorPeople and Culture

5 steps to transform from a manager to an employee leader

By ATB Financial 5 October 2020 7 min read

As the saying goes, people don’t quit jobs. They quit managers.

In fact, one in two employees have left their job because of a manager at some point in their professional career, according to a survey from Gallup. For those who don’t leave, less-than-stellar managers can drive down employee engagement. The same survey found that managers account for at least 70 per cent of the variance in employee engagement scores across units in a business.

Today’s employees want more than a manager who follows up on their tasks. They want a leader. “To me management is an old, hierarchical idea and puts more onus on the entrepreneur or business leaders than the employee. Leadership, on the other hand, is about empowering others, developing them and creating the environment for them to thrive,” says Greg McLeod, performance coach at ATB.

Employee wants and expectations of leadership are evolving because of the rapidly changing nature of the world we live in, he says. With organizational structures flattening, the pace of work increasing and remote work on the rise, employees have greater opportunities to contribute to the success and growth of an organization.

“These changes are creating opportunities for more networked leadership and decentralized decision-making. In this way of working it becomes critical that leaders and employees are frequently aligning on goals, checking in along the way and taking time to debrief after a piece of work or project is completed to discuss what worked, what they might do differently and the learning they are taking forward” he says.

For entrepreneurs or business leaders looking to transform from a manager of employees into a leader of employees, it’s about expanding your repertoire of techniques to include coaching, says McLeod. “I’m not advocating for no hierarchy, but I do challenge people to think about the structures they have created and ask yourself if they are helping or hindering the results you are after. It depends on the industry, the nature of the work and the experience of your people. However, you need flexibility in your leadership style and becoming more coach-like can be a big part of that.”


What is employee coaching?

Coaching is an approach to leadership that helps improve the thinking of others, release their potential and maximize their performance. It can deepen relationships between employees and managers throughout a company, boost employee engagement and increase team motivation. According to The Association for Talent Development 80 per cent of the workforce who have experienced coaching said it had a positive impact on their performance, productivity and well-being. In addition, coaching can boost a business’ bottom line. A study from Bersin & Associates found companies that invest in coaching skills can provide a 130 per cent increase in business performance.

McLeod says that while a coaching approach isn’t perfect for every employee interaction, you should identify those employees and the moments where doing more asking than telling might better serve you and your people. “You need to know your people first, their experiences, strengths, motivators and preferences. Someone new to the job, they might need you to be more direct in order to build their confidence and skill,” he says. For others who can take on more responsibility, let yourself be positively surprised by them when you push them with coaching, he says.


Leading employees with coaching

Embarking on a journey to lead employees with coaching starts with understanding it is easier — and faster — to simply tell employees what to do. But fast and easy rarely equate to effective! You have to resist that human urge. “It won’t be a big breakthrough. It will be incremental changes as you have small wins,” says McLeod. “Acknowledge the reality that as you become more coachlike in your approach it might take more time this week, but as the weeks tick by you’ll find your conversations becoming shorter and more effective as your people take more ownership and accountability, freeing you up to focus on the things that are critical to leading your business.”.

To shift your leadership style towards being more coach-like, consider the following five steps as a starting point:

  1. Define your leadership culture
    Take time to think about and write down what you want your leadership culture to look like. Ask yourself: What are the pillars you as a leader stand for? What are your values? What does it mean to lead here? Once established and written down, you and other leaders in your company need to model them on a daily basis and hold yourself accountable. “Be mindful of the role you play as a leader. You have incredible influence in moving your team towards the desired future culture,” says McLeod adding this exercise ensures you have an approach to leadership by design — rather than default.

  2. Find your leadership approach
    “It’s incumbent on you to know yourself as a leader,” says McLeod. “Build your leadership style in a way that is authentic to who you are. It’s not about emulating a great leader you know or a famous CEO, it’s about understanding who you are and what you value, showing up authentically and creating certainty for your people around what they can expect from you, and what you need from them in order to drive results, and have some fun doing it.” Spend time getting to know your individual strengths, weaknesses, values and leadership philosophy and you will be able to be more effective for each person you lead.

  3. Listen instead of problem solve
    “When we talk about coaching, it’s about being curious and asking questions. It’s about silencing your desire to help by telling people what to do,” says McLeod. When you lead with questions rather than leading with answers, you empower your employees to own their solutions to the challenges you are paying them to solve.

  4. Connect with your employees person-to-person
    When leaders regularly communicate with employees, those team members are nearly three times more engaged than people with managers who don’t communicate regularly, according to a Gallup survey, and 43 per cent of highly-engaged employees receive feedback at least once a week.

    Feedback and communication clearly matters, however, coaching must be about more than work issues, says McLeod. “Yes, connect with employees through work, but also connect with the facets that make them a human. Be generous about who you are as a person, and encourage others to do the same. When we build connection person to person we build trust. Conversations need to go beyond the work, sales forecasts and the widgets. Show you care about your people as human beings and not just a person that works for you,” he says.

    Regular conversations that include more than work issues allows you to get to know your employees better, learn about your leadership style and practice your conversational skills when stakes are low, adds McLeod. “When the stakes are higher, you’ll have more experience on how to connect and share with that person making it a more impactful coaching conversation,” he says.

  5. Start small
    Shifting to a coach approach doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Instead, start with small moments to try asking a question, then pause and listen, and see what happens. “Coaching doesn’t have to be a big, formal thing. Practice in short bursts. Where are the places that you can create more flexibility and empowerment for your people to own the work and the way it gets done? It’s about building micro habits that over time become stronger and reinforced in a different way,” says McLeod.

“When leaders hire the right people, coach and trust them, then see what they’re able to do, leaders ultimately find that it’s a lot less work for them,” says McLeod. “This allows those leaders to focus on the critical things or prioritize what they are best at doing.”

When done effectively, coaching your employees drives greater engagement for your teams and creates capacity throughout you as an individual.

If you’re looking for a deep dive on everything you need to know around how to grow your business and lead with purpose, our ATB X Accelerator program might be just the place for you. Alternatively, feel free to reach out to one of our entrepreneur strategists to explore where you are with your business, where you want to be, and how to get there!

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