If you’ve been following our work for any length of time, you know that you’re not going to get the best results from your team by directing the details of their work. But many leaders make the opposite mistake. They either go too hands-off with their team or they try to engage with them in a way that sets aside the leader’s experience and expertise. There’s a better way. The most effective way to get the best results with your team is to deliberately develop people. And that requires coaching skills.
A Common Misunderstanding
Coaching is often misunderstood as simply asking good questions. The coach, in this model, brings no expertise to the table (outside, of course, the discipline of coaching). This made for a delightful Season 1 of Ted Lasso, where the would-be soccer coach showed up with no soccer experience and brought out the best in a struggling soccer team, but it ignores the potential for coaching with both coaching skills and expertise in the field.
Leaders typically get promoted because they’re experts in their field. They shouldn’t suddenly pretend they’re not experts. But neither should they make their own expertise a bottleneck for their team by trying to direct the details of the work. Instead, the most effective leaders coach in a way that’s informed by their expertise. This kind of coaching multiplies the leaders’ expertise instead of ignoring it or becoming limited by it.
Think of a newly promoted director of engineering. They were a superstar coder, and moved up quickly in the organization. Now they’ve got the big title, the big salary, and the big responsibility that come with the new role. If they rely solely on their expertise, they’ll be come a bottleneck for every decision, and their teams will feel micromanaged and stifled.
Instead, the new director can dance nimbly between sharing the patterns they’ve noticed for successful innovation and problem solving with a primary goal of mentoring and developing their group. This is a much bigger job than simply telling everyone what to do—it involves getting to know the people well enough to help them grow their own capabilities.
They’re not simply asking open ended questions, pretending not to know of a path to a solution. They’re providing observations, teaching concepts, and then exploring how the person might approach coming to their own solution. Those aren’t the skills that got them promoted, but they’re definitely the ones that will help the group shine, now and in the future.
What We Learn From a World-Renowned Mountain Bike Coach
In this week’s Humanizing Work Show episode, we interviewed the world-renowned mountain bike coach, Lee McCormack. Lee is one of the best coaches we know. He’s so good precisely because he has deep expertise in both mountain biking and coaching.
In the interview, Lee tells a story of coaching Richard and Dawn Lawrence in preparation for a big race. Lee’s coaching skill gave him (1) awareness that Richard and Dawn needed different approaches to fit their different backgrounds, personalities, and moods and (2) the ability to coach in more than one way. Lee’s depth of expertise in the discipline of mountain biking made it possible for him to explain and coach the same concepts and skills in different ways. What worked for Richard wouldn’t have helped Dawn, and vice versa.
Make a Mindful Coaching Move
If you’re a leader or coach, next time you’re in a coaching conversation, ask yourself, “What does this person need from me in this moment to develop their capability? Would it serve them best to ask a question that helps them think more deeply about their situation and options? Would it serve them best to offer a neutral observation about something they may not be able to see themselves? Would it serve them best to share a model, concept, or technique that might be useful in their situation?”
This quick thought process gets you to combine your expertise with an awareness of the person and the context to make a mindful coaching move.
Sometimes, they have the skills and knowledge they need. Sharing your expertise won’t help. But asking a thoughtful question might.
Other times, a model or technique from your experience followed by a good question might help unlock new possibilities and growth.
The phrasing, “what does this person need from me?” and, “would it serve them best to X?” is deliberate. If we’re not mindful about the goal to grow the person we’re coaching, the interaction can easily become about our own ego. As Lee says in this week’s episode:
People like us who have forged our place in this universe through intellect, it’s pretty scary to let that go. So it becomes our identity and becomes our safety.
I’ve had to be the smartest guy in the room for too long. I’m over it. I’m over it.
But if we can let that go, then we can start to really realize our power.
Are you interested in multiplying your effectiveness as a leader? Join Peter and Richard for our virtual half-day Coaching for Leaders workshop on July 17 from 9:00am to 1:00pm MDT. You’ll learn:
- The 6 roles effective coaches take (asking good questions is just 1 of the 6)
- How to mindfully move between the coaching roles (so you don’t get stuck on your natural one)
- What this kind of coaching looks like in a leadership context (most coaching workshops focus on full-time coaches, not on leaders using coaching in their role)
- How to use questions in a powerful way (and what kinds of questions to avoid)
Click to learn more and register!