Ask a coach: I want to coach my people but I’m not sure when it’s appropriate – how can I tell?

There are heaps of times when it’s appropriate to coach.  But first of all, you need to be an appropriate manager to earn the right to coach your people.  The environment needs to be right: the relationship between the manager the employee or ‘coachee’ has to be one of mutual trust and respect. If the manager’s words and deeds suggest they can’t be trusted, good coaching is highly unlikely. Coaching is not a lecture: it’s a conversation. The intention underlying the coaching conversation needs to be respectful and focused on the coachee, not the coach.  If your team member trusts and respects you, you’re good to go.  Here are 12 typical coaching opportunities to get you thinking.

When the coachee:

  • Is a new hire;
  • Is starting a task they haven’t carried out before;
  • Appears to be struggling;
  • Has been given a new career opportunity;
  • Is newly-promoted;
  • Gets criticised by peers and managers in other departments;
  • Seems to be making a simple task complex;
  • Asks you for advice;
  • Lets the team down;
  • Completes a task they haven’t carried out before;
  • Has just returned from a training course.

You get the picture – there are plenty of opportunities to coach, ranging from great performance to poor.    So when shouldn’t you coach?

  • When either of you is angry;
  • If you feel guilty because you’ve been neglecting them;
  • When the coachee is in breach of contract;
  • If you need to show off about how smart you are;
  • When you are involved in disciplinary procedure, such as a verbal warning;
  • If you only coach people when you view their performance as ‘remedial’;
  • When the coachee is at their wits’ end and has explicitly asked you to ‘show me how to do this’ or says ‘you’re a director – I need direction!’ (although once you’ve shown them, you can subsequently coach them);
  • If your approach to team members is inconsistent and you have ‘favourites’ who get coached and ‘also rans’ who don’t.
  • When a directive approach is appropriate, such as an emergency or crisis.

How can you tell when these opportunities appear?  One of the simplest ways is to notice when you’re about to leap into ‘advice-giving’.  Pause and stop doing the talking: instead ask some coaching questions.  Tougher than it seems!  Understandably, you’ve got where you have by excelling at what your coachee is now learning to do, so you have expertise.  But stop and think: do you want to foster an environment where everyone does the exact same thing the exact same way (your way) or is able to think for themselves, contribute and add real value?   When you are able to shift from being in control mode most of the time to support and coaching mode, more of the time, you will be able to coach the best from your people.

That’s the ‘when’; come back to the blog soon for tips about the ‘how’.  Meanwhile, please post a comment!

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