To Coach or Not to Coach?

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Very often I do coaching workshop for supervisors and managers. In principle, coach seldom provides answers or advice. In work environment, when staff do not know what they do not know, how do business leaders strike a balance of giving guideline or advice? Salina Lee

This is a key question for a coach no matter the context they are coaching in; internal or external to an organisation, or coaching within an area that a participant does not have the specific knowledge or skill development to achieve a task or to make a decision.

As a professional coach, we make clear distinctions between coaching – facilitating; consulting – giving advice; mentoring – guiding; training – teaching; and counseling – healing and fixing things.

It is these same distinctions that I believe apply in the workplace for leaders and managers at each level of leadership and authority from executive, to supervisor, manager and leader. We can apply each one of these professional modalities to the different functions we are responsible to and for, however, the challenge is knowing what to do, when, with whom and for how long!

Here is a sample of questions from some of the leaders and managers I coach in work flow and staff development:

  • Do my staff member(s) and I have the same outcome in mind for this task? (coaching – facilitating)
  • If so, how do I know this? What is our evidence that we have both agreed will indicate success in this task / project? (coaching – facilitating)
  • What EXPECTATIONS do I need to share as a leader / manager to ensure this project / task is executed at the level I know is possible? (consulting – giving / advice)
  • Do my staff member(s) have past EXPERIENCE in this task / activity? Would they like my help and guidance to know some of some of my past experiences? (mentoring – guiding)
  • Does this task require SUBJECT MATTER expertise? If so, does this staff member have it? If not, who is the best person for them to get this information from? (consulting – giving advice, and training – teaching)
  • Does this staff member need NEW skills to achieve this role / task? If so, what is the ideal way for them to learn? From formal training or from myself through on the job training? (training – teaching)
  • Does this staff member have EXISTING skills to achieve this task / role? If yes, what areas do they specifically need to further develop and take to the next level? (coaching – facilitating)

If in doubt, one of the most simple yet useful questions a leader / manager can ask of a staff member is, “In order for you to feel most empowered right now, what would you like from me: advice (consulting), facilitating you to work it out or do it yourself (coaching), teaching you (training) or counseling you through an issue/conflict?”

One of the biggest traps a manager can get into is having their ego seduced as a subject matter expert (consultant or trainer) and unintentionally creating a co-dependence between them and their team members.

You will know this has happened to you if you find yourself constantly answering questions or trouble shooting problems that staff members have NOT firstly attempted to solve in depth themselves.

Take this possible daily annoyance as an alert that you need to step into teaching problem solving skills or expert knowledge and then coaching to facilitate your staff member working out the problems and solutions themselves.

Similarly you will know you are doing too much coaching if you are spending hours and hours asking questions, listening and supporting staff members, only for them to consistently fail on meeting the standards and expectations that you have delegated to them.

Again this will be an alert that you are not effectively communicating your desired standards, process, and expectations effectively when you delegate. You will need to spend more time setting out your measures, standards, and process (consulting) at the front end of the task and monitoring progress based on your experience (mentoring).

You will know you have struck the balance between coaching (facilitating) and consulting (giving advice) when your team is coming to you WITH solutions and answers and you are only nudging them to their next level.

On size does NOT fit all. Each one of your staff members will have different needs from you, for different tasks at different stages during a project. What they need at any point in time will be dependent on their experience, expertise, skill level, and their attitude.

Your mastery as a leader comes from you developing acute observation, intuiting and listening skills to know who needs what from you when. Remember, if in doubt, ask!

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