Coaching success as a leader ultimately rests on answering one question: Did the person being coached reach the level of performance or behavior desired at the start of the coaching? Reaching the objective is one thing, yet the process of coaching is more nuanced than that. And there is often much time between the setting of the goal and the achievement of it.
There exists a question, often unexamined, but always felt in the day-to-day of working, leading and coaching. Your perspective on this question, as a coach, can make a big difference on your ultimate coaching success with your team members. The question is this:
Are we seeking progress or perfection?
Let’s examine the case for each and come to some conclusions about what will lead to the greatest coaching success.
The Case for Perfection
First, I realize that perfection is a very high bar. And while some may argue that is the goal, my point in making the case for “perfection” is suggesting that our focus as a coach should be solely on the desired outcome, performance, or behavior. The case for perfection starts and ends with this question: Is the person meeting the goals? If not, the coaching hasn’t yet been successful.
After all, we are coaching to reach that goal. So, until that goal is reached, there is work to do. The case for perfection is a snapshot, binary view of the world: either the person is meeting the expectations, or they are not.
It is hard to argue with this case. Except when taken to the extreme, it may have some consequences that aren’t intended.
The Case for Progress
Consider someone who at the start of coaching isn’t meeting a performance standard. At some time period in the future, there has been marked improvement, but they haven’t yet reached the performance standard. Assuming the performance standard isn’t related to something legal (“Congratulations, you aren’t breaking the law as often as you used to”) or a similar black and white standard, where should the coach focus their attention?
The case for progress centers on this question: Is the person getting closer to the performance standard in a meaningful way? The case for progress is a video of performance overtime: is the person making progress towards the standards that are in place?
This sounds like a good perspective, yet the person still isn’t doing the job they’ve been asked to do.
The answer isn’t perfection vs. progress, it is perfection and progress – the best coaches consider both. Yes, in some cases, as mentioned above, the standard should be the sole focus. If the standard is absolute and isn’t being met, the person might need to be relieved of this work without additional coaching. In far more cases though the standard is a relative one, and that is the situation I am addressing.
First, people must know what the performance standard is, and there must be a way to objectively measure it. Without these two factors it is impossible and completely unfair to hold anyone to the perfection standard. But if the standards are clear and objectively measured and someone isn’t achieving that standard then what?
Since this is the situation most all coaching happens in, the coach must be clear on their purpose.
My suggestion? Make sure that the performance standards are clear and measured, and people always know where they stand. Performance should also be tracked over time. If the trend is consistently in the right direction, this progress should be the focus of the coaching, using questions like:
- What is allowing for the progress?
- What else can you do to continue the progress?
- How can I (as your coach) help?
- What resources do you need to continue to improve?
None of these questions excuse the performance gap or lower the standard. Rather, these questions provide encouragement and a continual focus on reaching the standard as quickly as possible.
Having a perfection and progress approach allows you as a coach to have more patience without lowering your standards. When you approach your work as a coach with patient persistence you will likely gain greater results and respect from your team members at the same time. This approach will grant you greater coaching success in the short and long term.
If you would like to explore the mindset and skillset required to coach with greater confidence and results, join me for an upcoming Coaching with Confidence Workshop or contact us about bringing this learning experience into your organization.