I recently taught coaching skills classes for some leaders at my organization. In some of the feedback I received, someone brought up a challenge she was having with one of her direct reports. She was having a tough time recognizing when it is appropriate to coach and when it is not.
I’ve coached for so long, that it kind of comes naturally to me to know when I should put on the coach hat. For others who aren’t used to using the techniques, it can be more confusing. On top of that, it’s a lot of fun to use a new skill ALL the time, especially, when you see how effective it can be when working with direct reports. Plus, there’s the urge to want to want to practice coaching all the time.
It’s important to remember that coaching is just one of the arsenal of leadership skills, and not the only way to work with your team. Not all moments are coachable, and not all people are coachable. Your employee needs to be in a receptive mindset in order for coaching to work.
Below, I’ve listed a few instances when coaching would not be the right approach at first, but how the situation can become coachable moments later on.
1. Urgency – Threat: Coaching takes time and you don’t always have it. If you are in a threat situation or there is an urgent need to work fast, you will have to be direct. There is always time for coaching once the crisis is over. As a matter of fact, coaching would be a great choice to use for a crisis event post-mortem. At this point you can do a lessons learned, including what worked, what didn’t, what would we do differently and finally, what can we do to anticipate in the future to avoid crisis mode. It’s all about balance and determining what is or is not a crisis. More often, we treat things as crisis even when they aren’t.
2. Victim: When your direct reports feel and act powerless they will be unable to commit to an action plan. When people feel they have no power to change they won’t do anything. They will spend their time making excuses rather than taking action. At this point you will need to show them what is possible by turning the victim mentality around. Find places for them to have small wins and perhaps a collaborator who has a pro-active mindset.
3. No Sense of Ownership: Something goes wrong and they blame everyone and everything. You will hear phrases such as: “It’s not my job,” “That’s not my area,” “I had nothing to do with it.” Accountability belongs to someone else in their eyes. It’s similar to “victim.” The difference is that a victim accepts responsibility and feels unable do anything. Someone who has no ownership feels that they aren’t responsible. As a leader it’s up to you to either make them see their part or assign it to them.
4. Capabilities Gap: You will create a lose-lose situation if you try to coach someone in an area where they have no skills or knowledge. It can affect esteem and make you frustrated. Since coaching is about discovery, you can deflate your direct reports if you continue to question in an area where they just don’t have the answers…yet. When you find people are at a loss for solutions and they’ve exhausted resources trying to find answers, this may be the time to either teach or get them the training they need. With that said, coaching can identify the need to increase skills and knowledge.
5. Limiting Beliefs: What you believe to be true is true. Belief systems will hold them back. Whether it’s a belief about themselves, the team, the department, or the organization, or even about the world. Biases make us incapable of opening our minds to possibilities. If you run into this stumbling block there could be fit issues. Review whether this person has the right values to be on your team or at the organization.
6. Lack of Self-Awareness: If you ask questions about how he feels and he says he doesn’t know, it could show a lack of self-awareness. (Or it could be honesty, see below.) If he can’t see how he contributes to problems and wins, then it’s time to share your point of view about what you see in your direct report. It’s up to leaders to give feedback and to share expectations. When you give feedback, it’s best to stick to observable behaviors and how you interpret those behaviors. This might help spark the conversation. You also may want to consider using outside coaching services by someone who can assess the situation objectively and give insight..
7. Lack of Trust and Honesty: If your direct report doesn’t trust you then you will never get honest answers. Work on the trust first before trying to coach. Plain and simple.
There are more examples out there and these might be some of the easy ones to spot in your busy day. If anyone has other scenarios, please share!
With practice and time, it will become easier to spot and take advantage of a coachable moment!