March 2 2008: 8:15 AM EST
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8 ways to be a better boss

Companies increasingly want managers to act more like coaches. Here's a short course in helping your team shine.

By Anne Fisher, Fortune senior writer

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(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: I just got a new job as district manager for a highly skilled, talented, and motivated team of technical salespeople. The guy who had this job before me was moved to another part of the company. Yesterday, an executive two levels above me told me in confidence that the reason "he didn't work out" in the job was that he had an autocratic, bossy, my-way-or-the-highway management style and "what we need to run this team is really more of a coach." I want to succeed at this and I think I can, but I don't really know anything about coaching. Do you have any advice? -Win One for the Gipper

Dear Gipper: The fact that you know what you don't know is already a good sign - clearly, you're no autocrat. And take heart, you're not alone: Although so-called knowledge workers do require more of a coaching or mentoring management style to do their best work, relatively few bosses know how to provide it, says Lois Frankel, Ph.D., head of Pasadena, Calif.-based Corporate Coaching International (

"The coaching team at CCI remains gainfully employed because supervisors and managers don't take the time, don't know how, or don't want to learn how to coach," says Frankel, the author of several best-selling books, including Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office ($19.95, Business Plus), who has taught coaching skills to managers at Amgen (AMGN, Fortune 500), General Electric (GE, Fortune 500), Ernst & Young, Procter & Gamble (PG, Fortune 500), Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500), Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500), Walt Disney (DIS, Fortune 500), and many others.

Great coaching boils down to 8 basic tips, she says. Here they are:

1. It's all in the relationship. "You can't coach if you haven't taken the time to build a strong relationship with your team," says Frankel. So take some time every day to get to know your team members - their likes and dislikes on the job, what they find frustrating and rewarding, their interests outside of work - and let them get to know you. "Trust me, the time you spend will pay dividends," Frankel says.

2. Always follow the 7:1 rule. "You must give seven pieces of positive feedback for every one piece of developmental feedback if you don't want to be perceived as overly critical," Frankel says. "Catch people in the act of doing things right and reinforce it with praise" - even if they're just doing the job they get paid for.

3. Be clear about your expectations. When you assign projects, discuss timelines, outcomes, and how success will be measured. Says Frankel, "Don't expect your team to be mind-readers."

4. Speak up when you see behavior that can be improved. Frankel notes that major league sports coaches don't wait until the end of the season or even the end of the game to coach their players. "They coach after plays and innings," she says. "If you offer guidance regularly and consistently, those dreaded performance reviews become pro forma, because you've already done the real work of developing employees throughout the year."

5. Coach people onto the playing field. "The workplace is a playing field with rules, boundaries, and strategies. Your job is to make sure players are on the field rather than out of bounds," Frankel says.

Let's say one of your salespeople is spending lots of time doing technical troubleshooting for clients, but isn't closing many sales as a result. You can remind him or her that, although the problem-solving side of things is essential, the ultimate goal here is to sell product, and suggest some techniques for getting to "yes" - or encourage him or her to tag along with a more proficient teammate to watch how it's done.

The point is "to focus on helping each person to succeed," Frankel says.

6. Focus on soft skills as well as hard skills. We've all stood by and cringed at one time or another, while a technically brilliant colleague put his or her foot in it politically. To be a good coach, you have to address that.

"Many times managers are hesitant to coach someone who is being too abrasive, too passive, not a problem-solver, or what have you, because they feel it's not tangible enough to talk about," Frankel observes. "But workplace success is contingent upon so much more than just doing the job."

Your role as a coach is to help people develop all the skills they need, not just (perhaps not even mainly) the technical ones.

7. Be a servant leader. The late management and business-ethics guru Robert Greenleaf coined the term "servant leadership," Frankel notes, "to describe the way in which leaders - and coaches - must serve their followers so the followers can be their most effective. If your team isn't serving you as well as you might like, the question to ask yourself is, 'How well am I serving them?' "

8. Prepare for each coaching session. "When it comes to coaching, winging it won't work," Frankel says. Instead, think about what you're going to say before you say it. If you need to criticize, she suggests, "try using the language 'where you seem to be getting stuck, and what you could do differently.' Again, it's not about judging the person, it's about getting them onto the playing field" - and helping them to do their best work.

Readers, is your boss a good coach? Are you? What coaching tips and techniques work for you? Post your thoughts on the Ask Annie blog.

Have you lost your job, your business or your home? Are you raiding retirement accounts to pay the bills? We want to hear from you. Tell us how you're being affected by the weakening economy and you could be profiled in an upcoming story. Send e-mails to realstories@cnnmoney.comTo top of page

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