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Need to Lead? Three Actions to Jumpstart Coaching Today

Got coaching?

As a business owner, you might be feeling just a little daunted or overwhelmed by having “coach” added to your already long list of skills and responsibilities.

Coaching’s a hot topic these days, and many of us have had “… and coaching” suddenly become part of our job description. And while that’s good in theory that we should all be coaching and mentoring our employees to higher productivity and on-the-job morale, it can trigger something of a defensive response:

I don’t know what coaching is! Is it just another word for leader?
I haven’t had much (or any) coaching skills training!
Where do I start?

Here’s what you know about on-the-job coaching

The bad news is that there are many, many definitions of coaching, most of which are some of the truth but none of which are all of the truth.

The good news is that rather than trying to pin those definitions down, you can look to your own experience for much of the wisdom you need.

Think of a time when you were well coached, perhaps by one of your old managers, maybe by a friend or colleague. Sometime in the past, someone coached you in a way that made a difference and had an impact.

Write down five things that person did, that made it such an effective “intervention” or helped you gain the skills you needed to succeed.

(That’s OK, I can wait. Really – it’s worth doing this.)

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that the five things you’ve written might include some of the following:

  • Gave me time;
  • Asked me questions;
  • Didn’t just tell me what to do;
  • Took an interest in me;
  • Encouraged me to go further, be bolder, be braver;
  • Gave me some honest feedback;
  • Was interested in my welfare;
  • Helped me see other options…

Now, here’s what you need to notice about this list and your list: Just how non-technical it is. The key to honing coaching skills:

Sure, people like me have spent years and thousands of dollars honing our coaching skills. But, you don’t have to.
To be a perfectly good-enough coach for most of the people most of the time, you need to show up, be curious and interested in the other person, ask more questions than give advice. These are the very root of profound coaching skills.

In other words, don’t sweat it so much. Coaching is simple. You have the skills you need to make a difference.
(Now, it’s something of an art not to complicate something that’s simple. But we’ll get to that…)

Your coaching action #1

Really do that “best coaching moment” exercise above. No, really. See what comes up for you. And whatever does, do more of that.

What’s the real challenge for you?

Entrepreneurs and business owners spend so much of their time in organizations and beyond, directing time and energy and passion and emotion and anxiety and effort to solving the wrong problems.

Because so many of us are geared up to give advice and provide solutions – the training ground of the typical leader – that we often skip this first vital question, which is probing to find out what the real challenge is.
The “for you” bit in the end is important too. If you leave it off, you run the danger of your coachee talking about the general challenge, or the high-level challenge or the theoretical challenge – without ever getting to what the challenge is for them.

Your coaching action #2

Start noticing your strong tendency to lead to problem-solving. That’s not all bad – sometimes it’s exactly the right thing to do. But as often, you’re better of spending time figuring out what the real challenge is first.

Almost certainly, the initial challenge the person you’re coaching isn’t actually the real challenge. (Sometimes it is. But rarely.) Stay hungry. Stay curious. Ask them, “What’s the real challenge here for you?” and see what happens.

Turn off your finely-tuned advice-giving machine

Here’s the deal. As a leader wanting to do more coaching, you’ve got a big challenge.

For years, you’ve been trained, encouraged, nurtured and rewarded to give advice. You’re a font of knowledge, a walking resource, the person to turn to when there’s a question to be answered.

Which is not a bad thing. Because there’s a place for giving on-the-job advice.

But, sadly, it’s a much smaller place than the advice-giving mansion in which you currently hang out.

Here’s one way to think about things, which I first heard from David Rock, a leader in embedding internal coaching capacity within organizations.

Think of all the times you get advice on a daily, weekly and yearly basis.

Notice how much of that advice isn’t much good, or not quite right – polite words for “kind of sucks”. And then notice that, of the advice you do take, how much of it is not as useful as you’d hoped it turns out to be. Well – that’s how employees feel about your advice as well.

Your coaching action #3

Spend the next week paying attention to how much advice you give (and you get). Notice the rush you’re in to come up with a solution.

See if you can hold back the advice just a bit. Ask three good questions before you give your next piece of advice. See what difference those questions make.

About the author Michael Bungay Stanier is the founder and senior partner of Box of Crayons, a company that works with organizations, ranging from AstraZeneca to Xerox, to help them do more great work. A Rhodes scholar who earned both arts and law degrees with highest honors from Australian National University and an MPhil from Oxford, he is a popular speaker at business and coaching conferences, and was named Canadian Coach of the Year in 2006. He lives in Toronto.

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