Coaching to help others solve problems

During a recent conversation a few days ago, my friend Rosa Say made a comment that started me on a round of self-reflection. The simple comment was, “That is very coaching of you, Blaine.” Then yesterday, a colleague made almost the same statement! These comments are rewarding to me because in recent years I have made a conscious effort to enhance my coaching abilities, both personally and professionally.

Coaching is often identified as an essential skill for effective managers and leaders. But it has not always been that way.

During my early management experiences, my mentors (some very savvy businessmen) seldom mentioned coaching. The conventional wisdom for “dealing with” employees in those days focused on such things as providing clear instructions, communicating specific expectations, ensuring that employees had the necessary resources to complete their assignments, monitoring performance, and quickly correcting poor performance. While it is quite reasonable for managers to pay attention to each of these items, combined they exhibit an attitude that the manager knows best. They omit an important aspect of leadership, that of helping direct reports and team members to learn how to solve their own problems.

Whoever wrote the Wikipedia definition of coach hit the nail on the head:

A coach is a person who supports and directs another person or persons via encouragement and asking questions. It differs from a mentor in that a coach rarely offers advice. Instead, they help the client to find their own solutions, by asking questions that give them insight into their problem.

I even like this one sentence definition, “A coach is a person who supports and directs another person via encouragement and by asking questions to help them to find their own solutions.”

A key difference between the modern coaching approach to leadership and the 1980s vision of managers involves the source of solutions to problems. We now recognize that the best person to solve a problem is often the person closest to the problem- which is typically the team member, not the manager. Yet when someone is too close to problems, it is sometimes difficult for them to see all the angles or solution possibilities. Effective managers and team leaders engage in coaching to help broaden the viewpoint and grease the wheels to assist others in problem solving.
For me, learning to take a coaching approach required a shift in thinking. Tom Heck discusses making such a shift to become a “Coach Manager,” and posted this list of 31 specific changes in behavior and attitudes. Here are two examples:

OLD WAY: “You report to me”
NEW WAY: “Tell me how I can help”

OLD WAY: Solving all the problems
NEW WAY: Help others solve and prevent problems

While I appreciate comments from friends and colleagues about my own coaching, reading Tom’s list provides plenty ideas about continued opportunity for my personal development.

What about you? Are you coaching habits where you want them to be? Are you asking questions and encouraging others to help their problem solving?

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One Response to Coaching to help others solve problems

  1. I just started reading Co-Active Coaching and it looks like a seminal work for anyone serious about coaching. The book offers excellent examples of coaching conversations, structure, and strategies. Will write a review when it is finished.

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