How to … have a coaching conversation

by 13 Dec 2006

Women are generally good communicators. We listen well and genuinely want to know what is affecting a person’s ability to reach their potential. It is the desire to help people grow that makes a great leader – not just a good one.

If you are working as a people leader, you’ll be keen to get the best from your team and your own performance. Chances are, however, if you are constantly under pressure, it is easier to tell people what to do than take a looser rein and coach them into their own solution.

The downside of this approach is that you end up with a hundred monkeys on your back. Your team sees you as the all-knowing source. They wait to be told, rather than be proactive. Creativity is stifled and the team becomes sullenly resentful because they do not feel they have any real authority or self-responsibility. Things grind into mediocrity under a mounting volcano of pressure to achieve results.

As a leader, you not only have your own mission to achieve but wind up doing the work for your team. You rapidly risk burnout.

You hired good people to do great things, so let them. Under a more enlightened form of leadership than the old command and control methods, desirable traits for performance are achievement, self-actualisation, affiliation and encouragement. These are the constructive ‘blue’ behaviours described in the LSI circumplex profile, as compared to the passive-aggressive behaviours often demonstrated under pressure.

Unfortunately, these ‘blue’ behaviours still seem to be very elusive and hard to describe for some organisations. It is important to work out what these will look like in your organisation and then coach them into being, rather than just deterring the old behaviours. People need to know what to aim for if they are to make lasting change.

Take a new approach

Learning a coaching approach to your daily way of communicating with your team is extremely liberating – for you and your team.

Firstly, you need to have a structure and then some tools up your sleeve so that you can respond to the person in the moment. And be prepared to think like a coach while you are managing. A five-minute coaching conversation can be just as effective as a one-hour formal coaching session. When it becomes second nature, you will automatically foster the constructive behaviours of self-responsibility before you hand out the mentoring advice.

The Re-GROW Model

This is a simple, very effective structure for your coaching conversation. When you become more practised, you will find you can move back and forth between the parts but at first, try being a bit more linear.

Re-review: Check out where the person is at and the situation at hand, and where things have gone since you last spoke.

Goals: Define and set goals – for your conversation, and for the person’s tasks and outcomes.

Reality: Look at what is actually happening in relation to the ability to achieve those goals. Refrain from making judgments or blaming. Simply lay it out. What’s not there yet?

Options: Consider a range of possible solutions and ways forward. Refrain from latching on to one idea and going into depth with just that one. What else might they do? Get them all out and then assess them once the creativity has stopped flowing.

Will: Which of these options will they go with? What might stop them? What will they do about it? Get commitment and make sure you know what their plan is – especially the first step they will take and by when. Make sure you set a time to review progress.

This model will rescue you many times over when conversations get difficult. Know where you are in the model as you are conversing. If need be, summarise what you have heard so far, collect yourself and move onto the next part of the model.

Stay with your own goal of finding a solution to which the person is fully committed and excited about. Free them up to give it a go in their own way. It is an amazingly creative process when you control your desire to give your own opinions. You can make suggestions but hold back – let the person use you as the sounding board. Inherent within the model is an attitude of mutual respect and care. People feel heard.

Patience with the process will shift the tension and pressure into a much more fluid and graceful form of leadership. Both parties will gain greater value. And you can enjoy the job and go home happily to the rest of your life.

By Indira Kennedy, director of Conscious Leadership