Does coaching have an image problem?

Commonly expressed views on leaders doing coaching rarely explain how simple it can be: helping your people to get more done, better, whilst staying out of the way... Does coaching have a bad image for all the wrong reasons?

May 3, 2018

Many organisations are keen to get their leaders to coach. They often run into problems soon after the designated leaders are appointed and trained because, well, because life takes over. Because coaching is OK when things are going well but when the going gets tough the tough won't coach, they'll tell. This, in turn, may be because we have made coaching too complicated, too bookish, too far removed from the operational coalface. Too much time away from 'real work'...

I see coaching popping up in all sorts of disguises and 'within' rather than 'between' operational situations. For me, there are two types of coach. Ones who,  like me, have the luxury of working intensively with someone who has extracted themselves from their work context (where the action is going on) and others, perhaps like you, who are working live, in the middle of the action. Both can work very nicely but at the risk of sounding like I'm playing with semantic differences, let me suggest that that coaching in the live, operational situation, might best be described as 'facilitation'.


Here are three such contexts where I see a form of operational coaching or facilitation happening. The difference between it occurring, and not, hinges on a decision, well, many decisions about how to proceed, in the moment, in the exchange with your team member or group. Let me explain the three situations and I think you'll be able to spot the turning points where you and the others involved could move towards facilitation or to something more directive. 

1. A thinking session

One of your team comes to you to enlist your help in managing a senior stakeholder who they feel out-ranks them and therefore cannot be told "no". 

Option A. Do it for him.

Option B. Tell him what to say and reassure him that all will be well with your air-cover in place.

Option C. A question or two and lots of empathy.


Him: I need you to speak to Jane about the scope - it's way off.
You: You sound convinced that she listen to me more than to you.
Him: Well you know how forceful she can be.
You: You're uneasy about saying no to her - in case she has a go at you...
Him: Well, yes actually.
You: What do you think would happen if she did?
Him: Well it would be bloody embarrassing but I'd still have to find a way to say no - the team are caving in.
You: What you just said there sounds ideal. Sounds like you have already thought it through pretty well and know the answer.

2. A meeting

It's your meeting  and you have just ninety minutes to get through too much.

Option A. Take charge and push hard. Make your suggestions on each point first and get people to agree with you.

Option B. Allocate time to each point. Get people to stick to time - make them come up with ideas and conclusions.

Option C. Joint effort. Tell the group that the agenda is too big and ask them to decide which things must get done today. Allocate a 'sponsor' for each item. For each one explain what outcome you need and then nudge the discussion along. Again paying close attention and respond empathy to surface big reservations, mildly expressed.

3. A facilitated session

Your bit of the organisation has had a reasonable first quarter but you think that your immediate team, and their own teams in turn, need to revisit some of the processes that they have in place to capture extra revenue.

Option A. Tell them that they're doing well but... they're going to have to find extra revenue. Ask to see their plans shared at the next meeting.

Option B. Tell them what to do.

Option C. Run a session where you orchestrate their thinking. In other words you set the outcome and the fewest parameters possible (but necessary) like timeframe, budget for executing on the emergent idea(s) and how much time to spend on them out of operational hours and then stand back and make encouraging noises (there's a little more to it than that...  we'll cover all that on the webinar).

4. Looking beyond the immediate situation

Why go to the bother of getting the hang of the whole facilitation/operational coaching thing?

  1. The head space to lead. Everyone, and we could argue, leaders in particular, need time to think and at some point in the day, to do all the other things that a leader is supposed to do. Helping your people to think and act, without getting bogged down in their jobs, will create space in the leader's diary. 
  2. Many brains... create a wider variety of options and a more rounded solution. Thinking together builds individual awareness of what other members of the team are good at and how they think. 
  3. Develop your successors and keep your people interested. Not everyone wants the boss' job but everyone I know wants to come to work to do interesting things and to be involved in making important decisions.

Looking beyond the operational needs of your job to how you can really help your team to do amazing things (which feels great and works for the bottom line too) is critical to everyone's success. Facilitation is a way for leaders to do more, with more of their people.

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