Resilience Coaching: How managers can build trust and inspire high achievers during challenging times

Leaders who coach high achievers must be mindful of these factors if they wish to successfully manage, inspire, and retain them during the good times and the bad.  

Troy P. Thompson is a career consultant, speaker, and workforce development program lead at Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business

Throughout my tenure as an integrated marketing professional, career consultant, and current workforce development program lead at one of New York City’s premier business schools, I have had the opportunity to coach a variety of high achievers across the creative, cultural, and generational spectrum.

High achievers do not belong to any one particular socioeconomic class, and contrary to popular belief, a high achiever is not defined solely as someone who has already acquired a long resume of accomplishments. Rather, the term refers to an individual who possesses the qualities to succeed exceptionally provided the right circumstances, tools and resources. This is illustrated time and time again via famous autobiographies, documentaries, and countless other stories that highlight the underdog journey.

Self-motivation, proactiveness and being open to new challenges are just a few of the qualities that set high achievers apart. But conversely, they largely suffer from conditions such as perfectionism, imposter syndrome, and burnout.

When times are good, high achievers shine bright and model what you hope for your entire team. Unfortunately, life does not always operate in one gear. Periods of challenge, whether rooted in a personal or professional context, are part of the process of growth — and high achievers are often more sensitive to unsatisfactory outcomes because much of their self-worth is tied to their work.

Leaders who coach high achievers must be mindful of these factors if they wish to successfully manage, inspire, and retain them during the good times and the bad.

Below are a few ways to accomplish this.

Communicate your intention

Without a clear diagnosis of the problems that your employees are facing, it will be impossible to effectively help remedy them. Moreover, many high achievers are not quick to admit that they are in need for fear of judgment or shame. With a recent Gallup poll revealing that only 21% of U.S. employees trust the leadership of their organization, this obstacle is but one of many symptoms of an overall lack of employer trust.

When meeting with an employee individually to address an issue, it is important that you be proactive in communicating that your intention is to support them. and act as a thought partner to aid them in overcoming whatever challenges they are facing.

Managing expectations in this way will serve to shift them from a potentially defensive stance and create a safer space for honest dialogue.

Ask reflective questions

Examining your mental processes and habits using reflective questions can be a very powerful, and often necessary approach for identifying external barriers or obstacles that you could be creating for yourself.

Unfortunately, only 10%-15% of people are truly self-aware and accomplishing this feat objectively does not come easy for everyone. As a manager, you may find it effective to utilize reflective questions to help direct reports gain a level of clarity that they could be having trouble arriving at on their own.

The four types of reflective questions that can be utilized during a meeting involving personal crisis or performance issues are:

  • Awareness-centric: to gain clarity on a situation.
  • Analysis-centric: to compare current outcomes to expectations.
  • Alternatives-centric: to consider different ways for reaching a desired result.
  • Action-centric: to establish next steps.

Outlining your conversations with these questions is important because it not only reinforces the principle of listening before leading, but also puts you in a better position to guide your direct report to their own solutions. This makes for a more impactful experience and will help to restore their self-confidence.

Extend grace

As we all can probably testify, grace is something that we too rarely extend to ourselves, and this is especially true for those with high standards and big goals.

While coaching high achievers who become discouraged or upset after receiving feedback that they underperformed or missed the mark on a task, extending grace can be crucial — not as a device to undermine your expectations, but as a tool to help the employee acknowledge what is being said with the proper perspective.

Grace can be extended in several ways such as highlighting not only what went wrong, but also bringing into focus what has been going well up to that point so the employee can establish a more holistic view of the situation versus a myopic, problem-oriented one.

Beyond encouragement, you can also invite the employee to reach out for support to keep the feedback loop open.

Create alignment

People generally go about life more confidently when they feel aligned with their sense of purpose, which is most commonly the case among millennials and Gen Z, who are on pace to make up more than half of the global workforce by 2030.

Managers benefit from knowing and understanding an employee’s “why,” especially as it relates to their role. In a coaching capacity, this knowledge will make you better equipped to speak to their personal interests, which can make a difference when facing employee dissatisfaction.

Additionally, you can further enhance employee experience by funding development opportunities. A survey of over 1,200 workers conducted by The Conference Board recently found that 58% of employees are more likely to leave their company if they don’t receive professional development opportunities.

Thus, investing in the growth of your high achievers will pay dividends through their elevated capabilities and continued loyalty.

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