Coaching the people who are better than you are

Jane was a solid sales professional and leader, but as a coach she was failing her team.

During her ten years of experience as a sales manager, she had been regularly ranked within the top third of her company’s performance ranking system. She had routinely met or surpassed her sales goals, and she was well regarded among her subordinates and her peers.   As a strong sales leader, she was genuinely dedicated to coaching her team to higher performance, but she had two habits that held her back:

  1. When it came to coaching her two highest performers, she avoided it like the plague.  She felt that they were already far more intuitive and effective sellers than she, and she felt she had nothing to offer them.
  2. When coaching her core and low performers, she could not resist the temptation to jump directly to teaching one of her signature selling skills, once she sensed the faintest relevance to the sales reps’ selling challenges.

Jane had equated her value as a coach with her ability to impart some new skill or pearl of wisdom to help a sales rep elevate his game.  As the result of this misunderstanding of her role as coach, she was not able to effectively improve her team’s performance.

Her high performers did not seek her coaching because they (rightly) felt they were already more advanced sellers than Jane and they felt she had little to teach them.

And, her core performers often felt that she was getting too much into their business and offering skills that were admirable but irrelevant to what they felt they needed.

Both Jane and her sales reps were missing a chance to improve their overall sales performance because they did not understand that great coaching is not about teaching techniques or skills.  Tim Gallwey, author of “The Inner Game of Work”, says it this way: “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own potential.  It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

Virtually every top tier sports figure has a coach to help him improve.  About a third of all CEO’s of major corporations have coaches.   The coach’s value to both high and core performers is to help them “see their performance”.  Once they can get around their blind spots and see their performance clearly, most motivated learners intuitively know what to do to improve.  The coach’s role, then, is to be that “video camera” to reflect back thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that exist as barriers between the individual performer and the level of performance he is seeking.

Through advanced coaching training for sales leaders, Jane came to understand that the heart of her value to both high and core performers was first, her ability to help them clarify their own performance improvement goals; and secondly, her ability to help them accurately see the reality of their current mindsets and behaviors.

She found that, once armed with those insights, her team members were  able to see and articulate their own path to new and higher performing behaviors.  Her value moved away from her personal selling skills to her skillfulness as a coach.  Armed with that knowledge, she was able to engage performers at both levels with confidence, and make significant contributions to their respective levels of achievement.