Coaching Stereotypes & Realities

When most people think about coaching, they tend to picture one of two things:

  1. The life coach or executive coach who asks penetrating questions, or
  2. The sports coach who stands on the sideline with a game plan and a whistle

The first kind of coach brings no domain expertise to the table. They simply listen and ask thoughtful questions to try to bring out the client’s own capability.

The second kind of coach is a deep domain expert. Sure, there’s the occasional Ted Lasso (if you haven’t seen the show, we highly recommend it). But most sports coaches have deep expertise in their sport, and they use that expertise to build a system of training and play to help their players win. They’re still working to bring out the players’ own capability, but it’s happening within the coach’s vision. (And even Ted Lasso needed to surround himself with assistant coaches who had deep football expertise.)

Leaders in organizations are often told they need to adopt a coaching approach. They need to stop directing the work, stop doing the work, and start coaching their people. Now, there’s something really well intentioned and wise in that because leaders should be bringing up the capability of their people. And they really shouldn’t be planning and directing all the work, so it makes a lot of sense to borrow some models from coaching.

But what kind of coaching? Back to our two coaching stereotypes above… The stereotypical sports coach looks a whole lot like the manager planning and directing the work, and we probably shouldn’t be like that. “Okay,” the leader thinks, “I guess my job now is leading by asking questions.”

This places a competent, well-intentioned leader in an awkward position. They have domain expertise that’s no longer being put to use (or they feel guilty when they use it). They never really developed the skill of asking effective coaching questions. So, their sense of mastery in their work goes down, their team starts performing worse, their people are unhappy with a lack of direction and clarity, and they start wondering, “What am I doing here?”

It doesn’t have to be this way. Coaching, properly understood, includes asking questions, but it’s much more. In our Coaching for Leaders workshop, we use Doug Silsbee’s Coaching Septet model. Silsbee described coaching as having seven different voices or roles that the effective coach mindfully navigates from moment to moment. These include:

  • The Partner works directly on the relationship between coach and client
  • The Investigator uses powerful questions to create options and provoke discovery
  • The Reflector provides feedback, directs the client’s attention towards his own capabilities and potential, and encourages self-observation and reflection
  • The Teacher shares models, ideas, and tools
  • The Guide moves the client towards action
  • The Contractor helps the client get concrete about actions and follow through with them

In Coaching for Leaders, we help leaders learn how to practice each of these roles in a leadership context and how to fluently move between them.

You’re probably already reasonably good at 1-3 of these roles. Maybe you know how to ask good questions. Perhaps you’re a great teacher. You might be really good at helping your team members make plans and follow through with them.

In Coaching for Leaders, you’ll learn how to leverage that strength in the right moments. And you’ll develop more range to apply other coaching roles with your team when you need them.

Coaching for Leaders is part of our new Agile Management series. If you caught our Intro to Agile Management workshop last month, this is a great follow-up. Coaching is a meta skill that will make you better at many of the focus areas in our 3 Jobs model. If you missed that workshop, it’s ok. You can start with Coaching for Leaders and join us the next time we offer Intro to Agile Management in August.

Join us Jul 11, 2022, from 9:00AM to 1:00PM MDT for a virtual half-day workshop on Coaching for Leaders.

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