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“Renegade Rules” for Coaching Employees

A while back, I attended a seminar featuring author Heather Shumaker. She shared many of her practical and yet, counter-intuitive, ideas from her best-selling book It’s OK NOT to Share…and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids.

Since becoming a mother, I often find myself struck by the parallels I see between being a parent and being a leader, especially if the direct supervision/management of employees is part of the leader’s role.

Sometimes, in sharing that thought process, people get defensive, as if I’m suggesting employees are nothing but grown children.

And to that I say, “Aren’t they? At least kind-of?”

Children are people. Employees are people.

Parents are responsible for developing children into productive, contributing adults. Supervisors are responsible for developing employees into productive, contributing team members.

So no, the job of being a parent and being a boss aren’t exactly the same, but there certainly is overlap. And Heather Shumaker’s book outlined a few rules that I believe will fit beautifully into the construct of coaching employees, even if she originally wrote them with the intent to rear children. (And if you’re a parent, I highly recommend getting her book to help you in your quest to raise the most well-adjusted, brilliant offspring you could ever hope to raise…)

Without further ado, here are three Renegade Rules for Coaching Employees…

Renegade Rule #1: Stop saying “Good job!”

Reason: Inner satisfaction matters more than outside approval.

Most people in leadership have heard this before and I know in our Dale Carnegie sessions, we certainly speak to the idea of providing specific and meaningful feedback to employees.

Heather’s approach was even a bit more nuanced than that.

She believes that children need acknowledgement rather than outright praise.

She suggested as parents, we should focus on observations. It isn’t important for us to judge the merit of what we see. It’s more helpful to building the inner motivation of our children by specifically stating what we observe instead.

In her book, Heather used the example of watching a child climb monkey bars. One course of action is to watch them go along until they fall, then quickly follow up with, “Good job, honey! You did great!” (Which, if I’m honest, totally 100% sounds like me.)

She suggests instead saying something like, “Wow. You made it all the way to the middle by yourself!”

By focusing on what we’re observing, we’re allowing our children to come to their own conclusions about their performance, instead of putting our biased judgment on the behavior.

How does this apply to working with adults?

I see it as no different. People crave acknowledgement. We all want to be noticed for the efforts we’re putting forth.

Say an employee pushed hard to meet a deadline. It would feel natural to say, “Wow! Good job! You met the deadline!”

How much more meaningful would it be to acknowledge the specific effort you observed by saying, “Wow! You really pulled people together as a team to get this done in time!”

The focus of the feedback is on the specific behavior of pulling people together, or engaging in teamwork. No need for any of the typical “merit” words, such as “great”, “awesome”, or “super”.

If we acknowledge their specific effort, employees will quickly learn what behaviors garner acknowledgment and will adjust accordingly. Plus, we’ll be spared the behind-the-back eye-rolling that’s sure to ensue if we become known for saying “Good job!” all the time.

Renegade Rule #1: Stop saying “Good job!”

Renegade Rule #2: Be “ask-able”.

Reason: We won’t know to address what they won’t ask us about and for sure, if people want to know something, they will ask someone. The goal is to make us that someone.

Heather outlines this idea of being ask-able as it relates to fielding those early on questions about sex-ed with our kids.

I now have a seven-year old and recently he’s been asking about the difference between what he and his brother have for body parts and what his sister has.

Initially, my heart caught in my throat and my stomach lurched because I thought He can’t be old enough to learn the words for these things! What if he says them in public? Or at school?

After the crazy reel ran its course, I reminded myself that if kids are asking, they’re probably old enough to know. And if I tell them the truth now, they will trust that I’ll tell them the truth in the future. I want my kids to ask me questions.

Even if the conversation that ensues is difficult or is rife with a ton of follow up questions (Which again, if I’m being honest, it totally, 100% is.) I want them to ask.

As the coach of people in the workplace, we should strive to be just as “ask-able”. If people are concerned about asking questions for fear of appearing not smart enough or irritating the boss, they become less trusting.

Trust is the lifeblood of culture in an organization.

There also is a tip for employees here as well. If you don’t understand something, ask. Kids have absolutely no filter when it comes to asking questions. My son will keep on repeating that he doesn’t understand what I’m saying if he doesn’t. He continually forces me to clarify, which helps him learn.

When leaders are open to being asked questions and open to feedback if their communication isn’t clear, employees will naturally trust and respect us more.

Renegade Rule #2: Be “ask-able”.

Renegade Rule #3: Pictures don’t have to be pretty.

Reason: Focus on the process, not the end result.

In Heather’s book, she discusses the idea of free-form art. She’s basically against the use of models, whereby an adult says something like, “Today, we’re going to make a clown. Each of you will get…for materials.”

She believes art should be free, allowing children to explore materials and mediums, creating whatever ideas they have in their minds.

Being free with their art allows kids to take risks and try new things and allows them take ownership over the process of what they’ve completed, rather than feeling like they were told what to do in each step.

In the workplace, this isn’t about art.

It’s about delegation.

When people feel a sense of ownership over a task or a process, they tend to be more engaged and productive.

As a leader, when there’s a task that needs to be handed off, it can be so easy to share the entire process as it’s always been done and ask them to follow it to a T. Sometimes, this is actually necessary, but most often, employees would thrive if given a chance to get the task done, allowing for their own path and process.

Initially, the process may not be “pretty”, at least from where you sit as a manager, but if the task gets accomplished and the employee found their own way through it, that’s a win.

The trust built from that experience opens up their creativity and innovation. It’s possible the employee will come up with a better way, even.

We just have to trust them enough to let them run with it.

Renegade Rule #3: Pictures don’t have to be pretty.

If you’re a parent, pick up the book It’s OK Not to Share…and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids.

If you’re an employer, really think about how you treat your team and question whether you have the kind of environment where communication is open, honest and encourages risk-taking.

People need the freedom to express their individuality and whether we’re raising them as children, or developing them as employees, we can and should do all we can to encourage that.

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