Not many management topics are hotter than coaching. Sports coaches come to mind, but there are hundreds of corporate coaches doing seminars, conducting one-on-one sessions and publishing "how-to" books. But all coaches, whether it's Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, or an obscure writer/presenter, have similarities in their jobs. And good coaching is just as critical to succeeding in the financial world as it is in sports.

To be sure, there is an important distinction between professional coaching and life coaching. But be aware that in bank investment consulting, program and sales managers can find themselves acting as both. Good managers understand they must not only lead their teams, but must also help them deal with the stresses and personal issues of everyday life.

Being a successful program/sales manager in a bank investment program involves several main skills, such as questioning and listening; observing and analyzing; providing constructive feedback; facilitating learning; motivating; and creating rapport with your team. Let's consider each skill.

Simply asking questions isn't hard for most managers. But the trick is in asking the right ones and really listening to the answers. Managers need to ask questions that uncover problems, obstacles or barriers to their team's success. You need to ask questions that will make your FA's think—not just respond. Asking a question like, "How are things doing?" will most likely tell you nothing. To get information you can really use, consider this instead: "Tell me a new sales idea that's working?"

And, of course it's important to ask good follow-up questions to get even more information. For example, if you know an FA is weak on retirement planning, and you ask him about new retirement accounts they've opened, answers like, I'm working on it, or, I've got a few in the pipeline, could really mean I'm still having problems and need help.

Consider the old expression about a picture being worth a thousand words. That means you can learn a lot just by looking and paying attention. In coaching, that means watching for the behaviors, activities and skills your FAs need to succeed. Do your FAs fully understand the features and benefits of a new mutual fund or variable annuity? Are they asking for referrals in a positive productive manner? The best way to find out is by taking the time to observe the particular FAs at work.

Whether using role playing or sitting in on a presentation, your FAs should appreciate your help if done properly. However, despite your good intentions, some FAs may not like you looking over their shoulders. They may think you don't trust them or they may become intimidated. Or, in the worst case, they may not respect your value. But if you deal with these concerns up front—letting your FAs know that your only concern is their improvement—your observation can be made into a visible sign of your support and leadership.

From your observations, you need to review and analyze what you've seen so you can make appropriate recommendations for improvements. For example, you might notice that an FA isn't taking enough notes during a presentation, or may not be thoroughly qualifying a prospect before making a recommendation. Before you provide feedback and make recommendations, it's important to understand why your FA did things the way he did. Did he understand the need to put detailed notes in client files? Does he need training in how to qualify a prospect. Or was he just taking shortcuts?

If they're doing well, say so. It's important to recognize and reinforce positive behaviors. But if there's room for improvement, then give them constructive criticism to make the necessary changes. It's really important that your FAs respect your advice and see the value in your recommendations. Don't just give them a list of what they're doing wrong—give them the benefit of your experience and insights to help them see their problems and develop their own solutions. Instead of saying that an FA's close wasn't strong enough, ask him where he thought he was strong and weak. FAs will usually know where they need to improve, even if they have not yet focused on changing.

Good coaches make sure their people have the necessary tools to do their jobs. Do they need sales training? Help using the technology? If so, get them what they need. From your observing and analyzing, you should be able to determine what training may be needed. Your product partners can be an excellent source for product and sales training. Even in times like these, when budgets are tight, it's not that difficult to help your FAs grow professionally. Your job is to make it as easy as you can for your FAs to get the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

You can't make your FAs do what you want them to do. You can reprimand them, but you can't force them to do anything. They have to want to do it for their own reasons—whether it's to truly help clients, or simply to keep their jobs. You can, however, do things like excite your team, challenge them and recognize their achievements. Monetary rewards can be great motivators, but as most sports coaches will tell you, money is only a part of the picture. Professionals take great pride in their work and their accomplishments. Every FA has an ego (some have very big egos) and a personal note from you, or a line or two in the in-house newsletter, or recognition in a group meeting can pay big dividends. Your job is to get them the tools they need, help them develop a "game plan," and keep them focused on what's important.CREATING RAPPORT
Why is it that one sports coach can bomb with a team, while another might be a huge success with the same players? One reason may be that the new coach is able to "connect" with his players and get them to work together. It's beyond trust or respect. It's rapport—that sense of trust and connection that develops when you are able to feel comfortable with someone you believe understands you as a person. It's easy to understand why coaching efforts will be in vain if there's no rapport or sense of connection. Similarly, what FA will listen to you, respect your guidance and follow you if they don't truly believe you understand them? In a nutshell, people have rapport with people they like and who are similar to them. On a subconscious level, we like people who are like us. So one way to help develop rapport is to mirror the micro-behaviors of those we wish to influence. Any observable behavior can be mirrored: posture, hand gestures, head tilt, voice patterns and speaking accent, even blinking rate.

To mirror another person, try selecting a behavior or quality you want to emulate, and then copy that behavior. If you want to mirror a head tilt when the person moves their head, wait a few moments and then move yours to the same angle. When this is done well, the other person won't notice, but on a subconscious level they will feel more at ease with you. However, a note of caution: Mirroring is not the same as mimicry. It should be subtle and respectful. You don't want your FAs to think you're making fun of them or being disrespectful. Rapport is all about a mutual values, trust and understanding.