One of the elements of successful coaching is having the discipline to work on the person’s behaviours and attitude and not the specific ‘problems’ that they bring to the table. The theory being that by working on the individual you get to tackle the problem too. In my experience both personally and professionally this theory is typically sound.
It’s a concept that some people need time to get their head around. Often the simplicity leads to calls of “there must be more to this”. It’s certainly a mindset and skill that requires practice. Time pressures can also play a part here too. A real case of the perhaps now over used phrase “give a man a fish he eats today. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for life”. Here are three questions to help you test what type of conversations you are having:
ONE: Are you being seduced by the content of the situation? Do the questions you ask drive towards understanding the real nitty gritty of the situation? Questions about the situation beyond context setting suggest that you are focused towards problem fixing mode. Turn that around with a direct and open question to the coachee. Something along the lines of “so, stepping back from the situation, what assumptions could you be making?”.
TWO: Are you drawing from your own autobiography? If you think ‘ah, I’ve been here before this is what this person needs to do’ you’ll likely be missing decent opportunities for the person to grow and develop. The near term satisfaction of ‘helping’ can be so attractive. You could however be doing even more good by supporting the individual to work out their own approach. I like Stephen Covey’s analogy of giving someone else your spectacles and trying to convince them “they work for me, why can’t you see”.
THREE: Are you working on the person’s behaviour? Ask yourself how much of the conversation is devoted to asking powerful questions to help the person understand why they are responding in a certain way. The balance is likely to be heavily in favour of these type of questions if you are working on the person.
Using your judgement is also key to understanding when you really believe the coachee has reached the end of the road and are genuinely stuck. At this point it feels perfectly acceptable to offer a suggestion. In the line manager relationship time sensitivity will also play a part e.g. when there is a genuine ‘crisis’ you will often need to change to a more directive style. Hopefully the need for the directive style is the exception rather than the rule.
As a line manager or coach have a go at monitoring yourself for a month and see where you are.