Coaching to me means anytime I’m mentoring, teaching, leading or coaching someone in order to help them attain the growth goals they have for themselves. So if Rule #1 in Coaching is to Get Yourself Right First , then Rule #2 is about getting yourself out of the spotlight. Coaching is NOT about YOU as the Coach; Coaching is about the other person with whom you’re working. Most definitely it IS about your expertise, your wealth of knowledge, and your vast experience over time. All of that is at your disposal to access and ultimately pass on when working with your client towards reaching their goals. However, the key to remember is that you are the expert guide, not the boss. Big difference.
The hardest thing you’ll ever do as a coach is STOP TALKING. It will be so tempting to just tell your client what they need to do to get better. Don’t. This is a collaborative effort, and it will take your expertise and constant input and feedback between the two of you to monitor and adjust the plan so they reach their goal successfully. This is not unlike passing the baton in a race. It takes some practice, coordination, and team work to figure out how to get the knowledge passed from one person to the next successfully so they can take it and keep running their own race – without you. The better you are at helping them see the next steps for themselves, the more powerful the learning will be.
So how to accomplish that? Here’s a process I use that’s pretty straight-forward:
- Assess the current reality.
- What’s working? What’s not?
- If something is not working, how do we know that? What might be the cause?
- What’s the most pressing thing we need to address?
- Make a plan to address it.
- Run the plan for a minimum of two weeks.
- Collect data – stats, observations, reflections.
- Repeat the process with step 1 again until the larger goal is reached.
The ultimate goal might be pretty big or even a bit complicated to identify and address initially, but the key is to address small enough chunks of it – next steps – that are not too out of reach on their own, in order get at correcting or improving the larger issue. You use the process for each chunk until you’ve worked your way through the issues and have successfully reached the goal.
The View from the Trenches
I’ve gotten better at this over the years, but I’ve got to be honest – it’s still hard for me. I have to make an intentional effort NOT to just tell but to coach instead. The effort I make to muzzle myself and help someone else learn it for themselves is always worth it. Time and experience has proven that to me. The hard part still is getting ego or impatience (mine) out of the way. It gets frustrating at times when the goal my client sets is not necessarily the one I think we should focus on. I can ask questions, present data and options – in general, try to persuade otherwise. However, at the end of the day, if I haven’t been persuasive enough and they want to focus on getting better at something that’s different from what I think we should focus on, I have to remind myself – this is THEIR learning! Help, don’t hinder.
I know when it’s messy, confusing, and the productive struggle is in full-swing (for both of us!) that the magic is happening, taking us from where we started to a whole new understanding. I know I’m doing my part right when I learn, grow, and get just as surprised as my client as we go through the learning together. That’s when I know I’m really in the work WITH my client. And let’s be honest – that lightbulb moment, that victory grin, that “OMG! I just did that!” is one of the greatest returns on investment there is for a coach – to know you had something to do with making that moment happen for someone else.
So be happy and proud for both of you! You successfully passed the baton of knowledge and got it – and your client – across their finish line! It’s most definitely a team effort – cheer loudly!
Just don’t forget to let them have their moment in the spotlight this time. It’s not about you.