“You can’t do the learning for them” – The essentials of Coaching Skills by Jamie Pyper
In the teaching of coaching a common point of resistance is usually: ‘I don’t have time to do all this coaching. It’s just easier to tell them what to do right?’ This is indeed right if you are actually trying to create dependency, but will also suggest why you don’t have time for coaching to begin with. Not developing your people so they can start taking things off your hands is often the Achilles heel of small companies trying to become bigger companies and the cause of demotivation within their teams. Sometimes this is because the potential coach is uncomfortable with relinquishing control or trusting others to do a good job but often would-be coaches make it harder for themselves because they feel they need specialist knowledge or to provide solutions for the coachee. Ironically as a coach the harder you are working on a solution or a next step, the less effective you are likely to be.
You just need to remember one key thing: You can’t do the learning for them. They need to do all of the mental gymnastics required to achieve an objective themselves because that is how they learn to do it next time, start to trust their own judgement, develop confidence and ultimately become less dependent on others/you. More importantly perhaps, the coachee will be far more committed to the solution because it was their idea and not yours. And commitment leads to better results.
The other major advantage with coaching is the fisherman analogy. With coaching you are creating ‘fishermen’ instead of giving people fish. A fisherman feeds themself so you don’t need to. That lack of dependence upon you as a manager or leader is the key to you having time to get on with your actual job of growing the business or whatever, rather than having to do their job for them…
OK so how to go about it? If you’ve ever received really good coaching you’ve got some possible reference points to work from. Even so there are some basic principles that are worth considering before you start.
- Create a contract. First and foremost agree the boundaries and overall purpose of the coaching relationship and preempt challenges as early as possible. Create a basic working contract that you can refer back to if things go astray. It should contain objectives, confidentiality, timing, how the coachee would like to be supported, the challenges of working together and anything else that might impact the work.
- Clarify the objective of the coaching. If you both understand your coachee’s destination you are unlikely to end up somewhere else. Objectives can be changed of course through mutual agreement.
- Ask very open questions. E.g. What are you trying to achieve? What are your biggest challenges in that? How will you do that? What support will you need? Resist closed questions or masking advice in a question. It’s highly unlikely that your path will be the most effective for them. Though occasionally you might get lucky it’s unlikely to end in them being more empowered, just the reverse in fact.
- Never provide the answers for them, (unless the building is on fire). In other roles being smart/ninja probably means you coming up with solutions. You might be really good at this and feel good as a result. This is the ego of your ‘little professor’ being stroked. Instead of finding solutions your new ninja skill is helping other people figure it out for themselves with as little intervention from you as possible. Providing the solutions for them is like standing behind someone doing a crossword and telling them where to put letters in the grid. It’s no fun for them and they’ll get bored fast and frustrated with you. De-motivating. A check for this is if you feel responsible for providing the answers for them, if so is that feeling coming from them or from you…?
- Be a ‘Cautious Optimist’. Optimism on it’s own is a journey fraught with disappointment. Pessimism makes nothing possible. Between optimism and pessimism is a more productive place. The cautious optimist assumes there is probably a route through it just needs figuring out. This means perservering in the face of adversity and roadblocks.
- Silence is important. It’s time for your coachee to reflect and process. It’s when they are probably doing the actual learning. Don’t feel tempted to fill it. They will return to you when they need more input.
- Listen with curiosity.What is your coachee really saying to you? What is the subtext of their responses? Where are their blocks coming from? Are they real or a product of anxiety. How can you help them deal with the cause rather than manage the symptom?
- Challenge them. When you hear something that sounds improbable to you, challenge it gently and explore what evidence they are using for their basis.
- Give and request feedback.What did you do that was helpful, what was less helpful? You can be a better coach for them if you understand where you are most and least effective.