If you are a great coach, you are well on your way to being a great leader. Yes, there are other things you need to do and yes becoming a great coach has a lot of skills connected to doing it well, but if you can work to become good at coaching, you will build a strong foundation that supports your ability to lead more effectively.
Think of it this way, if you want to be a good chef, but you have terrible knife skills, well, good luck with that. Good knife skills are foundational to good chefery. I know this because my wife is a Top Chef junkie and so I get sucked in from time to time.
To get better at something, we need to know what good looks like and have a picture of that thing in our head. If you want to get better at knife skills, you start with that picture in your mind of rapid smooth slicing of things, without injury or blood involved, and then you practice to work toward it.
I don’t know anything about knife skills really, but this is how people learn and improve anything they do. By seeing a picture of good in their mind, making a choice to work toward that picture, and then doing the things that they think are on that path to that picture repetitively enough to make improvement happen.
When it comes to coaching, some people really haven’t yet built a definition or picture of what good looks like. When I ask people about good coaching, sometimes I hear things like, giving tough feedback when it’s needed, or telling them what they are doing wrong and how to improve. We may need to do those things sometimes, as good coaches, but they alone are not good coaching.
Here’s how we know that. We are assessing our inputs, rather than their outputs. We are measuring coaching by what we are putting into it or even our intentions as we do it. Those are definitely how we start and how we learn. We don’t measure the effectiveness of things just by how we think of them or the intentions we have when we do them.
Good coaching means that people get better because of our interactions with them.
It doesn’t matter if the way we coached them worked for us sometime in the past or was what we thought might work for them in this situation, or if we meant to help, or if we just felt like we needed to share our thoughts or opinions. The only thing that matters is what happens after we do it.
In other words, we don’t measure our coaching effectiveness, they do. And more importantly, they measure it by how they react and what they do next.
The key is to measure our coaching by three things that we observe in others as we coach them. Changes in their thoughts, changes in their actions, and changes in their outcomes.
We learn about their thoughts when they say things to us or announce intentions such as “I will learn more about that this week”. And while no change starts without an intention, the intention alone isn’t sufficient to cause change. We also learn about their thoughts by watching the things they try, or put effort into. While these are still actions, they give us a window into their thinking.
The actions we see must be consistent to reflect a higher level of coaching. People that declare new intentions, and then put a little bit of effort in but do not sustain it, weren’t coached as well as those who were able to repeat and practice actions to make them a habit.
Outcomes are a change in the level of success someone achieves based on the results of those consistent sets of different actions.
Yes, it’s tempting to say, “well my coaching was good, but they just didn’t apply it.” What you’re really saying is, “my instructions were good, but they didn’t follow them.” But great coaches don’t do that, because that implies that you can only coach highly focused and highly motivated individuals. Well anyone who has any insight on how to do anything better can coach those people. In fact, many of them just go find information they need anyway. Google can coach those people just as well as you can.
Remember, coaching is about them being better because of your interactions, not just hearing a set of directions and then not following them. That’s actually just telling.
Effective coaches execute a process that helps people find, practice, and deploy that focus and motivation, in addition to giving people steps to follow. Start to carefully observe people you coach and think about coaching in those three phases.
- Did I help change how they think about this situation, possibility, or different path?
- Did I help them take some steps that might allow them to explore, discover, learn and improve?
- Did I help them get different results by building new habits that will make them more successful?
When you can see evidence of all of these, you are becoming a better coach and also a student of coaching. Both will change your own future if you are leading others.