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Welcome to the home of the Modern Farm Business® podcast, hosted weekly by Dean Heffta. Modern Farm Business translates proven methods and best practices from the business arena to today's modern farm leadership environment. We'll be learning from forward-thinking experts and discovering how to apply time-tested techniques to make real improvements on the farm.

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Jan 18, 2018

When we’re a part of a group—be it leading our farm, a work group at church or a volunteer at the thrift store—there are many roles we end up taking on depending on the situation. We might be the person setting the priorities and the pace of the group, or we may be a contributor of talent to the team. Regardless research is showing one of the most valuable skills we can possess is that of coach. Coaching is a special skill that we can develop, and the great thing is that the fundamentals are learnable and something we can improve upon over our whole life.

Coaching is essentially the skills and approaches we use to help others grow. In the business world today, one of the fastest growing areas for skill development is in the area of coaching skills. Businesses are seeing firsthand the power and impact of their staff implementing the practices of coaching, vs the traditional command/control or being the person with all the answers.

Many of us, when we hear the word “coach,” envision a basketball coach. This image can be useful to us when we think about coaching, and then again it could be detrimental. It really depends on who we think of when we picture the basketball coach. On one end is the coach that is continually on the edge of exploding, they are trying to instruct every move every player is trying to make during the whole game. They are reprimanding players for mistakes, they’re yelling at the refs and simply creating anxiety for everyone around them. This is not the model for how to effectively provide coaching in our day-to-day life.

The goal of coaching is to help people develop their skills and abilities, increase their confidence in themselves, and improve their effectiveness when we aren’t there. I believe the best basketball example of this is the late John Wooden, who coached UCLA to ten NCAA championships in 12 years. His focus was on the development of his players as people, ensuring they mastered the basics and that his team was ready enough that they really didn’t need him during the game. He was famous not only for his quotes and philosophy but for spending the first practice each season teaching the players how to put their socks and shoes on correctly. He really didn’t look at the score during the game because it wasn’t going to change his focus. He had tremendous respect for people and his players.

What basketball coaches recognize is one fundamental truth: They can’t be on the court playing the game. It’s against the rules. Their success has to happen through their players—which means they must develop them to achieve the goal on the coach’s behalf.

Ultimately in life, I believe being a coach is less about the tactics and skills, and more about our position and intention with other people. If I believe the people on my team are inherently incompetent, lazy and ignorant—my communication with them will reflect that regardless of what tools I’m taught. Conversely, if I believe people can grow—that they inherently want to do good and can learn—the position I take in our relationship will also reflect that fact, regardless of whether I’ve been taught coaching tools.

Step 1: Check my position toward other people
Remember though, if I have someone on my team that simply can’t do the job, I can coach until I’m blue in the face and they still aren’t going to be successful. What I want people to recognize is that having a coaching approach does not mean everyone can get to the performance you expect, nor does it mean as the leader you don’t have the responsibility to put the right people in the right roles. If you are the leader, you have to start with the right people in the right roles. Then they need to be not only trained, but also supported, in their development—through coaching.

Step 2: Replace answers with questions
Let’s say your employee comes to you and asks, “How do you want this implement to be fixed?” At this moment you have a couple choices. Though neither are in themselves wrong, the question is what your long-term intention is. Do you want to be the person making all of the decisions on the farm, no matter how small? If so, just give direction of what you want done and how you want it done. What you forfeit, though, is your right to complain that your employee never thinks for themselves. If they’re a part-time employee and you want to make sure the fix is done to your expectation, you should be very instructive.

However, if they are a long-term employee and your desire is for them to grow in their ability to think and act for themselves, you need a different response. When they ask, “How do you want this fixed?” The coach has to catch themselves and resist that impulse to give answers and direction. Instead, begin engaging them through questions. What are our choices? Do you believe one approach is better than another? How can we make it better than when we got it? These questions force the employee to begin thinking and problem solving. Through the conversation you’re showing you respect them and their abilities. They are growing in their confidence to act and solve problems. Eventually the interaction becomes them just letting you know they are going to fix the implement—and you saying “OK, let me know if you need anything.”

Through this process not only do capabilities grow but so does trust people have in themselves and with others. In addition to holding back our impulse to give answers and solve people’s problems (which creates dependency) we can use other questions to open up dialogue with our team or our staff. Questions like:
“What’s on your mind?” Gets people talking and you never know what they are seeing, thinking or feeling.
“Is there anything else we should consider?” Helps to get more perspective from people on the situation.
“How can I be helpful?” Keeps the power in the other person’s hands to decide how much help they really want from you.

Step 3: Focus on principles and outcomes
It’s easy for us to give instruction on how to deal with a specific situation. Often we think to ourselves, OK, I showed them how to do it this time. They’ll know next time what to do when that comes up again. The problem is that sometimes situations end up a little different each time. I remember growing up on the farm and when I was first doing tillage—what was most valuable to me wasn’t the specific instruction from my dad and brothers for that