Effective leadership means ‘calling the bird out of the bush’

A leader’s job is not only to think strategically and to help form the company’s vision, mission, values and goals; it is also to engage employees in the daily pursuit toward these goals. Ensuring employees are pursuing goals requires forming best practices: standards, procedures, policies and initiatives that will help employees reach the goals and succeed. When employees don’t follow these best practices, leaders must “call the bird out of the bush” and address the undesirable behavior in a way that is motivating, not degrading. Motivation happens when the leader clearly realigns the employee with the best practice behavior and shows the employee how it will help him or her succeed.

Unfortunately, many leaders are uncomfortable “calling the bird out of the bush” (the undesirable behavior) and tend towards a fight-flight communication pattern instead: either killing the bird (employee in this case) or ignoring the undesirable behavior.

“Calling the bird out of the bush” is a form of collaborative communication and can best be described by the acronym C.O.A.C.H. I use this acronym in my leadership training to show leaders how to approach employees and shift their behavior so goals are met.

The C.O.A.C.H Technique helps leaders to “call the bird out of the bush” by doing the following:

C – Create calm

When we are frantically trying to achieve our own “to do” list, unconsciously we are teaching others that we do not have enough time to get everything done. Remember, what is taught is caught: If we want employees to follow best practices, including doing strategic initiatives, we need to master our own time and calm first. Brain researchers say that “busy beta” brainwave creates anxiety. It is difficult to notice any bird in the bush that needs to be addressed when we are so consumed with our own “to do” list. To create calm, do what seems counterintuitive—slow down. By slowing down, we move to the alpha brainwave, where we are more able to calmly observe what is happening and are then more able to choose our time wisely.

O – Observe what is happening

Now that you have slowed down, you will notice more around you. When you do see some undesirable behavior, say to yourself, “Hm, isn’t that interesting? I wonder, how might I address this situation?” By saying this mantra to yourself, you immediately recognize you need to call the bird out of the bush and will more effectively be able to approach those needed.

A – Ask lead instead of tell lead

When approaching an undesirable behavior, it is always wise to engage those involved in agreeing there is a problem before you start to solve it. To define the problem statement, say, “I observed the following is happening (describe the behavior). That is a problem because (explain how it does not align with a best practice).” Ask them if they agree. If they do, then engage their input: Say, “I would like your opinion on what to do to improve this situation. Once you have heard them, give your input. State your ideas in terms of contrast: what behavior you have been observing, and what behavior you would like to see instead.

C – Collaborate on a solution

Once everyone has been heard, it is time to collaborate on a solution: Ask, “How might we solve this problem given your input and mine?” When you ask them to consider all possibilities and come up with the solution, you have greater buy-in and likely a greater solution. When you have come to an agreement, be sure to mark down exactly who will do what by when to ensure change occurs.

H – Hold them accountable

There is a lot of confusion on accountability: how to do it and when to do it. Accountability comes after a problem has been discussed and a collaborative solution has been agreed upon, with a definitive action plan. If the actions do not happen as discussed, you simply ask, “What happened?” The biggest excuse is usually a lack of time. This needs to be addressed head on and not allowed as an excuse to miss deadlines.

For example, I was consulting with a company when an employee came to the meeting and reported he did not have his initiative as far along as he had promised. In the past, the leader would look disappointed and would’ve just said, “Have it done by the next meeting.” I coached him after the meeting and suggested he hold people accountable to their commitments by saying the following, “We came up with this plan, including the deadlines, together. Coming to this meeting and saying you didn’t have time to complete your commitment is not acceptable. If you hit a roadblock in the future and are having a hard time prioritizing or managing your time such that you can see you are falling behind with your deadlines, I expect you to come to me to discuss possibilities in advance of a missed deadline. I don’t want to be disappointed again after the fact. That erodes trust and does not leave any room for problem solving. Now, let’s create a new timeline that you will commit to this time.”

By using the C.O.A.C.H. Technique, you can effectively call the bird out of the bush and keep your team on track to reach your goals.

Challenge: What bird is in your bush that you need to call out?

Susan K. Wehrley has been a business coach and consultant for 25 years as president of Susan K. Wehrley & Associates, Inc. She is the author of five empowerment books and consults and speaks around the nation on her leadership and employee engagement techniques.

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