Data on What Should You Be Coaching Your People About

This marks the final column, and to me, the most interesting data from our mini-research inquiry on managerial coaching. While the first two were about how frequently people would like to be coached, today’s data is about the what – On what do we like to be coached? Before we jump to the findings, however, a more important “survey” deserves mention.  If you are a manager, I’d recommend that you survey yourmanagees” about this very idea. In other words, ask the person or people you manage:   “What kind of coaching could I offer that would be most helpful to you?”

If you (also) have a manager, you might ask your manager: “Can I let you know the kind of coaching and support that would help me most?”  Hopefully, the answer to that inquiry will be: “Sure. That would be helpful.” One more essential point before the survey results.  Let’s be honest: sometimes the managed person has as much or more to coach in the manager as the other way around. For example, I had a chief of staff, Mary Zatina, who gave me far better coaching than I ever gave her.  And when I was a Wayne County director of youth services, I had a deputy, Ron Lockett, and I should have been a lot smarter than I was in seeking his feedback and input.  I’ve also had a boss or two whom I believe I could have really helped, had they been humble or curious enough to ask me for input.  Way too often status and hierarchy get in the way of good sense. We should listen “down” as much as “up.”

Back to the survey of 187 people from last month.  As I said, the results are fascinating.  Most people (and most who answered were professionals with some authority of their own) don’t want detailed technical coaching.  Nor do most want help managing their work, nor (this surprised me) thinking about their career advancement.  What over half do want are three things:

  • 64% said it was “extremely valuable” to get feedback about how they are being perceived
  • 63% said it was “extremely valuable” to get coaching on how they present their ideas and themselves, and
  • 52% said it was “extremely valuable” to get help understanding the organizational culture

The Coaching people want from their managers I don’t ever remember being told as a manager that it was my job to do these things!  I guess I thought they mattered, since I asked about them in the survey. But the results give me a pretty clear sense that I have some different things to do in my inside-the-organization coaching.

What do you think about these findings? . . . as you strive to

Lead with your best self!


  • Really, by far the greatest request is to know more about how I look to others.
    Why do we want to know? Isn’t it also the obsession of political leaders who rate their success by poles. Don’t you lose your core ability to assess your own success – by how it felt and how it worked (how children do it). I see greater and greater looking outside ourselves to try to find out who we are. “Turning and turning in a widening gyre, The falcon cannot see the falconer. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold” WB Yeats.
    Is not the first requirement of leadership to be self-led? This is very different than looking around for approval from others.

  • I found this fascinating, Dan. Until now, I’ve been offering advice on time management/priority setting and career advancement, and your survey shows that these aren’t nearly as important as matters pertaining to the organizational environment and how the other people within it view the individual being coached. I guess I was offering what I thought was good for the person and what I felt I was good at, rather than what the person wanted. I have actually asked people how I can be helpful, and not a single person has said anything related to how they’re perceived. Do you think they’re reluctant to say this to a supervisor but comfortable about admitting it in a survey?

  • I absolutely agree with the results…but I might put “Understandign the orginizations culture” higher right now; our department has been moved to a new bureu where the culture is very differnet and significantly impacts policy decisions that address my day-to-day work. My supervisor does not have the same background as I do, and coaching on the technical aspects of my job would be inappropriate…I am the subject matter expert in that area. However she knows how my work is percieved by internal and external audiences and how well I present myself and my work in a way that I cannot know. I am going to forward this to her…and I am sure she will appreciate it.

  • I really like this. Dan said… “Way too often status and hierarchy get in the way of good sense. We should listen “down” as much as “up.” Yup. Picture a typical small hierarchy… a manager who has peers and a manager of her own. She has 6 direct reports, who have their peers but no direct reports. Now make each person a candle. The six can “warm” each other and themselves (through personal development) and they can warm the manager. That means the manager is nice and warm, if each report provides as little as 10%. The candle is a metaphor for coaching effectiveness… and motivation. The manager is getting ideas and offers to help from her reports and her peers… etc. The percentages of self, peer and up and down coaching in this example are not as important as the way of thinking. The hierarchy IS useful… as a way of attacking an issue. If the issue is context (strategy, policy) the further down you go the less knowledge. If the issue is content (what’s so, what’s working) knowledge drops off as you go up the hierarchy.

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