Powerful Tips For Becoming A Better Coach

While you may not have “coach” in your title, it is increasingly becoming part of every manager’s job description and the criteria used to evaluate employee performance. That means how well you coach your direct reports will likely factor into the future of your careers just as it does for other leaders who happen to have coach in their job title. Now is a great time to brush up on your coaching skills; here are 10 from BFKCoaching’s Barbara Kurka.

This time of year when you hear people talk about coaching, it’s easy to assume that they are talking about professional football. And it’s no wonder, research conducted by ESPN found an average of one in every five head-coaches has been replaced at the end of each NFL season since 1978, which means the fates and fortunes of NFL coaches is topping headlines in at least half-a-dozen TV markets right now.

The topic of coaching should also be closer to home as we start a new year. While you may not have “coach” in your title, it is increasingly becoming part of every manager’s job description and the criteria used to evaluate employee performance. That means how well you coach your direct reports will likely factor into the future of your careers just as it does for other leaders who happen to have coach in their job title.

How important will coaching skills be to job security and success? According to one study, companies will experience a 40% to 50% attrition of their senior executive teams over the next five years. Given the growing focus on talent management, which encompasses all of the talented employees who factor into the success of media businesses and not just our on-air talent, the best prospects for those senior leadership positions are the individuals who have demonstrated superior coaching skills.

The role of manager as coach is not only more important these days, it is also more difficult. Television station groups, along with most other media organizations, are undergoing significant organizational changes as a result of merger and acquisition activity. These reorganizations often result in departments that bring together direct reports from two or more companies who are accustomed to different corporate cultures and managements styles.

As a result, the chances are very good that you are beginning 2015 with direct reports who are new to your team. Even if you don’t have new direct reports, it’s likely that you are in the first month of new fiscal year and have financial goals that we be used to evaluate your performance in the coming year. As I always have told my staff, if I could achieve the goals alone, I wouldn’t need you. The same has got to be true for you too.

With that in mind, this is a great time to brush up on your coaching skills. MFM asked executive and managerial coach and HR consultant Barbara Kurka, principal of BFKCoaching, to share her insights and advice on the topic for a column appearing in the current issue of TFMThe Financial Manager magazine. You can access a copy on our website. Following is a sampling of the tips she shared with our members:


  • Trust — Coaching is a relationship built on trust. If you don’t trust your employee or vice versa, coaching is impossible. If you work in a low-trust environment, coaching is also impossible. In both cases, you will end up in an adversarial situation, one that truly is a confrontation.
  • Communicate — Coaching is also a dialogue, a conversation about discovery, awareness and choice. It is designed to provide the guidance, support and encouragement that can bring out the best someone has to offer.
  • Empower — The coach enables individuals to solve problems independently, take appropriate risks, make decisions and tackle new challenges. If you allow this perspective to take root it will open up an entirely new realm of possibility when working with your staff. It allows everyone to be more comfortable with coaching and to view it positively.
  • Prioritize — Use your coaching time where you will see the greatest results. One key group is your high potentials, your best performers in their current role. Talk with these people about how to reach their career goals as well as how to become even better performers in their present positions. Newly promoted members of your team also deserve your help in learning how to succeed in their new roles.
  • Lead — In addition to becoming a better leader by honing your coaching skills, help your high potentials to develop their leadership skills. Coach for leadership, improved communications, planning and executing plans, improved quality of work, and skills development (business skills rather than technical skills).
  • Engage — There are two things that employees want more than anything else: they want to be seen and they want to be heard. Yes, they want money, promotions, time off, and benefits, but these all boil down to being seen and being heard. Think about a time when you felt like your words and actions really mattered and transfer this to your employees.
  • Probe — Curiosity is another key quality coaches need to develop and demonstrate. It is a state of mind that is open and inviting and is reflected in powerful questions that are succinct and open-ended using the same “why,” “what” and “how”’ questions reporters use to get behind a story.
  • Listen — You have to be listening for the answers to these questions to gain new insights and move the other person forward. This means closing the door and not allowing any distractions to become more important than the person in front of you. Really listening requires taking in what is being said rather than thinking about how you will respond.
  • Learn — Kurka says: “Go into a coaching meeting to learn, not to put forward your point of view. Set aside your agenda and your company’s agenda; coaching belongs to the employee. Now is not the time to judge. Give yourself the opportunity to hear something unexpected.”
  • Practice — Like anything else, you will become a better coach by developing these skills. Many of the managers that Kurka has worked with initially tell her they find coaching is a challenge. The tips she provides overcome many of the common obstacles, such as not knowing what to say; being concerned about the reactions, or not liking confrontation.

In our TFM article, Kurka goes on to say that some of the managers she has spoken with complain that coaching can time-consuming and their good performers just need a pat on the back. This can be the mindset that is likely to send your career down the path of Marc Trestman, Mike Smith, Rex Ryan or Jim Harbaugh, all of whom lost their NFL coaching positions at the end of December. While your time may be at a premium, investing some of it in coaching high performers will lead to better financial results for your company and improve your odds of advancing.

Talent management is a hot topic these days. In a recent CFO Magazine article, experts at Bain Capital cite effective talent management as one of the top four criteria for a successful spin-off of a company.

Given this, it’s no surprise that MFM’s CFO Summit co-chairs — David Amy, EVP-COO of Sinclair Broadcast Group, and Marc Manahan, SVP-CFO of Univision Local Media —have identified talent management as one of the key topics for this year’s event.

Scheduled for Feb. 26-27 in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., this forum for senior financial executives in media companies will include a presentation on “The Heart of Innovation — Building High Performing Teams” by Sarah Levitt, one of the financial world’s most sought after executive coaches. More information about the 2015 CFO Summit may be found on MFM’s website.

With so much of 2015 still ahead of us, now is the time to plan how and when you will apply these coaching tips from Barbara Kurka and become a better talent manager. There may be many uncertainties about what you’ll encounter in the year ahead, but the relationship between effecting coaching and outcomes isn’t one of them. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Chicago Bears, the Atlanta Falcons, the New York Jets or the San Francisco 49ers, to name a few.

Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary. She can be reached at Her column appears in TVNewsCheck every other week. You can read her earlier columns here.

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