It happens all the time. Two people are using a word and believe they are aligned on its definition, but their different interpretations lead to big misses in execution. When this happens with a common word like coaching, the results fall short and leave people scratching their head. I was recently in New York teaching a Coaching for Peak Performance class with a group of front-line managers.
"How many of you actively coach your team members?" (80% of the hands went up)
"How many of you coach both proactively for development and reactively for "just-in-time" learning?" (60% of the hands went up)
It didn't make sense to me. I was missing something. How could they be coaching and still not getting the results? We teach gap analysis for managers. We ask them to check for knowledge, skill and motivation. So, I did! Knowledge - CHECK. I asked them the questions and they answered with all the right words (and hand raises). Motivation - CHECK. I could see for myself these were passionate managers trying to achieve things they believed in.
Skill. Hmmmm. The only way to check for skill is to observe and so I did. And there it was. These managers were coaching like the only coaches they had probably ever been coached by. I've seen it so many times and yet the reasons eluded me, so I missed it again. With all the best intent, they were coaching for transfer not transformation. They were trying to create "mini-me's" and clones in the best possible way, by transferring all of their knowledge and experience through the coaching conversation. The problem is that with the pace of change today, we can't simply transfer because what made us successful in the past will not serve the next generation of leaders, team members, or individual contributors. We must also focus our coaching on transformation.
The keys to transformational coaching take practice and commitment to master, but they will create amazing results and much stronger relationships. Those keys include:
- Engage them. Make it about THEIR goals and vision of success. Even if they didn't know there was a problem, make them aware and them give them time to think about how they would like it to go differently the next time.
- Ask lots of questions. Be facilitative in your approach. Almost all of your preparation should be developing great questions that help people explore and think differently.
- Listen carefully. Not everyone communicates perfectly, so listen with empathy, considering both content and intent.
- Brainstorm for solutions and be ok (as the coach) not having all the answers. In fact, keep checking to make sure you're not limiting the answers to only the ones you've tried or experienced. The comfort zone is a hard place to leave.
- Take it higher and broader than any one situation. Model the way to tackle a tough problem or to be strategic or to change effectively. This is where the real payoff exists in coaching. If we take the transformational approach, we are developing the skills they will need to tackle the problems we haven't even thought of yet.
Coaching at this level requires some planning, some practice and some presence. The payoff for your investment is significant, you will surround yourself with people who will skillfully carry your team and your organization forward into a new era.