Do you think of yourself as a coach?
When I ask this question, almost every single hand goes up. But what does that really mean? Do we have a process? Or do we confuse sharing our little bits of wisdom with coaching?
To be an effective coach, you must combine process with intention. Today I will focus on intention. You must first decide that coaching is what you truly intend to do. And you must also decide whether you intend to coach someone on the process or method, or coach them on the solution.
So that we can be more specific, imagine a situation where you spot a trip hazard in a work area. It not only shouldn’t be there, it should have been caught by someone in the area.
Coaching the solution
Starting with coaching the solution, it is when you care specifically about what final conclusion they arrive at. Take the example of the trip hazard; if you were focused on coaching the solution, as the other person is proposing a solution you would inquire into the robustness and quality of that solution.
For example, if they said they would just remind people to be careful, you would probably start to question how robust they feel that is, what happens when new people are introduced to the area, or how people might remember that when they are focused on other things. You would be coaching them towards a better outcome than telling people to be careful.
Coaching the process
If you are coaching on the process, then you are only focused on the trip hazard as the symptom of how the leader of the area is perhaps doing their safety observations. You aren’t as worried about the trip hazard itself as you are that the leaders aren’t seeing the trip hazard in their own evaluation of the area. This would indicate that there might be other issues in the future that they might be missing. In this case, your inquiry might be focused on:
- “what are you looking for when you do a safety walk?”
- “what questions do you ask yourself when you see a potential problem?”
- “are you identifying things that are not getting resolved?”
Your focus is not on the solution or the problem itself, but on the process that either created or missed the problem that would end up enabling future problems. Obviously you might end up doing both, but that is a larger investment of your time. You must often make a choice, which I’m proposing be a more conscious choice, between where your coaching focus is placed.
On another dimension, sometimes you aren’t trying to develop the person, you just care about the answer. Coaching is for developing the person. Challenging / testing / proposing / advocating is for when you aren’t trying to develop the persons thinking or capabilities, you only want the right answer. This results in “why don’t we remove the trip hazard” or “let’s put a eye-level sign that people can’t miss.” This isn’t coaching; this is just problem solving. We of course can’t coach all the time, can’t coach very well over email, can’t coach much in the middle of tac ops meeting, so we must decide when we’re coaching and when we’re not.
Coaching should be a conscious choice, and be entered into with full intention of what you’re truly trying to accomplish.