Develop Your Coaching Philosophy (Part 2 of my 3-Part Series on Coaching Employees)

Develop Your Coaching Philosophy (Part 2 of my 3-Part Series on Coaching Employees)

To be an effective coach, you need a coaching philosophy. The idea of a “coaching philosophy” might sound fancy, but if you’re leading people you probably already have the foundation for one.

Below are three steps you can follow to develop your philosophy of coaching:

  • Step 1 – Get clear about what kind of coach you are or want to be.
  • Step 2 – Make sure you know how to communicate clearly with the people you lead and that you have a mutually agreed upon set of coaching goals.
  • Step 3 – Get crystal clear on the difference between coaching for performance and training for competence.
  1. What kind of coach are you? 

Figuring out the kind of coach you are will require knowing yourself and then leaning into your strengths when coaching people.

To accomplish this, I recommend working from the outside in.

First, gather some perspective about yourself. Psychometric tests, personality assessments, 360 reviews, and third-party feedback mechanisms from the last 5-10 years of your career are ideal sources of insight for this stage. Reports from tools like DISC, Predictive Index, StrengthsFinder, or Leadership Circle are a great place to start. If you don’t have any of these, I recommend purchasing a copy of the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book from Gallup and completing the brief online assessment.

Once you have some reliable third-party data about yourself, spend some time reviewing it.

  • What do you agree with?
  • What do you not agree with?
  • Do the results give you any new insight into who you are and how you work?

Next, spend some time thinking about what you’re good at and what you enjoy. Is there any commonality within what you’ve learned from the third-party reports? Don’t limit yourself to thinking only about your work and your professional life.

Consider questions like:

  • Where and when are you most creative and most productive?
  • What motivates you?
  • What gives you a sense of personal satisfaction?

Finally, once you’ve gained some perspective about yourself and considered your strengths and skills, think about how you might apply this information in a coaching session.

Here’s one example of how this might look:

A few years ago, I met an executive coach who always carries a full-sized art folio case with him to coaching sessions. During his sessions, he asks probing questions and then sketches what’s being discussed. This helps the person he’s coaching arrive at insights and conclusions on their own. This coach is very good at challenging others’ thinking through parsing word choice and translating conversations into meaningful drawings. By illustrating during his coaching sessions, he leverages his strengths and his self-knowledge.

Although artistry might not be your thing, hopefully, this example helps you see how you might become a more effective coach by knowing yourself and leaning into your personal strengths and abilities.

  1. Are your communications and goals clear?

Most of us lack clarity about our own goals, so it’s unsurprising when I hear stories about employees being “uncoachable.” All too often what this code phrase really means is that there are no:

a) Clear communications between the coach and the employee and;

b) Mutually agreed upon goal(s) that the employee is being coached to achieve.

To address this concern head-on, consider two actions.

First, be honest with yourself about your natural communication style and whether it might be getting in your way. Using myself as an example, I tend to talk about high-level concepts and surround those concepts with big words. I know this about myself, and I’m on a lifelong quest to say more with fewer, less complicated words. Some days I succeed even!

Second, be candid with the person you’re coaching. This doesn’t mean delivering news that the individual doesn’t want to hear or appraising poor performance without heart. Instead, this involves being honest about where (and how) you’d like to see the person develop, being open to the employee’s ideas, and working with the individual to establish written goals that you both agree on.

All too often, we fail to have critical conversations in the workplace because they’re uncomfortable. Unfortunately, if you approach coaching conversations this way, you will never have clear communications or mutually agreed upon goals.

  1. Are you coaching for performance or competence? 

One of the most common pitfalls to avoid is the trap in which you find yourself training someone instead of coaching them.

Here’s how this can look:

An executive had come to believe that she wasn’t a competent coach. We quickly dug past this surface-level belief and discovered that for the past year she had been struggling with coaching a mid-level manager that reported to her. As we worked through this issue, it became apparent that the manager being coached did not have the necessary skills to perform his job. This meant that the “coaching” sessions between the executive and the manager had become training sessions in disguise.

Once the executive realized that she had been acting as a corporate trainer rather than a coach, the belief that she wasn’t a capable coach quickly fell away. After understanding she had been attempting to “train this manger up” to a required minimum skill level, she was able to grasp the difference between coaching for performance vs. training for competence. The epiphany helped her approach her conversations with that employee differently going forward.

Recognizing the difference between coaching and training is critical for developing your coaching philosophy. Coaching and training are entirely distinct beasts. If you understand the difference between them, you will not only be a more effective coach but also your coaching will naturally align with your abilities and strengths.

Struggling with your coaching philosophy?

Becoming an accomplished coach isn’t like assembling IKEA furniture—no matter how detailed and instructive are the articles you read on the topic, you will still have questions and maybe even some missing pieces (a.k.a. knowledge gaps). If you find yourself in this situation now, drop me a line. I’m always happy to chat with leaders that want to enhance their abilities and fine-tune their coaching philosophies. Also, stay tuned for Part 3 of my series on coaching when I will offer some practical coaching tips and share practices that I regularly use.


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