I often tell people that completing my workplace coaching certification changed my life, and it’s honestly not an exaggeration.
I worked in operational HR roles supporting business leaders for a looong time and I was (and still am) bloody good at it. But the pressure in business partnership roles is immense. You never know what the next email or phone call will bring, which is exciting and exhausting almost in equal measure.
But for someone like me (and honestly the majority of quality HR people I know) with perfectionistic tendencies, the pressure to be ‘right’ and to ‘fix’ things quickly causes a lot of stress. I pride myself on my reputation of providing quality, well-considered and technically sound advice which isn’t always possible when someone rings you out of the blue expecting an immediate solution to their complex problem. Cue stress.
I mean I muddled through, and I became incredible adept at the ‘politician response’ where I answered with words while managing not to say anything of substance to buy myself time as my brain madly processes information and my hands quickly searched policy docs or the Google (a skill that still serves me well to be fair!).
Then coaching entered my life and it was like that bit in The Wizard of Oz where everything went from black and white to a technicolour dream land!
For those who haven’t waded into the world of coaching, the power of coaching comes from asking incredible questions, not from having the right answer. And that is the game changer!
The power of coaching comes from asking incredible questions, not from having the right answers.
Instead of needing to come up with the ‘right’ answer in the moment, all I had to do was ask a great question! I didn’t need to be the font of knowledge, I just had to unlock the knowledge in others.
I congratulated a connection today on completing her coaching coursework and the crux of her reply centred around the power in ‘getting the leader to do the heavy lifting instead of me playing the advisor/problem solver all the time’. Her response hit me square in the chest because that was my exact take away all those years ago.
She went on to explain how valuable this shift is in HR roles particularly because ‘it can be an easy trap to go straight into providing the solutions without having the person think about it for themselves or understand at a deeper level what they are experiencing/can achieve’.
While completely clichéd, the old proverb holds true;
'Give someone a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach someone to fish and you feed them for a lifetime’
Ok, so the original actually cites ‘man’, but it’s 2020 and time for a gender neutral update!
My HotHRTip this week discussed how important it is for leaders to ensure their own wellbeing so they can better support their teams and I believe that taking a coaching approach is an excellent way to do this. I have no doubt that many leaders feel exactly like I did all those years ago; weighed down by the pressure of having to have the right answers, the burden of worrying if the advice given was sound and the frustration of having people come back over and over presenting the same problem in slightly different outfits.
The circuit breaker is coaching.
When an employee reaches out to you with a problem, don’t throw them a fish. Pause for a second, pull out the rod and show them how to cast a line.
The most basic building block of coaching is the GROW model.
Goal: what is the person trying to achieve?
Reality: what is the current situation?
Options: what can the person do to move towards their goal?
Way forward: what will the person commit to doing now?
Essentially you use clever questioning to guide someone through the model until they commit to a course of action for themselves.
It sounds more complicated than it is, and if you reflect on some great leaders you’ve worked with you might see how they’ve used this technique on you!
Some brilliant GROW questions to play around with are:
Alright, tell me exactly what you’re trying to achieve or solve. (Goal)
Ok, what’s your dream scenario? (Goal)
Tell me, what’s the biggest issue you’re facing right now? (Reality)
What do you know to be true in this situation? (Reality)
What have you done in this situation before? (Options)
If someone came to you with this problem, what would you suggest they do? (Options)
What’s one small action you can take today? (Way forward)
How can you to move forward from here? (Way forward)
It doesn’t matter if it’s a work problem or a personal problem. A big issue or a small niggle. Most people have the right answer inside them, it just needs to be teased out sometimes. And the best bit is there is no risk of blowback on you!
Think about it.
Advice scenario: Someone comes to you with an issue. You tell them how to solve it. They go away and do exactly what you said, but the problem isn’t solved. They then blame you for providing crappy advice.
Coaching scenario: Someone comes to you with a problem. You ask them what’s going on, what options they have available and how they want to move forward. They go away and do what they think is right, but the problem isn’t solved. They come back and you help them explore why their chosen solution didn’t work and what they can do differently. No blame. Just reflection & learning.
Yes. I can hear you now, ‘but Tanya it takes just two minutes for me to tell them what to do. It takes me 10 minutes to coach them into doing what I’d suggest anyway’.
Yep. Coaching is an investment. It might take 2 minutes to tell someone an answer, but if you’re telling them the same thing every week the time is quickly going to add up. It might take 10 minutes to coach them instead, but if they learn from that and don’t need to ask again then it’s 10 minutes well spent!
To sum up, here’s why I think adopting a coaching approach supports the well-being of leaders;
It reduces the pressure of needing to be ‘right’ or always have the answers which is a huge stress reliever.
It lowers the risk of people blaming you for advice that fails; protecting both your reputation and relationships.
It frees up more time in the long run for you to focus on the really crunchy stuff you need to handle because a) people are less reliant on you for answers and b) your team is more autonomous, upskilled and productive as a result.
You can use the coaching approach to coach yourself through tough decisions and situations meaning you make better decisions with less angst.
Of course coaching isn’t the right approach in every situation and you need to apply your judgement. For example:
Critical incidents require a more directive approach due to risk, however you can engage in coaching after the fact to help develop your team (think police debriefs after an event).
Inexperienced employees may need training and guidance more than coaching in the early stages. You can’t coach if their answer genuinely is ‘I don’t know’. Build a foundation of knowledge and then coach from there.
There’s an awesome tool called the Skill/Will matrix that helps with this, and I’ll cover this off in another blog (or reach out if you want to hear more).
I can’t evangelise coaching for leadership enough. It was a major turning point in my career and one of the best skills I’ve ever developed.
I’m considering running a practical webinar on Coaching Skills for Professionals. If that’s of any interest to you, please email me at email@example.com.