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Coaches Diary: The Honest Truth


Olivia Stefanino looks at why putting a positive spin on things isn't always a great motivator.

Simon was known as the most enthusiastic member of the management team – and all of his staff enjoyed his vivacious, inspirational and humorous style.

It had come as a surprise to Simon then, when the end of year sales results were announced - and he discovered that his team had not even come close to hitting target.

He had been even further discouraged when he learned that his boss had been concerned about Simon’s management style – and he had booked an appointment with me in a bid to discover what he needed to change in order to be a better people manager.

Simon was witty and fun for me to work with – and it was clear that he was much more comfortable talking about things that were positive rather than looking at areas of weakness.

I asked him if he adopted the same approach with his staff and his response was swift, “Absolutely,” he replied, “No-one wants to hear about bad news and there are enough negative people out there without me adding to their chorus.”

I agreed with Simon that being positive was important – and that negativity never breeds success. However, there is a fine distinction between feedback and negativity – and I suggested that perhaps Simon’s team was missing out on learning how, when and where they could improve their performance.

“Shying away from being truthful – kind but truthful – never really helps anyone in the long run, as you have just discovered,” I continued.

“Not only have you failed to hit your target – which has had serious consequences for your company – but you have not really led your team either, which means that several individuals have missed out on their annual bonus.

“I wonder whether, now that they have not received their annual bonus cheques, whether they would actually have welcomed more guidance from you throughout the year. “

Simon looked downcast but with a weak smile, he acknowledged that I was right. He even admitted that he should have seen the poor results coming, but that instead he had chosen to bury his head in the sand, “hoping that things would turn out all right in the end.”

I explained to Simon that modern management is more about coaching. The first step is to help individuals set their own personal goals and action plans. “Your role then is to find a way to align those personal goals with the company goals, which then creates a win:win situation. This way, you can help the individual see that his success in reaching company targets ensures that his own personal needs are met too.

“In a way, the employee uses the company to seed fund his own future – whatever that may be – and the company wins too because a motivated employee is a successful employee. Successful companies employ successful individuals – and it is your job to help each of those individuals to be successful.”

Simon began to nod his head, saying enthusiastically, “I can see now how I can really make a big difference to my whole team – and of course, to the company as a whole.”

Agreeing to spend a little more time learning from past mistakes before starting to focus on future goals and actions, Simon and I went through some techniques for giving useful feedback – and by the end of our session together he left my office armed with some vital knowledge and plenty of proven tools.

* Olivia Stefanino is a leadership development consultant and executive coach, who works with blue chip organisations, SMEs and individuals. Download your free e-booklet “128 ways to harness your personal power” at


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