My Manager is a Lousy Career Coach. Now What?

I’ll never forget the moment. I was in an alignment meeting with one of our Roundtable group coaching program participants and his direct manager. We were talking about the key behaviours that my coachee was going to need to demonstrate to be successful. With great confidence, his manager leaned back in his seat and said these profound words:

“He needs to know that he casts a long shadow”.

My coachee furiously started writing this down verbatim in his notebook.

I leaned forward:

“What exactly does ‘cast a long shadow’ mean? Are we talking about on sunny days or are there other situations when his shadow gets a little unwieldy”.

OK, the second sentence was my inner voice. But herein lays the problem for most of us: even the best managers are typically lousy career coaches when the thing that’s getting in your way is a behaviour that’s slowing you down.

This is a huge problem because it’s your behaviour that will ultimately either enable your career trajectory or get in the way. Only yesterday I was in a room with a leader who was telling me about the career limiting behaviour of one of their direct reports (apparently they’re a lousy listener). When I asked how the person had taken the feedback when it was given to them, I was met with a blank stare and then the response ‘I was looking to you to provide that feedback’. (Um… that’s not what a coach is there to do).

So, my question for you is this: what’s being said about your style behind your back and what traits and characteristics do you possess that are (unknowingly to you) getting in your way?

If you’re feeling like you may be in a gaping void when it comes to getting relevant feedback from your manager on your performance, here is one simple question that you can ask:

What would you like to see me doing more of?

It’s that simple. Rather than asking your manager for feedback on what you could do better, try asking them for feedforward on behaviours that you’re NOT demonstrating as regularly that they would like to see from you.

Finding out what you need to do ‘more of’ does two main things for you:

1) It helps you balance out strengths that you might be overusing by bringing in leadership behaviours that you tend to ignore, and,

2) it allows you to get a clearer understanding of your bosses’ expectations so that you can see if you’re actually living up to them.

It’s easier to ‘start’ a new behaviour than to ‘stop’ one… especially when the behaviour you’re trying to stop is super engrained. For the client who doesn’t listen, their boss told me that they would like to see them providing more air time to others in team meetings. Setting an intention of only asking questions vs. talking or only speaking for 25% of a meeting would be clear and simple behaviours that this leader could put into practice to strengthen their listening muscle.

The reality is that in these fast paced times, it’s very easy for your manager’s expectations to shift and change. To keep your career on track, it’s crucial that you evaluate on a regular basis how you’re stacking up against the unspoken expectations that may be emerging.

And, in case you’re curious about what that boss meant by ‘casting a long shadow’, his concern was ultimately that my coachee (who’d recently been promoted from amongst his peers) wasn’t demonstrating appropriate boundaries with his new direct reports. His ‘more of’ was to no longer be the last person standing at team social events. Digging deeper, it turned out that the boss had a view that my coachee was a little too soft on people and not great at giving proactive feedback. That’s ultimately what we worked on in his Roundtable program. Happy to report, he’s still in his role and excelling…seems like he managed to get that shadow of his under control.

So how do you keep attuned to the evolving expectations that your manager has of you? Would love to hear your ideas!

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