Cultivating Your Team: Dig Deeper to Be a Better Coach
Overcome barriers to coaching and build the foundation for team success
By Mike Osler, PT, DPT
“What’s wrong with these people? Why don’t they get it?”
“I’ve told them so many times before. Why is it still not happening?”
“That’s not the way it was when I was younger. People don’t want to work hard anymore.”
“I’m not wasting any more time on him. He’s not going to change”
Do any of these lines sound familiar? How can private practice owners and leaders best respond? Should owners just be direct and prune the thorns off their teams? Should they tell people what to do? What if this person really doesn’t get it? Won’t they be wasting time, energy, and patience if the employee is likely to leave at some point anyway?
The goal of this article is to persuade private practice leaders to make the investment. Your team is worth it. Leverage coaching as a tool to develop your team. Channel your inner TV-show sensation Ted Lasso because this won’t be easy. In fact, as Coach Lasso said, “Taking on a new challenge is a lot like riding a horse, isn’t it? If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.”1
IT STARTS WITH LEADERS
The change starts with us as leaders. Change will not happen unless there is clarity in why the change matters and leaders believe the change is necessary.
Let’s debunk four commonly held beliefs that are barriers to good coaching:
1. “I KNOW WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE, AND I’M GOING TO TELL PEOPLE WHAT TO DO.”
Successful practice owners have plenty to share. With years of experience and lessons learned, I know what worked, so why not just tell people what to do? Let’s first define teaching, mentoring, and coaching for our purposes. Teaching is the passing of information. Mentoring is the sharing of experience. Both are good tools to develop a team. However, teaching and mentoring have the same limitation: the knowledge of the teacher and experience of the mentor. I am the ceiling to my team’s growth. This is why coaching is important. Coaching is a collaborative approach to determine the best possible plan to accomplish a goal. Think of coaching more as support and guidance, and less as directive instructions. Coaching leads to new ideas, better solutions, and is not limited by what worked for me as an owner.
2. “I DON’T WANT TO INVEST THIS MUCH TIME AND ENERGY INTO SOMEONE WHO MIGHT NOT GET IT.”
Yes, there are times when an employee just “doesn’t get it” or is not the right fit in a culture. In these situations, change is in the best interest of all parties. Failing to meet expectations and improve performance after given the necessary resources, time, and coaching may signal it is time to part ways.
Parting ways prematurely without slowing down to give an employee resources, time, and good coaching is laziness (not to mention expensive). However, a strong leader invests in her team and effectively coaches them through collaboration.
3. “I DON’T WANT TO INVEST THIS MUCH TIME AND ENERGY INTO SOMEONE WHO MIGHT LEAVE.”
Private practice leaders have a legitimate concern into today’s job market: What if I invest in a young therapist and they leave? Consider the alternative: What if I don’t invest in the same young therapist and they stay? Despite the upheaval of the job market in the past few years, people are still motivated by intangible factors such as mastery, purpose, and autonomy.2 Yes, pay and benefits matter. So does being part of a team, seeing a path for growth, and feeling valued.
That said, an employee can only “get it” when they understand where they are headed and see a path to get there. Good coaching empowers employees to think for themselves, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and take ownership of their own development. Telling or showing an employee what to do or exactly how to do it strips away autonomy and erodes mastery and purpose. This is why coaching matters.
4. “I LEAD BY EXAMPLE.”
Leading by example is the lowest form of leadership. By definition leadership requires influence with others. Simply working hard with the hope my team will follow me is insufficient and often leads to frustration. Of course, leading by example is necessary, but leading by example is the most rudimentary form of leading. Private practice leaders today simply can’t have all the right answers in a constantly changing environment. Teams who are coached well learn how to adapt through positive energy, innovative ideas, and commitment.3
With those barrier-building beliefs out of the way, let’s define coaching. Coaching is the process of collaborating with others to create clear goals, identify potential barriers to those goals, brainstorm possible solutions, and commit to the best next action step.
If we are going to coach our teams, let’s do it well. Cultivating a garden requires preparing the soil, planting seeds, and lots of effort. Cultivating an empowered team requires time and patience, but even more, coaching requires acting intentionally.
Here are a few keys to good coaching:
START BY ACCEPTING I AM NOT A GREAT COACH RIGHT NOW.
The Harvard Business Review published an article, “Most Managers Don’t Know How to Coach People. But They Can Learn.”4 The article is worth reading, but the punchline is the title. Most leaders overestimate their own ability to coach. Truly listening, staying curious, and not inserting my solution to your problem is hard. This is why every great coach has a coach. Regardless of experience and success, make the investment in personal growth as a leader. Your team and your organization will thank you.
SEEK TO UNDERSTAND, NOT TO BE UNDERSTOOD.
Making the shift to understand an employee’s needs, rather than just imposing your own perspective requires genuine curiosity. Coaches ask questions, but not all questions are good questions. Effective coaches ask curious questions to encourage employees to think and explore their own ideas. Coaches must make an intentional effort to remove bias and avoid assumptions. Good coaches avoid directive questions (yes/no/would you agree, etc.) because they limit the employee’s options and restrict autonomy. Take the advice of Ted Lasso once again during his infamous dart throwing scene: “Be curious, not judgmental.”1
USE A FRAMEWORK FOR COACHING.
Good coaching conversations follow a framework to ensure key elements are addressed and goals are met. A common framework is the GROW method — Goal, Reality, Options, Way forward (Figure 1). Frameworks provide structure allowing the conversation to unfold less like a rigid agenda and more like a dance. Coaching is not a script of specific questions. In fact, there is danger in relying on a list of questions because the element of curiosity is removed.
If coaching sounds like a challenge (and it is!), get help and start in safe environments. Don’t use the GROW method for the first time in a high stakes conversation in a tenuous relationship with a key teammate. Hone coaching skills in safe settings. Friends, family, and less tense situations are great environments to practice. Start in writing — brainstorm a list of potential questions that may come up and weed out the biased, directive, and leading questions. Even if the list of questions is not in hand during the conversations, having paused to prepare will lead to better coaching when it matters most.
IT’S USUALLY NOT THE PLAN, IT’S THE EXECUTION.
Coaching is not an ambiguous discussion about possibilities and dreams. Good coaching involves tangible action steps and timelines. Create clarity around who is going to do what and when it is likely to be done. There are a plethora of execution systems making millions of dollars in the business world. Most share a common thread: some version of creating accountability around taking weekly action on the most important priority. That doesn’t sound like a million-dollar idea, but it might be worth a million dollars for those who can execute their plans. So don’t just to help employees identify barriers and solutions — help them execute their plans effectively and grow into the leaders they want to be.
BE DIRECT AND CLEAR
For anyone who still wants to be direct with employees, there is a time to be direct. Be direct and clear when setting the standards for what the practice is about and what drives success. Clarify and over-communicate company mission, values, key performance indicators, and why those KPIs matter. Once the standards are established and understood, an effective coach helps others live into those goals.
CEO and leadership coach Peter Bregman recently said, “Telling people they are missing the mark is not the same as helping them hit the mark.”5 Coaching should be focused on the process of improvement, not just results. Help employees identify (and act!) on what needs to be done to make the goal a reality. If a well-laid plan and process is in place, the results will eventually follow.
So where does your team want to go? Grow into a clinic director? Earn bonus in the next quarter? Become a mentor for new hires? Become a premiere pelvic floor therapist in the community? Help more patients complete their plans of care? Collaborate with a local surgeon on post-op care pathways? Each of these situations creates an opportunity for coaching. And with each opportunity for coaching comes an opportunity to not only grow your team into hungry, productive, engaged, happy, and committed long term teammates, but also build a thriving organization.
1Sudeikis J. (Executive Producer). (2020-present). Ted Lasso [TV Series].
2Pink D. Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Riverhead Books; 2012.
3Ibarra H, Scoula A. The leader as coach. HBR. Published November 2019. https://hbr.org/2019/11/the-leader-as-coach
4Milner J, Milner T. (2018). Most Managers Don’t Know How to Coach People. But They Can Learn. HBR. Published August 2018. https://hbr.org/2018/08/most-managers-dont-know-how-to-coach-people-but-they-can-learn
5Bregman P. Feedback Isn’t Enough to Help Your Employees Grow. Published December 2021. https://hbr.org/2021/12/feedback-isnt-enough-to-help-your-employees-grow
6Maxwell J. (2023). The Maxwell Method of Coaching. [training manual]
Mike Osler, PT, DPT, is a Certified Professional Coach through the Maxwell Leadership Team and serves as the Director of Business Coaching at 8150 Advisors. Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.