5 Habits to Improve Your Team’s Reliability

This is a guest post by Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. Lee Colan and Julie Davis Colan co-authored The 5 Coaching Habits of Excellent Leaders.  They also co-founded The L Group in 1999 to equip and inspire leaders at every level:  personal, team and organizational.


Coaching Reliability

Reliability is something every leader wants more of from his or her team. Your challenge is to coach for reliable individual performance as the building block of a reliable and profitable business. Reliability is a customer magnet, whereas unreliability is a customer deterrent.



When a customer needs something done by a set date, or a service performed in a specific manner, he’s seeking someone who can provide that service with certainty. Many companies have built their reputations by providing that certainty for customers. For example, FedEx realized it could corner the market by promising to get your letter to its destination overnight, without fail. The company created an entire niche that never existed before. McDonald’s has built its iconic brand based on a promise of a reliable experience, regardless of which location.

Ultimately, excellent leaders help good employees become even better people. They help their employees build better lives for themselves and others while producing better business results.



5 Habits to Create the Reliability Advantage

There are five habits that excellent coaches use to create the reliability advantage. The five habits give your team the biggest boost if applied in sequence. However, you must use your knowledge of your team to determine when to accelerate through or spend more time on a specific habit. The root meaning of the verb “to coach” means to bring a person from where they are to where they want to be. Consider the role of a football coach. He sets clear expectations for his team with a game plan to win. He asks players if they have any questions to ensure they are clear about their respective roles on the team. He also asks them questions like, “How can you improve your performance or overcome a certain obstacle?” Then during the game, he involves them in changing the game plan, if necessary, based on what they are seeing on the field. The coach also observes and measures each player’s performance (e.g., number of tackles, yards gained, etc.). Finally, the coach gives constructive feedback and recognition so his players can elevate their performance in the next game.

These are the same five habits that excellent leaders employ to coach their teams. First, excellent leaders explain expectations. They realize it is necessary but not sufficient, in and of itself, to boost performance. Excellent leaders take the time to ensure alignment with their teams before moving forward. Second, excellent leaders also ask questions. A leader might ask to clarify a problem or ask for ideas and suggestions. Asking questions ignites employee engagement. Third, excellent coaches involve team members in creating solutions to improve their work. This enlists ownership because we are committed to things we help create. Fourth, excellent leaders diligently measure results to boost team accountability. The fifth and final coaching habit is to appreciate people. This builds commitment to sustain and improve results. Using each of these habits in concert elevates team reliability.


The left side of this model shows five coaching habits that drive reliable performance. This is the side of choice. Each day, leaders choose whether to take these actions. Their choices influence the right side of the model – the results. If you choose your habits, then you must take responsibility for your results. You are each responsible for the choices you make and the results you ultimately achieve. If you choose not to build these coaching habits, you must accept these predictable outcomes:

  • Instead of Alignment, you get Confusion
  • Instead of Engagement, you get Disengagement
  • Instead of Ownership, you get Entitlement
  • Instead of Accountability, you get Blame
  • Instead of Commitment, you get Compliance

These coaching habits are based on natural human dynamics and needs. That’s why it does not look like rocket science and seems so simple. That is also the reason why these habits work across generations, industries and cultures – because they meet human needs in the workplace. It is easy for one thing or another to get in the way of these habits, but if you say “yes” to those things, you are saying “no” to reliable team performance.



Coaching for reliable performance is not a “salt and pepper” practice. You cannot sprinkle on a little explaining here and appreciation there and expect reliability. You must perform these habits consistently. If world-class athletes need a coach every day, why wouldn’t your team? Each day you are making a choice about your team’s alignment, engagement, ownership, accountability and commitment.

We all like to be reinforced for our performance. Of course, even on the most reliable teams, there will be instances when you must find leadership courage to address performance problems. Elaine Agather is Chairman of Dallas Region JPMorgan Chase and head of its Private Bank. She is a beloved and direct leader who understands the responsibility of her role. Agather states, “The team is bigger than any issue at hand. The leader has a personal accountability to the team to have tough conversations and to occasionally make tough decisions with individuals.” Excellent leaders such as Agather choose to meet the needs of their teams over any personal discomfort. It reminds us of our son’s former high school football coach, Chris Cunningham, who would preach this same leadership concept of “team over me” with this visual he had printed on T-shirts:




Reliability is a two-way street. You get reliable performance from your team by being a reliable leader for them. Additionally, excellent leaders do not use the five habits as separate leadership tools. Instead, they integrate the coaching habits into their daily interactions, realizing it is the most effective way to create the reliability advantage.

Leaders are sculptors. They might not shape marble,

but they shape something much more precious:

people’s lives.




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