As published in Forbes.
Many professionals believe they understand coaching well. However, when I teach coaching to leaders and put them into their first conversation, I inevitably find the coach giving advice to the person they are supposed to be coaching.
It would seem our desire to help can be our own coaching Achilles heel. Telling others an answer they can (or ought) to arrive at on their own is rarely helpful. It might feel good to the coach, but it undermines the experience and ultimately, the success of the person the coach is supposed to be helping.
Whether leaders, managers, consultants, entrepreneurs, teachers or parents, our goal is to develop the capacity of others so they one day go on to surpass us. Unfortunately, few have received training in the processes that distinguish effective coaching from the mechanical aspects of managing performance.
In coaching, we start with the premise that we are dealing with a fully functioning human being – another person (just like us), filled with his or her own hopes, dreams and aspirations, as well as insecurities, limitations and fears. Thus, we intuitively understand that coaching is not a neat cognitive process that begins with listening, moves to feedback, and conveniently results in insight and corresponding behavior change. Instead, we recognize the process is more like an awkward deep personal exploration in which neither the coach nor the talent knows the real destination.
While there’s no road map or recipe for coaching, there are four key tools that professional executive coaches employ to foster exceptional performance in others. If you pay attention, you will see that truly effective leaders, communicators, interviewers, coaches, parents, best friends, etc. seamlessly demonstrate these.
- Acknowledgment: “I acknowledge your presence. I see you!”
Great leaders and coaches are first-class noticers. They pay attention to others — to their gifts and talents — and they spend time thinking about how to best harness the energy of those around them. They notice when others are performing well, and they easily voice approval when they see this.
They also recognize when others are performing poorly or below their potential. They get curious as to why, and readily initiate the discussions needed. They easily see themselves in others, and thus, they want for others what they most want for themselves: greater success, fulfillment, and happiness.
2. Open questions: “Who are you and what do you most want?”
All great leaders, coaches and business professionals have one thing in common: the ability to ask great, open-ended questions. The greatest leaders are endlessly curious and eager to learn. They inquire into the experience of others and into situations to uncover core issues and key levers to positive change and greater success. They know the power of asking one brave question, and they are courageous enough to ask it.
3. Intuitional perspectives: “I am noticing… It seems to me that …”
As we progress through our lives and careers, we gain immeasurable experience that allows us to recognize something on an intuitive level before rationally putting two and two together to reach a conclusion. Our intuition is a rich source of information to be explored and shared with others, but often we keep our intuitive responses hidden, not trusting them.
Using intuitional perspectives involves bringing more of your intuition and your perspective (your internal, gut-level dialogue) into your outer conversations with others. We do this best when we share our real thoughts with kindness, curiosity and the intention to genuinely advance others.
4. Silence: Bite your tongue. Pay full attention to the other.
Susan Scott wrote an exceptional book called Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time. In it, she shares that we can “let silence do the heavy lifting” in our conversations. It is good advice. Most exceptional communicators discipline themselves to use the power of silence. It is perhaps the most underutilized tool at our disposal. By incorporating it more in conversations with those we lead, manage, seek to coach, teach or parent, we can literally listen the answers out of others — answers that are more powerful than our answer because they come from the person who needs to own and act upon them.
Try this: Today, pay more attention to others than you otherwise might. Think about how you might be most helpful to them, either by acknowledging their great work or their challenging situation. Ask them a question. Become silent and listen with your full attention. Share with them more of your real thoughts as additional data to explore. See what you notice by doing so.