Using A Million-Dollar Mistake To Build Trust

I often get asked by leaders who want to coach their staff: “How do I build trust with those I work with, so they will raise the real issues they face?”

My response is that you build trust step by step, with every conversation you have.

If someone makes an error or opens themselves up to you and is vulnerable to you, and then you slap them around metaphorically, then you’re putting up a big neon sign in the air: don’t be  vulnerable with me.

A much better approach is to thank them for raising that issue and then add something encouraging. You have lots of options, including:

  • It is really good that you’ve raised that issue;
  • Let’s work on it together;
  • What do you think needs to happen;
  • What do you think the best solution is;
  • That’s sounds interesting;
  • Have you considered …

What if someone makes a million-dollar mistake? I remember when I was leading a group that had significant operational and service delivery responsibilities. A staff member came to see me and said that he thought he may have made an error in programming that resulted in over-payments. He was very anxious and upset. I thanked him for letting me know and asked him to walk me through what he had done and why he thought he may have made an error.

As we talked and worked together he calmed down. It turned out that he had indeed made a mistake. Hundreds of organisations had been over-paid and the mistake involved many millions of dollars. His guilt and shame went up. I used a gentle voice tone and told him that we would work it through together.

We immediately developed a plan for how to tackle the problem. We then met with the Deputy CEO to give a heads up and discuss our proposed solution. She was very angry, which I thought was both understandable and unhelpful, and I spent time in the meeting calming the dynamic. Our solution was accepted and was implemented at once. When the initial flurry of activity was complete I supported him through a debrief about how the problem had happened, so we could avoid it happening again.

To build trust with people, you need to be trustworthy. If they come and see you to talk about an issue, be accessible. If a direct report can’t get time with you for a fortnight at a time, then your diary is too full.

Once you’re together, it needs to be a good conversation where you give the person your full attention. You share the airtime (who speaks), giving most of the time to them, so that they feel fully heard. Solutions proposed should predominately come from them rather than you – encourage their ideas to show that you trust and respect them. And obviously, there should be no criticisms about your people behind their backs – that just crushes trust and respect.

So, its good news. You build trust by being trustworthy, and the person who has maximum impact on building that trust is you, by how you behave and engage.

I was filling in for the operational and service delivery role while it was permanently filled. When I left all my people were in front of me, some with tears in their eyes – he was one of them. They told me that they had never experienced so much coaching and support – that it had been wonderful. He told me that he had learned an enormous amount and had decided to shift his career based on the opportunities I had given him. It had been a powerful and positive experience for him.

Most people need time to build trust; not many people give you absolute trust straight away. They are learning what you are like as a person and what you are like to talk with, every day.

Trust is built in layers. It’s like what Stephen Covey says, “You put credits in the bank.” So, every time somebody comes to you, raises an issue and it’s a good conversation, you have put credit in the bank – and you are building your trust account.

Tackling Myths About Workplace Coaching

Let’s talk about 7 common myths about workplace coaching that are worth debunking.

Myth #1: you can teach people how to coach in half a day

Some people claim that you can teach people how to coach in half a day. However, it depends what you want to be able to do. If you want to be able to help people in a way that’s elegant, subtle and be confident that you can handle challenges that may emerge in a coaching conversation, you’ll need more than half a day in order to be truly excellent.

The truth is that people need a whole set of skills in order to coach well. For example, you need to know different ways to build rapport, which is an essential building block in a great conversation. You need to know how to ask questions which get to the heart of an issue so that, if you are leading a conversation and the issue being raised isn’t the real issue that needs to be resolved, then you have the questioning skills to dive deeper.

You need to know how to adapt your approach to people whose pattern of interacting with the world might be quite different from your own, so that you can coach in the workplace both highly confidently and highly competently.

Myth #2: you don’t need to know about workplace issues to coach

Most coaching programs just deal with conversations, without giving participants specific help on how to deal with workplace challenges and issues. What do I mean?

I mean how to help someone who is overwhelmed and feels as though they can’t cope with their current workload.

I mean how to deal with under-performance in a way that is both supportive and fully effective.

I mean how to deal with bullying behaviour and harassment in the workplace, so that people who are targeted feel believed and supported, and people engaging in inappropriate behaviour stop immediately.

All of these areas are potential mine fields for workplace leaders and managers. If the conversations are not conducted well there is a great risk of break down in relationships and a collapse into conflict.

Our view is that leaving leaders floundering in relation to workplace issues is an unacceptable risk. Leaders need to know exactly what to do in those tricky situations and exactly what to avoid.

Myth #3: leaders already coach

Some leaders say: “I already know how to coach”.

Many leaders claim they know how to coach, but as they’ve experienced coach training they’ve come to realise that what they’ve been doing in the past is giving advice. That’s quite different from coaching, which is using a rapport and questioning model to focus on the person with the issue. There’s quite a difference in the way time is shared between a coach and the person receiving support, than the normal sort of conversations that people experience in the workplace. It’s quite a shift from what people are doing now.

There are particular rhythms in coaching conversations, and ways of taking a conversation forward, where in an empowering way you help the person take full responsibility for what’s happening, and build their confidence and capacity. But honestly, you don’t want this taking over your world either.

So, there’s a real art form in how to conduct a great coaching conversation in a short period of time, without metaphorically looking at your watch. And leaders need to know how to do that.

Myth #4: we can’t afford two days away from work for comprehensive coach training

Some of you very busy, productive people might be thinking that you don’t have the time to attend comprehensive coach training. I hope this is alright to say. If you don’t have time to attend a coaching workshop then, honestly, you particularly need to be at that workshop.

Because great coach training, such as our program, teaches you about delegating and working with others to give you more time, build the capacity of those around you, and reduce the acute sense of pressure that’s a barrier to you being a great leader.

Think about this. During the global financial crisis which was a great issue for Australia, Ken Henry who was then the head of Commonwealth treasury, took off a month to look after wombats that needed rescuing.
There was open criticism of his decision to take time off for a month. His response was, “If I can’t take off four weeks and rely on the people around me, and those that they work with, to step forward and do what’s needed, then I have failed as a leader.”

What I’d say to anyone is, if Ken Henry can take off four weeks during a global financial crisis and have Australia come out terrifically compared with the rest of the world, then it’s worth taking time out to go to an intensive coaching workshop, that’s going to transform how you interact with others. It’s well worth the investment of time.

Myth #5: this talk about coaching is rubbish, I just need to tell people what to do

I have an important question: how we can bring about change with a lighter touch? Because when we tell people what to do, we can unintentionally get their backs up, seem heavy handed and create resistance to change.

Now, on occasion, the person you’re coaching really needs to change. But when you coach with empathy and insight, and focus on the other person, it’s much harder for them to resist, because there’s simply less for them to resist. When you make it harder for people to resist through your warmth and your adept coaching style, you’re removing barriers to change.

You want to lead in a way where you’re dealing with the issues, yet not being coercive. I promise you, if you adopt coaching approaches, such as those we advocate, in workplace conversations, people will either change or move on. But you will have been true to your values, you will have been true to your organization’s values, you’ll be a really strong leader, and also a humane person.

You won’t have done anything that causes you to wake up in the middle of the night and say, “Oh, I feel bad about that.” You’ll be leading with heart, leading well, and making a difference. You will be helping other people deal with issues they need to deal with, and feel better about themselves.

Myth #6: senior executives don’t need coach training

If you want an executive team that leads in ways that are positive, constructive, unified, working seamlessly across the organisation, and able to resolve problems with stakeholders very elegantly and quickly, then they should undertake coach training as a group.

People who undertake coach training together, change in the way that they operate together. And they change in the way that they operate with others. It’s very noticeable in an executive group or team who has experienced coach training, and who hasn’t, because it stays with people over time.

Undertaking coach training together is well worth the investment, and the time. When you change the skill set of those at the top of an organisation, a lot of other cultural shifts become much easier.

Myth #7: I don’t need this broader cultural stuff, I just want to deal with my nightmare person at work

Great coach training such as ours will send you out the door able to deal with your nightmare person.
Our programs give you step-by-step guidance about how to address any disquiet you have about performance issues in a way where the person feels supported, you’re being personally warm and tough on the issues, where it’s clear the performance that is needed, and you’re coaching the person step-by-step through the changes they need to go through.

You’ll also find sometimes in the workplace that there can be a misalignment between values, which can be very demotivating for people. So you’ll learn how to resolve values clashes and how to work with people individually in a way that’s true for you and true for them.

The take away

When you know that you can have a supportive and tough conversation easily, it’s a liberating experience that transforms how you experience any situation. You can use these skills with stakeholders, managing up, across, or in providing support to those you work with.

When the executive leadership cohort in an organisation have coaching skills, it’s a liberating experience for those who work in the organisation, and for those that interact with the organisation. It brings about positive change that makes a difference. And it takes longer than half a day.

Learn more

To learn more about our coaching programs click here.


Register for Influencing and Coaching for Change including the Speed Coaching System™

In an exciting development, based on extraordinary feedback from participants, DGR has agreed on a second program on Influencing and Coaching for Change, including the Speed Coaching System™.

“Thanks so much, I can honestly say I can’t remember training that has been more valuable at both a professional and personal level.”

“I gained confidence, skills and knowledge. Bryan’s coaching demonstrations were so good – matter of fact, practical, demystified, empowering – a man of integrity. Mary is special, with a huge insight into people. It was so great to meet an intelligent, kind woman who isn’t aggressive but is empowered. A wonderful role model. The most useful aspects were values, filters on the world, the ‘set the frame’ questions – actually everything. I wouldn’t change anything. Really.”

“I gained great personal insight into values, filters on the world, overcoming barriers to change, and tools to work on issues later. The coaching demonstrations by Bryan O’Connor were really valuable, with great time allowance – they didn’t feel rushed and there were lots of opportunities afterwards to ask questions. I enjoyed the opportunity to participate in a coaching demonstration. Mary is a great facilitator. I loved the rapport between you and Bryan. Provided lots of examples to take away. Two days was really needed, and the timing was great.”

“ A great workshop. I gained relatable skills for the workplace – I can’t wait to implement and share with other leaders. It was great to witness coaching in action in the coaching demonstrations. Bryan is clearly a master of the skills we learned. Mary is an extremely gifted facilitator – she is so easy to engage with and her real-life examples are great. The most useful aspects were the foundation skills (rapport/ questioning techniques etc) that will be so beneficial in the ‘real life’ coaching roles.”

Make connections with other like-minded leaders and change agents at the face-to-face workshop (29 and 30 May 2018).

Immerse yourself in experiential action learning focused on the 8 core lessons and 4 real world coaching lessons underpinning the program.

Watch and participate in debriefs of Master Coach demonstrations. You also have the option to be coached by a Master Coach and experience first hand the new certainties and pathways that emerge from supportive, transformational coaching.

Raise, explore and resolve in a safe environment the issues you face in bringing about change.

The program includes four ADVANCED Bonus Lessons on strategic issues. You will learn step-by-step the practical and transformational strategies to create and support high-performance cultures; how to encourage innovative thinking, swift implementation of new ideas, and creative cultures; gain insights from positive psychology about building on your people’s strengths and character traits such as courage, perseverance, fairness and zest; and, how to coach individuals who feel overworked and tired, so that they can set boundaries, say “no” with grace, and feel empowered.

This program uniquely positions participants to deal adeptly with under-performance, avoid micro-management, coach people so they can focus on whats really important, and successfully address bullying or harassing behaviour at work.

An extraordinary element in the program is the Speed Coaching System™ where you learn how to get great coaching results in under 20 minutes, using four incredibly simple but powerful questions.

Fun and energising, this comprehensive program will build your confidence, capability and practical skills in influencing and coaching for change.

Register for this exciting program here!

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