Coaching New Leaders Part 3: Listen To Learn

Jerry Murphy is guest blogger of a series of six posts focused on coaching new leaders. The series will run consecutively.
Read about Jerry below.

One of a manager’s most challenging and rewarding situations is working with someone who is becoming a manager herself—either a first-time manager or taking on a new leadership position.

In this series of posts, I identify opportunities for you to use a coaching orientation to help you facilitate this transition for any of your people. This will help you to frame powerful questions, calibrating your “listening radar” for common issues, and offer appropriate suggestions for their consideration.

The clock is ticking for the new manager you are coaching. She has taken charge of her team and continues to work out and up in the organization to strengthen her network. She needs to deepen her understanding of the organization and how her team drives value.

Here are some more themes to listen for (and maybe ideas to suggest) as you’re coaching your transitioning leader:

How does her team create value?

  • Where is her team in the ecosystem of the organization? What does her team tell her they see is their key contribution? Does she hear clarity or confusion? Can they articulate how they drive value in the organization? Encourage her to listen for the bright spots, the enthusiasm, and engagement. If there is no clear understanding for how what they do fits into the larger organization, ask her how she recognizes this confusion. Ask what can she do to clarify roles and impact. How much autonomy do she and her team really have? How can she improve this? Has she heard or seen anything in her team that can have impact?
  • You might suggest that she share her stakeholder map with her team and elicit their responses to her picture of the organization and their place in it. Encourage her to listen for themes and shared perceptions.

What are the early milestones for her and her team?

  • How are she and her team being measured? What must she and her team accomplish and by when? How clear are her direct reports on these questions? Encourage her to listen for energy—or the lack of it. Ask her what she has learned by listening for different perspectives on the planning.
  • Must they constantly put out fires or deliver results according to a plan? Where is the competence level of her team? Are they working smart—or creating more heat than light? How will she adjust her priorities to adapt to the reality of leading her new team? If people are silent in response to any of these queries, ask her how she can use that silence? Can she give people more time to think or just room for someone to step up and go on record with any dissatisfaction.
  • By now your coachee has had opportunities to deepen her network and her knowledge of her stakeholders. Encourage her to keep updating her stakeholder map and to carefully listen to how, as well as what, people say and what they don’t say.

What insights have you gained by sharpening your listening skills? (Thanks for sharing your experience in the comments below.)

If you found this post helpful, check out “About the Book” on this blog, and order yourself a copy of “What could happen if you do nothing?” A manager’s handbook for coaching conversations.

Jerry Murphy is president of Giraffe LLC, a New York-based consulting practice, and Giraffe Business Publishing, a multimedia publishing venture. He serves an international client group of business leaders, teams, and organizations in improving their performance through coaching, leadership development programs, and organizational learning and development.