Avoid jargon and abstractions when explaining new concepts to laypeople. That’s good advice, isn’t it? Yet, when explaining what coaching is, it’s tempting to talk about awareness, partnership, responsibility. All nice and fancy, but abstract words. People become even more confused after coaches explain coaching.
My secret wish is that we forgo the term ‘coaching’ and find a different word to describe it, one without ambiguous historical denotations. But that’s not going to happen, at least not any time soon.
But forgive me for my detour.
I wanted to write about a simple way to describe what coaching is. This way has two benefits: (1) it’s amazingly straightforward and (2) with it, you can self-diagnose whether you are doing it or not.
Actually, I already gave it away with the title of this blog. When you interact with someone you ask yourself: ‘Who’s thinking?’
Coaching is a framework to let them think. In coaching interaction, be it a fleeting few-minute exchange or a more formal coaching session, they will think about solutions to their challenges.
To reiterate, in coaching, you will not think about solutions to their challenges.
Do I need to explain why it’s important to let them think?
I hope, if we talk managerial coaching here, it’s needless. Because either you hire smart people and then it makes sense for them, rather than you, to think. Or you know more, and then you want to elevate their expertise to your level. In that case, you need to stimulate their thinking and only prune blatantly bad ideas.
I’m assuming that you are sold on this idea of helping your people think. Otherwise, what are you doing here? Go read some blogs about how to exalt yourself above everybody and how to avoid letting people think on their own. Just kidding!
So the distinction is: are you as a manager thinking or is the other person thinking.
To practice this distinction, you need to know your why and how.
Why is the reason you decide who should think? Many times this decision is not made conscious so make sure to think about it. An example of a bad reason is wanting to show how smart you are. A good reason is to share a new mental model unavailable to the other person.
How is the way you frame the conversation to spur, stimulate, and sustain their thinking. This I won’t be able to cover in this blog. It’s basically a multitude of your coaching skills and tools which are the subject of many-many coaching books and courses.
But just a few recommendations:
— Don’t judge their ideas no matter what they are. You need to keep them flowing. If you share your criticism you will dry the stream of ideas.
— Your attention and presence are super important. Be fully with them and attentively wait while they are thinking. Don’t rush!
— Verbally and non-verbally show them that you believe that they can generate new ideas.
— Be able to relinquish your power. In coaching, you are their thinking partner, an equal, a peer. If they feel inferior, it’s not coaching.
You will become much more effective in coaching when you are clear about your why and how.
And if you want to learn more about the practical aspects of using coaching and start helping your people think more, join Tech Leaders Coaching Club, a community I created for people like you who want to improve their coaching skills. Just fill out this form to join.