How not to Coach!

If I asked you to name the one activity that Managers tend to neglect most, what would it be?  I suppose I must have trained thousands of Managers over the years, in organisations large and small, public and private, all around the world.  My experience is that very few of  them see one particular activity as  being part of their role.  Are you and I talking about the same thing here, I wonder?  The activity is, dah dah…………………..


Very few organisations in my experience have a true coaching culture.  If I’m being negative about it, I’d say Managers don’t see it as an important activity, they don’t see the potential benefits of it (probably because no one ever coached them effectively or at all), and they don’t have the skills to do it well either.

When I challenge them on this I run into a barrage of excuses, of which these are the most popular:

  • I don’t have time (I have some real work to do)
  • It’s not my job (HR do that fluffy stuff)
  • I don’t have it as one of my goals/objectives (and I only do what I get measured on)
  • I don’t know how (I’m not a psychiatrist/counsellor).

The easiest one of these to work on is the last:  challenging the belief that in order to coach you need some highly refined methodology and a certification of some sort.  I often have a go at proving how powerful it is to give or receive some respectful coaching  by giving them a simple structure to work with and then getting them to try it out for 15 minutes with a peer.

Here’s the structure (not exactly rocket science):

  1. Build rapport
  2. Agree an objective for the coaching session
  3. Ask questions and listen.  Do not at any point provide an answer.
  4. Summarise and agree next steps.

I see people coming away from one of these discussions absolutely amazed at what it can achieve.  They find that if they can do point 3 well (using only open questions, not interrupting, allowing pauses, and at no stage having an answer in their head), they can help people to find the answers from within themselves.  It’s a real eye opener.

Once they realise that you do not need to be an expert to coach, or to have an answer for people, their inhibitions seem to evaporate.  Maybe the resistance is because they feel threatened by not  knowing what the question will be, and therefore what the answer is.

I used to teach music, and once had a teenage saxophone pupil who wanted to learn how to play jazz.  In particular he wanted to learn how to improvise.  I had a classical musical education from the age of 5.  I can play what is put in front of me, and without the music notation to work with, I am lost.  How could I coach him in something I can’t do myself?

We set to work, got some great resources (CD’s to play along to, analysing other performers, breaking it into smaller pieces and so on), and 2 years he took the most advanced Jazz exam you can and got 95% marks for the three pieces he played.  He was way better at it than I was, but guess what: I learnt how to do it myself by coaching him.

So what are the components of great coaching?  One way to explore this is to ask what makes for bad coaching.  In another of my “How not to videos“, here I am with Spencer Holmes, who is playing my manager. We called it “The coaching session from hell.”   Ask yourself what the mistakes are.  If you’d like to compare your list with ours (we got over 20), put your email address in the comment box below.

© DOC RABE Media –

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at
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8 Responses to How not to Coach!

  1. Frank Holz says:

    Enjoying your videos and your idea that learning can start with the “how not to….” proposition. Would you send me the list of no-nos in your 8;15 video dated 1/25/2010. That would be great. Keep up the good work. You are a refreshing change from the platitudes of many instructors.


  2. Sandra says:

    Great video! Would like to compare lists!


  3. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed this! A really great training aid – delivered in a thoroughly humourous package. Don’t you just love Spence’s didactic style and the way Michael responds…
    Are you intending to offer an “introduction to coaching course” for busy managers? Using this style of learning could be very popular!


  4. Love the clip. “What are your problems?”


  5. Pingback: How not to Coach! |

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