Why Leader Coaching Improves Organizational Performance

Members of the Center for Executive Coaching are high-powered professionals who write books, speak, and understand that they are experts first and coaches second. It is always a pleasure to feature our members’ work on this site. Today, Dr. Michael Frisina of The Frisina Group, LLC and the Center for Influential Leadership is contributing the feature article. This article is adapted from his book Influential Leadership: Change Yourself, Change your Organization, Change Health Care. njoy!

Why Leader Coaching Improves Health Care Performance

I think it is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises – but only performance is reality. Harold S. Geneen, CEO, ITT

If leadership is everything, or so the saying goes, then leadership behavior is the singular most important predictor to organizational performance.  It is never what the leader says but how the leader behaves that matters most regarding individual and organizational performance.

Self-Awareness: The Basic Competency of Influential Leaders

Think about all the people who have had leadership responsibility and authority over you. Who inspired, believed, and encouraged you? When I reflect on this question, several teachers—from grade school to graduate school—come to mind. These teachers pushed me to try things I did not think I was capable of doing, supporting, coaching, and mentoring me along the way.

            Now think about the people whose behaviors had a negative impact on you and your leadership development. Unfortunately for many of us, this list includes so-called leaders, whose actions and words serve as an example of what we do not want to be like as a leader. One such leader from my past once made this comment: “Just remember I will always get all the credit, and you will always get all the blame.” I will never forget that comment and its destructive effect on my motivation and morale.

Sadly, far too many health care leaders are unaware of how they come across to their peers and subordinates. As a result, they do not realize that their negative behavior contributes to lack of trust, loss of credibility, and the high cost of poor performance and low productivity. Worse, some leaders intentionally behave badly and are protective of those negative traits, thinking they cause no harm.

By learning about the self, leaders become comfortable with their internal values, beliefs, preferences, thought processes, and emotions. They become self-managers, careful about how they present themselves and respond to the outside world. A self-aware leader then is in a better position to collaborate and connect with others, unlike a leader who is unaware of her true self.

The Performance Gap

Performance is the product of what we are capable of doing (technical skill) multiplied by what we are willing to do (motivation). In health care delivery, as in other high-risk industries, a gap between these two elements of performance can result in poor work quality that causes harm, suffering, and even threatens lives. 

Influential leaders are aware of these dire consequences. They hold themselves and others accountable for closing this performance gap. They model and teach the appropriate behaviors that strengthen both technical skills and motivation.

A critical problem in management generally (not just in health care) is the scarcity of leaders who possess the influential leadership behaviors that propel organizations to greatness and guide organizations through the significant challenges today. We have plenty of managers and leaders who have superb technical, operational, and financial skills and an acute understanding of system processes. But we lack managers and leaders who have the motivation to go beyond those skills to enable the organization to exceed (not just meet) expectations; keep patients safe; and continue to improve processes, quality, and satisfaction. We lack leaders who have a deep understanding of the link between behavior and peak performance.

Behavioral attributes (including interrelations ability), commonly and incorrectly referred to as “soft skills,” are really the “hard skills” that enable the leader to be influential—self-aware, collaborative, and connective. Employees’ low morale, refusal to engage in their work, mistrust of management, lack of motivation, and poor performance are linked to their leaders’ consistent display of negative behavior. It is easier to overlook someone’s technical shortcomings than his poor interpersonal skills. This is why a leader’s behavior is the most important predictor of organizational performance.

Why Coaching of Health Care Leaders is Essential

Any health care organization can acquire the most advanced technology, develop the most enhanced processes, and implement the most current evidenced-based practices but the bottom line to achieving peak performance will be the effectiveness of communication and coordination of care that only highly effective behavior skills can deliver. In this ever-increasing competitive environment it is imperative that you actively engage in the behavioral development of your leaders and your people to deliver the most optimal level of care possible.

A lack of communication, seamless information exchange, and dysfunctional interpersonal relationships among health care professionals inhibit them from delivering high quality, patient-centered, and coordinated care. This problem is not a technical skill deficiency but a behavioral one. Engaging providers and patients at each point along the care continuum in efforts to improve communication, coordination, and discharge planning is a leadership imperative to decreasing inappropriate and costly hospital readmissions and medical mistakes.

Consequently, smart organizations hire performance coaches to turn their technical managers into influential leaders.  There is solid research indicating that organizations that invest in the development of high-potential employees not only improve performance in the short term, but improve the retention of these top drawer performers in the long term. The highly influential leader, developed through behavior based performance coaching benefits in three key areas that drive employee engagement and performance:

1.     Increased level of empathy and emotional awareness of team members;

2.     Improved communicators and better listeners; and

3.     Improved behavior management in terms of delegating responsibility, invoking trust in the capacity and performance of their team members, and mentoring their and developing their team members for future success.

The concept of influential leadership coaching is not a quick fix or a fad. It requires a commitment to achieving real performance breakthroughs. It requires learning; change of mind-set; and a rediscovery of your work’s passion, meaning, value, and purpose. Are you willing to try it?

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