The Oxford American Desk Dictionary and Thesaurus (2001) defines enable as to “give (a person) means or authority, make possible.” The words enable and enabler are most often associated with the perpetuation of alcohol or drug use as well as other maladaptive social behaviors. However, a leader can be an enabler as well. Enabling is detrimental to organizational goal obtainment and employee morale. This article helps you identify if you are an enabler and how coaching might help you move from an enabling leader to an empowering leader.
There is a work team that maintains a level of mediocrity and has settled into this mode of performance quite nicely. The team has stopped attempting to present innovative ideas to move the company forward. The team has stopped presenting ideas to add new revenue streams to the company. The team has stopped trusting each other as well as leadership. This team has come to be this way because the leader is an enabler. The leader enables the team to be mediocre by not taking ideas seriously, not holding people accountable, pitting employees against each other, and not leading the team, among other things.
In a coaching engagement, the coach helps the leader identify enabling behaviors. To begin, the coach might administer an assessment, including questions such as:
1. Do you often become frustrated or angry at the poor performance of your team?
2. Do you deny poor performance by ignoring, minimizing, justifying or rationalizing it?
3. Do you hope the team’s lackluster performance will improve or that it isn’t really as bad as you think?
4. Do you spend a lot of time thinking or worrying about individuals on the team?
5. Do you desire to protect or do you actually protect brown-nosing employees from consequences of his or her inappropriate behavior or?
6. Have you felt manipulated, used or betrayed by members of the team when he or she promised to improve and didn’t?
7. Have you consciously avoided an employee?
8. Do you lack clear, definite standards of performance and professional conduct for your team?
9. Have you gradually lowered your expectations for acceptable performance by poor performing employees?
10. Do you avoid confronting employees about their poor performance?
If you answered “yes” to 3 or more of these questions, the leader is likely an enabler.
Chances are great that the enabling leader is not cognizant of his behavior, so one of the first areas to approach is awareness. The challenge for the coach is moving the leader toward awareness while following the leader’s expressed agenda for the session or overall coaching engagement. For example:
The leader may have indicated that his goal for that coaching session is to learn stress reduction techniques. The coach might ask, “What are the causes of your stress?” to begin moving the leader toward awareness.
If the leader responds “work,” then the coach might ask, “What about work causes you stress?”
If the leader responds “lazy employees,” then the coach might ask, “Why do you believe the employees are lazy?”
Questioning will continue along these lines until the light bulb goes off and the leader acknowledges he may be the cause of the laziness, and thus, the cause of his own stress.
The coach will end the session by asking, “What actions can you take this week to relieve your stress?” Hopefully, the answer is something like, “have a goal-directed team meeting” or “clearly define performance expectations.”
No matter the response, the coach will encourage the leader to take specific actions toward specific outcomes. The coach will serve as an accountability partner during the next session to ensure the leader took certain actions. If specific actions were not taken, the coach would start a line of questioning related to obstacles that may have kept the leader from taking action. At some point, the focus of coaching may turn toward how the leader can empower his team.
Coaching is a wonderful tool for self discovery, growth, action planning and goal obtainment. Without the leader participating in coaching, this team is doomed to fail. When a leader takes the first step toward self discovery through coaching, he empowers himself, and ultimately – his team.