Coaching Styles, Part 2 – The Visionary

I enjoy watching home improvement shows. In particular, I like the shows about landscaping. My favorites are those where the host and his/her team of experts descends on an unsuspecting homeowner and offer to remake their entire back yard. I wish that would happen to me.

Toward the beginning of the show, there’s always a point where the host reveals the master plan. They make a big deal out of unrolling an architectural drawing of their plan for the yard. This is always met with an air of excitement and anticipation by the homeowners. But if you watch carefully, you’ll see something interesting happen when they first see the drawing.

For just a second – before they remember that their reaction is being recorded for national television and they start jumping up and down – their eyes glaze over. They don’t get it. They lack the knowledge of a landscaper and can’t make the connection between the lines on the paper and the potential utopia in their back yard.

And so the host begins to describe it for them. He points out where the hot tub will go. He explains that the big cloud-like circle in the corner is a new tree. See this rectangle here? That’s a new grill for your outdoor kitchen over there.

As the host explains the plan, you sense a change. You can feel the confusion melt away and the excitement build as the picture crystalizes in the minds of the homeowners. Now that they can visualize the end result, they’re ready to get dirty.

To be an effective coach, you have to be like that host. You have to understand that not everyone sees things the way you do. You have to “connect the dots” so that the members of your team see how their individual contributions come together to create the larger picture. This is the job of The Visionary.

The role of the Visionary is often the most difficult. Many mid-level leaders don’t understand the big picture themselves and therefore have a hard time conveying it to their team. Others don’t see the importance of communicating a larger vision feeling it just distracts from the job at hand. And others simply avoid sharing too much information, preferring to keep employees in the dark for fear they will be perceived as unimportant once the masses know what’s going on.

But common sense (and a lot of research) indicates that employees who understand the big picture, and how their job contributes to it, are more engaged. Employees who see their individual role as important to the overall success of the organization are more likely to do their job well than those who feel their work has little meaning. Fundamental to the human condition is the need to feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. Knowing my work means something to someone else makes it mean something more to me.

The day I realized this, my approach to coaching changed. I started talking about the big picture and how our team factors into it. I told them how their individual jobs were critical in order for the organization to achieve success. And as we talked, I could see the change in their eyes. The fog lifted and a spark was lit. They began to make better decisions. They began to identify opportunities for improvement. Now that they see the big picture, they are on fire. And I don’t dare let that fire go out. So I spend more time talking with my team about our vision than anything else.

What vision do you need to share with your team? How do each of them factor into the big picture? How can you help paint the picture for them? Answer those questions and then let’s talk about my back yard.

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