In the last 2 weeks I have worked with two different groups of managers, in which the subject of Coaching has come up. It surprises me how consistently several themes come out when we explore this area.
Firstly, the majority of them had no idea what it was like to be coached. This was a new experience for them (and it was met with a “Wow” reaction, even when the person coaching them had never coached before, we were in a training room with several other groups talking at the same time, AND I had to cut each session down to just 10 minutes).
Secondly, what came out was a common myth – a belief that I think holds people back from coaching their team members more often. Here it is:
“I need to be an expert if I am going to coach someone effectively.”
I SO disagree. I propose the complete opposite: it helps NOT to know anything about the subject you are coaching in. Why? Because then you cannot fall down the two rabbit holes which so often ruin the coaching session:
1. Closing in on the the answer too soon
2. Having an answer in mind too early and then providing it, rather than letting the person being coached find it themselves.
So often a coach is there to help the person find their own answer, and this is so much easier if you don’t know what it is yourself! Again, having an 8 year old’s head rather than a ‘manager’ head will help the coach to ease the answers out of the other person.
But if you feel you need to coach in order to provide answers yourself, you will tend to avoid coaching others. This I think is why it is so often a rare activity, and certainly not seen as a core part of a manager’s job.
I speak from personal experience about not needing to provide answers. I have a degree in Music, and used to teach saxophone and clarinet to mainly young people. I once had a teenage sax pupil who got as far as he could with the traditional saxophone exam structure before needing to take a music theory exam. He was reluctant to do this (it probably wasn’t very cool). So he asked me if I could take him through the Jazz Saxophone syllabus (which didn’t require music theory), and thus teach him how to improvise. As someone who learnt from the age of 5 how to play dots on sheets of music, this was quite a challenge! I knew how hard I find it to improvise, and yet I am being asked to coach someone in how to do it.
Needless to say we did it, and he got top marks in the final Jazz exam. He turned out to be great at it, and I got a great personal takeaway, which is that I learnt how to do it myself.
What’s been your experience of being coached, and what is the coaching culture where you work? Do managers have the same fear that I keep running into?
© Vladimirs Poplavskis – Fotolia.com