Pope John XXII is credited as having said, “See everything. Overlook a lot. Correct a little.” This may be pretty good advice for coaching emerging leaders. On the one hand, a coach certainly needs to be attentive to what’s going on.
Organizationally, many coaches are set up to fail. I often hear a leader tell me that he/she is directly supervising ten or more people. When someone tells me something like this, the first two thoughts that come into my head are, “If you are really doing that, you don’t have time to be in this class,” and, “If you are really doing that well, you don’t NEED to be in this class.”
If you have ten or more people to directly supervise, it’s not likely that you are going to come anywhere close to what it would mean to “see everything.” If that is your situation, one option is to identify two or three of those direct reports who have the most potential and spend some extra time coaching them, so that you can formally or informally hand off more supervisory responsibilities to them.
Admitting that you cannot adequately supervise a huge number of direct reports may seem like a bad thing for your career, but a person who can coach three people into a supervisory position is more valuable than a person who can supervise fifteen people.
Overlooking things may seem to be counter-intuitive to successful coaching. You may be thinking, “That is something that belongs in the religious world, but not in the business world. Mistakes cost money.” However, my response is that the supervisors that I’ve observed who try to correct everything end up corrupting everything.
I don’t mean that they, themselves, are corrupt. I mean that human nature, being what it is, cannot easily tolerate a supervisor who corrects every single little thing. That sort of control-driven approach corrupts the most important thing that exists in the business: the relationship.
Corrupt the relationship and you have corrupted everything. That doesn’t mean that the relationship needs to be of the BFF variety—not at all! The key element in the coach/employee relationship is respect. But, if you critique everything you see, that respect will evaporate rather quickly.
Remember, too, that respect can also diminish if there’s no feedback. The employee who never receives critiques from his/her coach doesn’t always get the message, “My boss is pleased.” Neglect to give helpful feedback, and that employee will eventually interpret it as, “My boss is indifferent.”
There’s no exact formula to go by in coaching people. Leadership is an art, not a science; but, as a rule of thumb, I think the Pope’s philosophy has a lot to offer.
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources