Of all the pressures- both real and imagined- that I have experienced as a leader, by far the most daunting of them all has been the responsibility to effectively coach others. A couple of things have contributed to this: for one, I always felt somewhat hampered by the internal struggle to find the confidence needed to step fully into this role for someone else. In my mind, coaching always meant that whomever was serving as a “coach” needed to have clear solutions, clear paths forward, and clear advice to offer to others. And who has that?! Along with this, I also felt stress due to external struggles to find 1) what I thought were adequate blocks of time to coach others well and 2) a formal, memorize-able process for conducting all of my coaching sessions. Again, who has time to devote to finding, learning, and regularly using such a formal process while also balancing all the other responsibilities of a working leader?
After years of trying to uphold a standard that I thought necessary in order to do this vital part of any leader’s role, I began to recognize that even though I thought I was failing to be a coach, I actually was engaging with ease and success in several activities that I now know to be coaching activities:
- I was providing support and encouragement to my peers, colleagues, and team members
- I was creating learning opportunities through shared tasks
- I was regularly engaging in “talking things out” with others through collective brainstorming when someone on the team was dealing with a challenge
When the realization hit me a few years ago that coaching was something different than what I imagined, I had a big change in perspective about what it means to be a good coach for others. Then I was able to fully and confidently step into the role of coach in my daily life. Daily- Yes, you read that right. Coaching others should be a daily process, one that does not feel formal or have a distinctive, replicated process to it each time. It is found in those everyday occurrences of working with others. As we teach in our Coaching in the Moment ™ workshop, coaching opportunities are around us every day, we just have to be intentional about turning those opportunities into conversations.
Along the way, I have also created my own list of Coaching Do’s and Don’ts, based on my own experiences as well as insights that I have gained from working with other leaders. Most of these are internal in nature- they have to do with the mindset and intentions of the coach. There are also a couple that fall into the external or communication process of coaching because, while effective coaching does not require a rigorous process to follow, I believe that there are some fundamental best practices that should become part of a coach’s communication process when developing others.
- DON’T enter into a coaching conversation if you are pressed for time. Although being an effective coach does not require big chunks of your time, if something else is competing for that moment during the day, your ability to remain focused and available to the person you are coaching will be diminished and that will have an effect on the outcome.
- DON’T try to coach when your intent and care for an individual aren’t truly present. The model for effective coaching that I use and that we teach in our CEE programs is only really useful when you have genuine care for the other person’s success. If this key ingredient is missing, it is best not to try to be a coach for that person.
- DON’T start into the coaching conversation by giving answers or suggestions for what to do next. Though it comes from a good place of really wanting to be helpful, if your role as a coach is to really help someone along their own path of development, the best thing you can do as a coach is NOT give an answer or solution. Instead, be a source of support as the person you are coaching works to develop his or her own new insight in how to move forward.
- DO consider how the person you are coaching experiences you in the conversation. I have found that the best coaches I have ever had are rather humble in nature. They don’t show up with a noticeable ego and they don’t spend time touting their own experiences and achievements- even if they have had them in spades and have legitimate reason to brag. Instead, they express a quiet sort of humility, which further shows who they are really there for: the other person, not themselves. Which leads me to my next point…
- DO remember that coaching is about their story, not yours. Keep the focus on how you can best support the person you are coaching, and keep the sharing of your own similar experiences to a minimum.
- Finally, DO start with questions. Questions are the most powerful of all communication tools we have available to us. When we have the ability to inquire first as to the position, perspective or ponderings of others, we get to see more than just our own perspective from the very beginning of the conversation. As a coach, this helps us to consider supporting in ways that work best for the other person.
Coaching is not about having all the answers- in fact, a good friend of mine- who happens to work with top leaders all over the country as an executive coach- says that it actually works better if you DON’T have all the answers. That way, you aren’t inclined to guide the person to an already determined outcome and you aren’t tempted to be the “problem- solver” for them. Instead, you can show up in full support of the person you are coaching, and let the care and concern you have for his or her personal progress, development and success be the guiding force in those coaching moments.