Principles for effective coaching

Great managers are great coaches. Great coaches help others develop their potential. Yet most managers have little formal training in coaching. In my roles as manager, leader, and coach, I've come across a few principles that I've found useful. Here's four principles that guide me when coaching others.

Bring questions, not answers

As Michael Stanier writes in his book of the same name, say less, ask more. Your partner — that is, the person on the other end of the coaching session — is the expert of their situation. No matter how much you know, you don't know everything about their unique challenges and opportunities. But you can provide good questions. Use your questions to help your partner find their own solution.

Ask open-ended questions. Let your partner take the conversation where they need to.

Ask questions with curiosity, not judgement. Provide a safe space for your partner to explore their problems. Be on their side.

And remember that your expertise is far from your only asset as a coach. My experience as a leader helps me understand many of the common leadership challenges my thinking partners face. It allows me to ask targeted questions, getting right to the technical details. But more often than not, it's the simple questions that matter: "what's on your mind?", "what would you like to achieve?", and "what next?".

Give the gift of space

Sometimes, the best thing to do as a coach is not to ask questions, but to listen.

As a caveat to the first principle, don't ask questions for the sake of asking questions. Silence is sometimes your best response. Give your partner time to think.

Holding space for thought is one of the best gifts you can give. Consider a time when you've been talking through a problem with a close confidant. You come to them with a problem, and they listen. They don't try to give advice; they listen. You talk, and talk, and talk. And somehow, you manage to solve your problem — without almost a word from your listening partner.

Create what Nancy Kline calls a Thinking Environment. Provide your attention, create a sense of ease, offer your appreciation and your encouragement.

The mind that has the problem often contains the solution. Give space, and your partner may very well overcome their own challenges.

Give only the advice you were asked for

How often have you come to someone with a problem, only to be blasted with advice on exactly what you should do? How often has that advice been relevant to your situation? And how often have you heeded that advice? In my case, the answers are: far too often, very rarely, and rarer still.

Provide your advice as succinctly as possible. Let your partner be the judge of whether it is relevant — they'll ask for more if they need it.

I've found this approach to be helpful: when asked for advice, ask your partner what they think. Ask the same question back to them. Their answer is often more insightful — and far more relevant to their unique situation — than yours is likely to be.

Remember that your expertise isn't your main asset as a coach. The best players can make terrible coaches.

Use frameworks as a starting point, not a checklist

Frameworks are a helpful tool for all coaches. They provide us with good practices to follow and good questions to ask. But remember that the goal of a coaching conversation is to achieve what your partner wants, not for you as coach to complete a checklist.

In my own practice, I often rely on the SOON and GROW frameworks. I'm also fond of Nancy Kline's Thinking Partnership Session, and Michael Stanier's seven questions from Say Less, Ask More.

As the briefest of summaries, here's an introduction to SOON and GROW. They are similar frameworks for coaching conversations, and provide four questions, or stages of the conversation, that you work through with your partner. You can loop through the questions multiple times to work through different challenges.

For SOON, the questions are these:

GROW's questions are similar:

Each coaching partner is unique, as is each conversation. Use frameworks as a way to prompt good thinking. And throughout, stay in tune with where your partner wants and needs the conversation to go.

Whether you practice as a manager, leader, or as a dedicated coach, coaching is one of the most valuable things you can do to grow others.

© Braden Moore.RSS