Three good ways to stay a good coach… ( and not become a great coach)

08 Aug, 2010
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The art of coaching is not as easy as it looks. One of the main reasons for this is that being a successful coach is not measured by what you do but by what is achieved.
I’ve discovered a few ‘patterns’ in my own coaching behavior that leed to on ‘working hard’ instead of ‘achieve results’. And I’ve found some alternatives for these behaviors that will help me to become a great coach.
I would not like to use the word ‘anti-patterns’. It’s better to speak about wolves in sheep’s clothes. Some amazing results can be achieved working like this. However, on the long term it will neither help the coach become any better, neither help the organization to live on without the coach.
Love the sheep, but be aware of the wolf !
What wolves am I talking about :

  1. Do whatever is needed to make the change a success.
  2. Do whatever is expected from the coach.
  3. Focus on the biggest impediments.

A coach who manages to do all three above is a great coach, right ?

Why does this behavior not lead to great coaching ?
Do whatever is needed to make the change a success.
As a coach it seems to make sense to feel responsible for the implementation of the change and it being successful. To do ‘whatever is needed to make the change a success’ is a full time job ( at the least) which will easily fill your agenda with meetings and ad hoc firefighting. The result of this is that, after let’s say three months, the coach is exhausted and people in the organization have only learned one thing: “bring it to the coach. He will fix it. “.
Do whatever is expected from the coach.
Every company that hires an (expensive) coach has a true intention to change. Most people in such a company are open for any improvements. They hate to bé changed but they’re open for changing if it makes their life easier or more valuable.
I believe 99% of all knowledge workers remain curious for his entire working life and is always eager to learn something better.
A coach, who’s expected to have all knowledge of the better world, will be ‘consumed’ as the source of learning and therefore there will be a 1001 expectations towards the coach. This goes from giving training or chairing a meeting to act as a scrummaster, coach individual team members and brainstorm on the new organizational architecture to support the new way of working. As you see, this too, will easily fill a coach’s agenda. Result of all this knowledge sharing ? Lot’s of information floating through the organization and an empty coach. After 3 months there are still a lot more people having questions….
Focus on the biggest impediments.
To change the way of working always asks for resolving issues. I like the metaphor from the Lean world where you need to remove all stones to get the lake’s water surface flat. When it’s flat you lower the water level so new stones become visible.
You can only remove the stones you see. And when they’re removed you can lower the water to discover new stones. Starting a change in an organization requires some early results to keep the good spirit flowing. Stones need to be removed fast in order to get the change going. The most efficient way to get the surface flat is to chop of the visible part of the stone ignoring the rest of the stone until later ‘when there is more time’. There will never be more time !
These three behaviors have one thing in common, especially when combined : they force the coach to nót do a lot of other stuff that feels important at the time but cannot have the attention it deserves because of an urgent meeting, a training that needs to be given or a road block that has to be removed. Sooner or later things will happen that make the coach think ‘I knew it! I should have done this or that when I felt like it!’
How to be a great coach ?
You need to know your strengths and weaknesses, know what you can handle and what not so you can be in charge of your own speed. Don’t coach 4 teams if you know you’ll drown trying it. Don’t accept any work if you know your working day is full. Reserve half of your agenda for free time so you have some time to think and then don’t accept any meetings or trainings or whatever that fills up this valuable space.
The goal of being in control of your own speed is to create room for your intuition. To give you the time to listen to your instinct and to have the opportunity to follow up on this gut feeling. After all, your gut feeling is what makes you the coach you are.
Following your gut feeling and having control of your own speed will make you focus on the whole instead of the now. You can coach people to focus on the now, but the coach should focus on the whole.
So ‘doing whatever is needed to make the change a success’ should not include running from meeting to meeting and working day and night. It should rather be something like ‘make sure everything is done that leads to a successful change’. Guide people to make the right choices and take the right actions with that. Help managers to see their options. To be able to do this the coach needs to be calm and inspiring. He needs to be in the lead of his own agenda to have the opportunity to think things through and see the whole.
Even so, ‘to do whatever is expected from the coach’ is to be limited to the ability of the coach. ‘No’ is as good as an answer to any question as ‘Yes’ would be. ( However ‘Not now’ or ‘I know someone else who can help you’ would probably be even better 🙂 ) Each coach should be transparent about what can and cannot be expected. Talking about knowledge sharing, consider training a few key people to become the trainers, or hire trainers for the training. Prepare a meeting together with the chairholder and evaluate afterwards so after a few meetings coaching becomes less necessary. All this, with the purpose of keeping the calm in the coaches head and his agenda so he’s open for the sounds of intuition and gut feeling.
Focus is a good thing. ‘Focus on the biggest impediments’ should be perfect then. It is ! But it’s not the job of the great coach. Find people who adore the fixing of impediments. Teach them how to see the stones and how to make people see the stones. Learn them to focus on the entire stone and not just on the visible part of the stone. Make sure they understand that every visible stone deserves attention. Not only the bigger ones, but also the smaller ones because the lower the water gets, the bigger the stones will become.
Being a great coach is not about making the change a success, meeting all expectations or fixing the most important ( even all) impediments. To be or not to be a great coach cannot be measured by what you do as a coach but can only be derived from the results that are achieved by the people you’re coaching.
Therefor as a coach you should always:

  1. Follow your gut feeling.
  2. Be in control of your own speed.
  3. See the whole.

Remember, your gut feeling is what makes you the coach you are.


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