How Close is Too Close?

Much of the work I do in the course of my coaching is…well, coaching the coaches.

Many business professionals assigned with the tasks of managing others and maximizing their productivity have a good handle on the nuts and bolts of the job, but frequently, the subtleties of coaching are harder to grasp.

And sometimes, those who are the most enthusiastic to take on this task end up leaning a little too strongly into it—taking coaching into the realm of micro-management.

It can be a hard distinction to make. Good coaching requires establishing goals for the “coachee,” and steady oversight by the coach. But it can be all too easy to cross that line from coaching into micro-managing—becoming far too involved in the activities of your protégé and playing too active a role in the duties he or she has been assigned.

Good coaches don’t run onto the field and help block punts or steal bases—they know those are the jobs of the players. You can use the “5 W’s” of journalism to help know where to draw that line, and stay on the sidelines where you belong…

Know WHAT to say. As a coach, your input needs to be timely and clear. But when you feel the urge to guide and suggest, look at the content of your message, and keep it “big picture.” Try to stay out the weeds and resist the temptation to provide correction and adjustment on common and minor activities.

This isn’t to say your student might not need or appreciate additional guidance on some of these things. But try and address them in a larger context, when you can talk about them in their relationship to his or her overall performance.

Know WHEN to say it. Good coaching requires a proactive approach to communication, and setting regular times for one-on-one meetings and chat sessions to review and improve performance. Being a constant presence in their office or on their phone throughout the workday is the very definition of micro-managing.

If someone is having trouble steering a car, pull over to the curb and address the issue in clear and specific language—don’t grab the wheel and constantly help them around every corner.

Know WHO is involved. Good coaching requires an understanding of the personality type of your protégé. Some prefer to work with minimal input, while others want—and sometimes, but not always, need—a lot of hand-holding.

Good coaches know who they’re coaching and how best to relate to the individual. What one person sees as micro-managing could fit as another’s definition of caring and helpful leadership. Knowing your team can help you navigate these waters. 

Know WHERE to say it. Micro-managing is frequently a pretty immediate phenomenon—it often takes place at the time and place of the activity in question. And as a result, the best intentions can be undercut by external factors, such as the presence of others.

Coaching rarely takes place in the middle of a play. You have a lot of good knowledge to impart, but do your best to keep it in the locker room before or after the game, where it can be effectively and productively taken in by the players on your team.

Know WHY you’re saying it. And this one is key—are you providing input to direct or guide the result of a common, everyday activity, just to make sure it “goes right”? Or have you found a teachable moment with long-term applications that will aid in the growth of your subject?

The “why” of your behavior could well define most affirmatively whether you are micro-managing or coaching.

And when packaged together with the rest of the “W’s,” it can help make the difference between a high-pressure, grinding office experience or an uplifting journey to improved professional performance.

So don’t micro-manage—coach!