Coaching? Or Criticizing?

Coaching or Criticizing

A coaching leader engages, motivates, and develops co-workers, while helping their organization achieve its goals. As they challenge perspectives and give feedback, they’re also retaining great employees for the long term, and building a positive culture that values learning.

I’ve noticed, however, that some leaders struggle more than others when it comes to giving feedback.

Regardless of whether they’re trying to coach others – or simply can’t be bothered – these leaders only end up demotivating and discouraging their teammates.

In reality, they’re not coaching – they’re criticizing.

Coaching vs. Criticizing

Coaching is a fundamental leadership skill, but often, not a prerequisite for such roles. In fact, many brilliant managers and leaders I’ve met have reached their current positions simply by being experts at what they do. 

Consider the superb bank manager who is highly skilled at strategic investments, for example. Despite their prowess, she or he may have never before needed the skills to develop others.

So how do we know the difference between coaching and criticizing?

To sum it up:

  • Coaching involves delivering constructive feedback that turns negatives (or weaknesses) into development points. Coaching motivates, and it’s a two-way, interactive process between a coachee and their coach.
  • Criticism is very often limited to negative feedback. It’s often, tricky to translate into positive action, and as such can feel purely demoralizing.

Over time, coaching strengthens an organization’s collective skillset. It helps teams and companies realize their strategies in new and improved ways, while criticism only contributes to organizational toxicity. 

So how can we turn criticism into coaching?

3 Ways to Turn Criticism into Coaching

Just like all other skills, the ability to coach others is acquired. It is mastered with repeated practice, but starts with more self-aware leaders. 

If you’re wondering whether you’re criticizing or coaching, here are three important warning signs of the former:

1. You’ve Got No Goal

Whether you’re sitting for a formal performance review or a monthly check in, a coaching session always has a clear goal. 

Simply highlighting perceived shortcomings offers no clear vision, only a surefire way to demoralize. Frequently, criticism fails to distinguish between a person and their performance – lack of a goal often contributes to feelings of helplessness rather than empowerment. 

The Fix:

Great coaching leaders know how to motivate others by aligning individual goals with organizational strategy. They frame a coachee’s development goals within the ‘bigger picture,’ then agree to collaborate to accomplish it.

2. You’re Telling, Not Asking

Criticism is primarily about pointing out errors and flaws – sadly, it’s often one-sided. It is why effective ‘criticizers’ tend to give plenty of answers, while effective coaches give very few, a reflection of the fact that coaching is dyadic. 

If you are not asking questions as a leader, then, I’m afraid to say that you’re probably criticizing, 

The Fix:

Good coaches provoke self-reflection and invite fresh perspectives to open up possibilities. They ‘unpack’ negative feedback, giving more details and inviting self-discovery, so their coachees can find their own way forward, develop, learn, and grow.

3. That’s All You’ve Got

One of the most demoralizing things about criticism is its lack of focus. Isolated critiques, without rhyme or reason, can often feel overwhelming or even pointless without some structure.

The Fix:

Turn this into coaching by providing support and feedback along the way, and don’t forget the power of compliments at your regular check-ins. By offering specific, timely, and constructive feedback, a leader is much more able to motivate and engage others toward higher performance and personal achievement.

The Bigger Picture

Most organizational leaders dread performance reviews simply because they lack the confidence to try and coach their employees. But constructive feedback is critical to enhancing performance, growing collective competencies, and strategic success, and great coaching skills are incredibly versatile.

Being more aware of how coaching and criticism differ is the first step toward becoming a key developmental resource for others. And once you start really coaching others as a leader, you’re already building a more trusting, future-focused, high-performing organization.

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