You got to know when to hold'em, know when to fold'em

October 14, 2009 -- Sal Silvester

I hear a lot about the importance of coaching in the workplace, and for the most part I agree that coaching an important aspect of every leader's role. In fact, as a leader, I think you should be spending 20-30% of
your time coaching your direct reports.

But my intent for this post isn't "how to" coach someone (that will come in a future post), but rather "when to" coach someone.

Generally speaking, the intent behind coaching is to help people create behavioral change so that they can be more effective in the work place. It is as simple as that. There are times when coaching is appropriate
and times when coaching is not appropriate. In other words, leaders have to know when to hold'em (i.e., coach a team member) and when to fold'em (fire a team member).

When to holdem:

Coaching is tool appropriate for all levels of people within your organization, from your star performers trying to elevate to the next level of stardom to underperforming team members you are tying to boost above par. The key to knowing "when to" coach someone is by understanding if the team member is open to making a change.

I truly realized this in my own personal life years ago when I was participating in NicAnon and dealing with my nicotine addiction (go here for more information on that one). The first step in my recovery process was to admit that I needed help. The same applies to coaching in the workplace. You, as a leader, can't change someone. The person has to be open and willing to change themself.

When to fold'em:

There are many times when leaders try to coach their team members and they don't get the results they expect. That's primarily because coaching isn't the right solution to every performance problem. Here are
three situations where coaching does not work.

  1. The team member makes a choice in not being open to change. Notice that I intentionally used the word "choice." We all choose whether we want to be effective or not. If someone isn't willing to improve, grow, develop, learn...fold'em. It's not worth your time.
  2. There is an integrity or ethical issue. Skip the coaching. The team member should be fired.
  3. The team member's performance goals aren't aligned with the team and organizational goals. Coaching, in this instance, is only going to help the team member achieve the wrong performance goals more quickly. Focus instead on getting the team member aligned.

As a leader, you've got to know when to hold'em and know when to fold'em. If you are trying to hold'em when you should be folding'em, you will lose credibility as a leader and your other team members will suffer.

If you aren't sure if you should hold'em or fold'em, I would recommend two others options - walk away or run.

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