Managing Professional Performance Requires Leadership

Leading and managing are two different disciplines, which share some theories and practices with some important differences.

When it comes to processes, managers monitor for variance, look for reasons for variances and then attempt to correct those variances within the boundaries of the system within which they work. Leaders challenge current processes, redesign processes, and create new ones. Managers keep the status quo functioning as best it can. Leaders change the status quo. When it comes to people, managers perform essentially the same functions as above with some important modifications, which require leadership skills.

First, people require clear expectations followed by coaching and if need be training. They need to be told when they are doing something right so they keep doing it and when they are doing something not quite right so they can correct.  The first time they are told to adjust its done in a supportive manner where the manager assumes positive intent, meaning they assume there may be gaps in knowledge and/or inadequate skills that need to be filled, and most importantly they assume the person wants to excel in their performance.

The second time under performance is discussed the approach is still supportive but includes a more inquisitive or Socratic approach, meaning the manager probes with non-judgmental questions what barriers might exist to better performance. Two-way communication is established. The coaching becomes more specific to the individual getting at those root causes for the under performance that are unique to that individual and situation.

The third time is when formal action plans are required.  Good managers are good at anything that’s formal, so they excel at the beginning (although handing someone a job description doesn’t count) and at the end of the process. Good managers, who are also good leaders, are also good at the coaching part. Coaching implies that the manager’s number one goal is to help the person perform better and have more pride in their work. Good coaches are servant-leaders.

Second, people respond best when there is respect, trust and collegiality in the workplace, in other words the stronger the culture the more likely people are to perform well. Managers need to nurture strong cultures. This takes leadership.  Culture aren’t necessarily managed, they are nurtured, renewed, developed, given identity, and modeled.  In other words, cultures are led, not managed.

There are some coaching leadership principles that are worth mentioning. First, feedback whether it be positive or negative, needs to be as immediate as possible. This isn’t because it sticks better, although it might, and it isn’t because details are needed to provide good feedback, although that might help, it’s because the sooner the person knows the quicker they can start to correct before it becomes habit or before so much damage is done that they can’t recover.  Second, coaching needs to include explanations, encouragement and empowerment. Third, among professionals (e.g. physicians) coaching is more an act of persuasion and influence. Its about being non-judgmental, and establishing mutual respect and purpose before having the conversation.  It’s about humility and dedication to the truth, and its about playing the role of servant leader.