“Beyond Delegating: The Project Manager as Coach”

by Bob McGannon, PMP

Most project managers who have received any training at all have undoubtedly heard about the need to “delegate.” As we cannot manage significant projects and perform all necessary tasks ourselves, delegation is an absolute must to expand one’s capabilities as a project manager. The smart project manager, however, goes beyond delegating; expanding the magnitude of projects they can handle. What is this magic ‘beyond delegating” trick? The highly valuable project manager knows how to coach. Coaching involves and instills powerful lessons, including:

Growth Can be Continuous

One’s past experiences provide a window to demonstrate current capacities. However, they also illuminate one’s capabilities. The watchful caring project manager looks for capabilities in project team members, versus just nurturing capacity to handle tasks. Doing this requires careful listening and observing, and discovering the ambitions of team members. This does take precious time, and the dividends of that time are significant.

Coached team members increase their capacities, expand their roles, and allow the project manager to delegate more extensive and critical responsibilities.

Appropriate Discomfort Promotes Growth

The astute project manager/coach will find the means to provide individuals with assignments that not only capitalize on their displayed capacities, but will call for expanded skills. With guidance and observation, a good PM/coach will make their colleague a bit nervous, but not so much so that they “collapse under the pressure.” How can you tell if you have reached the right level with a “stretch” assignment? Listen for the questions that your colleague asks. Too many detailed and tedious process questions (which indicates a lack of understanding) or too few questions (which indicate an inability to comprehend what is being asked of them) are indications that you might have pushed your colleague too far. Watch for reactions to your answers to solidify your understanding of how far you have “pushed” and if it is appropriate.

When you have stretched your colleague appropriately, you can accelerate their capacities and confidence in significant leaps. This, in turn, expands your abilities as a project manager by expanding the work capacities around you.

Coaching Promotes Loyalty and Trust

The project manager who takes the time to nurture others through coaching will continually have more and better quality people working on their teams. The coached project team member will foster loyalty and a desire to work on your teams. Over time, many of these team members can turn out to be your fellow project managers who will help you by backing you up if you are ill or go on vacation, can trade team members with you in times of need, or perform critical reviews of your projects to provide valuable “second opinions” that can help your project.

Quick Tips for the Aspiring PM/Coach

1) Listen beyond hearing. Good coaches are able to consistently put distractions aside and be “fully present” in conversations. Their ability to draw the “unsaid meaning” out of statements helps them understand their colleagues more completely, thus providing them with opportunities to foster growth, and appropriately challenge their colleagues to foster new capabilities.

2) Respond versus react. Good coaches understand the people they work with, including their aspirations and much of their emotional “makeup.” As a result, they can respond to the positive emotions of their team members (excitement, wonder, curiosity) with the assignments and communication they provide, versus react to any negative or unforeseen responses that could be received by less “emotionally intelligent” leaders.

Another powerful result from coaching is that it instills a level of trust that is rarely achieved otherwise. Project managers that coach have a tendency to receive “bad news” early in the game, without filtering or hesitation from team members. As a result, the project manager/coach has the opportunity to analyze and review problem situations more completely, because they have more time to respond thoughtfully. Thus, they are in a greater degree of control over their project environments; they respond versus react!

3) Ask versus tell. Experience teaches more completely and more permanently than telling. A conversation can’t provide direct experience, however there is a way to engage the brain and force it to visualize and consider alternatives. Telling typically creates a single scenario reaction. Questions, on the other hand – especially powerful questions – take the mind through a variety of situations and considerations. This is the closest we can come to creating experience through conversation. Good questions, combined with periods of silence that allow for the mind to consider alternatives are powerful motivators.

4) Use and promote the use of intuition. Intuition is the usual result of our past experience, and the application of emotions to a given situation. Conversations that involve sharing intuitions that may exist expand the breadth of trust and topics that are “ok” for discussion. When your intuition as a coach is accurate, the depth of connection becomes greater. When your intuition misses the mark, a discussion as to why you have that intuition and the signals you are receiving can expand self-awareness (in you and your colleague), which makes for a richer conversation, and ultimately a richer relationship!

5) Seek to understand your colleague’s personal values. Even in organizations that are notoriously one-dimensional, the people within that organization bring different experiences, a different upbringing, and, therefore, different values to the table. A simple discussion about what constitutes success in your colleague’s mind (not to mention your OWN mind) is a powerful way to form connections. These values discussions do not need to venture into religion or politics – simply engaging your colleague in work style preferences, the nature of the work they most like to produce, and how they wish to be lead are substantial and meaningful ways to connect with a person’s values.

The author wishes to recognize Dr. Raoul DeVilliers, retired from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. He is a teacher, a leader, a friend, and the best coach to ever enter my life. I will forever be grateful.

Bob McGannon is a Founder and Principal of MINDAVATION, a company providing project management training and consulting, leadership workshops and team building programs throughout North America, Europe and Australia. Bob can be reached at MINDAVATION via the web at WWW.MINDAVATION.COM or by calling 866-888-MIND (6463).

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