The headline of an October 16, 2023 article in Fortune magazine says, “Nearly all bosses are accidental with no formal training, and research shows it’s leading 1 in 3 workers to quit.”

The article goes on to say that research has shown that nearly all of those promoted in managerial positions today are “all title and no training.“  This reminds me of something I read many years ago, which likened this situation to the airline passenger with the most frequent flyer miles getting promoted to pilot! The point is this:  The company’s most valuable assets (people) are often put in the hands of inexperienced individuals who are learning on the job, frequently with disastrous results.  While initially the new manager’s intentions may be good, their own fears, doubts, and lack of training, combined with those of the employee can create a volatile situation.  Perhaps the toughest lesson for a new manager to learn is that ultimately, he or she will not be graded on what they do, but rather they will be graded on what the people under them do. For this reason, we at Paragon have always encouraged our clients to think like coaches instead of managers.

What’s the difference?  It’s a very subtle mindset, but it’s one that employees usually recognize quite quickly.  A manager is someone who you try to look good for, never allowing your bad side to show, always living in fear that somebody will discover that you’re not as good as they expected.  This is the mindset that many, if not most, employees live in today.  On the other hand, a coach is someone who you seek out when you want to improve.  You ask the coach for help with your backswing, how to improve your footwork, or to solve other issues such as losing weight or getting healthy.  You go to a coach to help you succeed and get better.  The stark reality is this:  Virtually every endeavor worth pursuing has a coach.  We are obviously familiar with them in the sports world, but they exist in other areas of our life as well.  Debate teams have coaches, horseback riders have coaches, even chess players have coaches!  The key to the relationship is the employee recognizing that the “coach” really does care about them as individuals and sincerely wants to help them succeed.  Conveying this message to some employees can be a challenge but is critical in achieving success in the relationship.

I know what you’re thinking.  Some employees are much tougher than others and some I can reach and some I can’t, and that’s just the way it is.  I would challenge that line of thinking by saying that coaches need to adjust their message to the employee they’re trying to reach.  First of all, accept the premise that not all employees can or should be treated equally. I realize that will set off a lot of alarm bells with HR managers, but here’s my point:  All employees are not equal.  Some may require more training than others.  Some may have greater strengths than others.  People are not homogenous sacks of potatoes coming off an assembly line in 10-pound bags.  Each employee is unique with their own set of strengths and weaknesses, along with their differing fears and phobias.  Your challenge, as their coach, is to adjust your message to reach those individuals when necessary in order to get them to perform at their highest level.  Always remember that you should treat them fairly instead of trying to treat them equally, which clearly, they are not.  Recognizing this early will make the job easier.

I know there are probably some very successful managers out there who have never varied their message and who have treated everyone the same.  And yet somehow, they have found a way to be successful.  I would argue that, despite their success, my bet is they could have been just as successful, if not more, by tailoring their coaching style and message to each individual.  Is it more work for the coach?  Yes, but the results are well worth it!

If you’ve been in the radio business long enough, maybe you can remember a mentor that you had back in the day that made a major impact on your life and career.  If you have, this concept will not seem as foreign to those who have never had this type of guidance.  My best advice is it’s not too late to make an impact now!  Think like a coach, and not like a manager, and watch the productivity level of your employees soar!

Learn more about John Stevens.