Situational awareness can enable Agile leaders to empower others to problem-solve
If the situation is about:
– a knowledge gap, then teach;
– a skill gap, then mentor;
– an options gap, then consult;
– a personal growth gap, then coach.
I don’t always coach, but when I do
These coaching tenets have helped me find my center and guide my interactions as an Agile Leader. These beliefs help guide my implementation of coaching techniques and help set my attitude in a coaching dynamic. These beliefs free me to improvise in practicing the art of coaching.
Coaching is by invitation. You cannot inflict coaching on others.
Before you engage in coaching others, you must establish that the other (the coachee) acknowledges that they want personal growth and trust you to guide their growth process.
An essential aspect of this tenant is ensuring the coachee’s readiness to engage in the coaching process. When the invitation for coaching does not exist, inflicting the coaching process is a fool’s errand.
“You can lead a horse to water but can’t make him drink.”
Co-create a formal coaching agreement when you engage in individual or team coaching situations, where you document mutual expectations and boundaries to set the stage for a fruitful coaching relationship.
Coach the person, not the problem.
A coach engages with the coachee (individual or team) when they are ready to engage in the creative process of discovering their capabilities to solve their problems.
Coaching empowers them by growing their capability to set goals, develop awareness, explore options or overcome obstacles, and own results.
The problem’s ownership and definition of the problem must rest with the coachee, and the coach does not ‘tell’ or ‘advise’ the coachee on how to see or solve their problem. Instead, the coach focuses on the coachee’s growth journey. Through the coaching process, the coachee discovers and refines their talents to tackle this immediate problem and grows confidence to approach new problems long after the coaching relationship has concluded.
Practice the skill of holding a coaching stance by using the GROW model.
Coaching is a peer-to-peer relationship
A coach must sincerely believe that their coachee can fully own and solve their problems. The coachee entrusts their coach to hold the coaching stance so that they can explore their problem space and arrive at actions they can own.
Trust in the coaching process breaks down when the coach lacks humility and takes an attitude of superiority or when the coach lacks confidence and takes an attitude of inferiority.
Relationships between people are multi-dimensional.
The relationship is economical when the coach engages with their client, Manager, or Director. The coach must be able to set economic or career concerns aside to engage as a peer with the coachee. Suppose they take a subordinate stance to push or preserve their job or financial interests. In that case, the power imbalance in the relationship will eventually shift the ownership of the problem to the coach, and the relationship often results in the delegation of tasks from the Client/Manager to the coach. This is no longer a coaching relationship. Instead, it is a classic manager-subordinate task delegation dynamic.
While on the other hand, when the coach is the Manager, the coachee is organizationally positioned under their supervision. In the coaching process, the Manager must set aside their ego and personal expectations. This means that through the coaching process if the coachee arrives at an action different from what the Manager would have envisioned, the manager should overcome the impulse to goad or direct the coachee’s perceptions. They must respect their coachee’s judgment of their situation and the action they feel empowered to take.
Holding a peer-to-peer relationship through the coaching process requires you to develop self-awareness of your internal narrative and practice silencing that inner voice that wants to jump in and do the work for your coachee or wants to tell them what to do. You have to consider them as your peer, equally capable of their thinking and problem-solving.
Educate your coachee about the coaching process and, through your coaching agreement, set up a mechanism for them to give you feedback on your service as their coach.
Coach and coachee explicitly enter and exit from a coaching conversation or activity.
You are a person first and then a coach. Practice the art of light-hearted conversations, which helps break the ice.
Enter into the coaching process only when you feel centered and the coachee invites you to start the session. The weight of their problem is no easy burden, and the coachee may have been mulling over it long before they connect with you. Don’t dive straight in; prepare yourself and gauge their temperament before you start.
To signal that I have checked in as their coach. I often use the movie scene-take clapperboard action.
In the coaching process, the coach is listening deeply, asking questions, holding space for the coachee, and timing their input to enable forward progress for the coachee. Maintaining the coaching stance for long periods is exhausting for both. I recommend 45m – 90m coaching sessions. And when you exit, do so explicitly so you and the coachee can take a break to recharge.
Establishing check-in and check-out norms avoids misunderstandings and ensures that, in this instance, there is an invitation to engage in the coaching process.
Establish your explicit enter and exit norm for check-in and check-out from a coaching situation.
Coach and coachee may not be the right fit, which is ok.
It is essential to realize that people may say they want to be coached, but their actions could be about seeking solutions from you. Revisit the situational fitness for engaging in the coaching process. Are they inviting you to be their coach, or is engaging as a teacher, mentor, or consultant better?
It is acceptable if the chemistry between the two parties is not a match. And it does not reflect poorly on the coachee’s ability to grow or the coach’s ability to guide. Like any relationship, it was either meant to be or not. This does not mean that both parties can also not be friends, colleagues, etc.
As their coach, recommend another guide who may be a better stylistic fit for your coachee, and as a coachee, thank your coach for their support thus far. Cleanly close your coaching relationship. Continuing a trusted relationship when either party is not comfortable will eventually sour. So nip it in the bud.
Don’t take it personally.
Not a Title
Coaching is a skill not a title
This is a controversial belief that contradicts popular trends of today. Here is why I emphasize skill acquisition
A title is granted by the other, typically your organization. Titles can be given and taken based on your company’s or the job market’s ups and downs. This is outside your sphere of influence.
Through mindful practice, coaching skills can be acquired. Your skills are for you to keep. No one can take away what you are capable of. This is within your sphere of influence.
Another danger is that people tend to wrap their identities around their titles.
In 2012, we facilitated a workshop on Agile Coaching Smells at the Global Scrum Gathering in Atlanta. A fundamental question that we posed to the attendees was
“What can you do with the Agile Coach title that you cannot do without it?”
We hosted this session to focus on skills and not titles, and develop recovery mechanisms from coaching missteps. It was also to counter the trend where the Agile Coach title was becoming more desirable than the actual acquisition of skills to be effective at it.
Larman’s Laws of Organizational behavior summarize the dynamics at play and give insight into why the rise of Agile Coach as a title has overshadowed real change. Those who sold picks and shovels made hay!
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the title of Agile Coach is terrible. I’m saying: Do not get attached to your title. Don’t warp your identity to being the Agile Coach. If you have the skills to be agile, then be ready to roll up your sleeves and lead by example. If your Agile Coaching staff cannot role model what “good looks like,” then you merely have a pandit class that makes esoteric ”agile” mumbo-jumbo sounds in the eyes of the doers.
- Unless you are a skilled hustler who can reliably hop from one opportunistic trend to another, you will be better off developing real skills. In the long run, the market will value your mastery of solving problems over your titles and certifications.
Do no harm
The coach is responsible for ensuring no harm is done to the coachee and their relationships with others.
The coachee shares their inner thinking, feelings, and problem-solving mindset in the coaching process. They reveal their biases and preferences. You must not transfer your values and belief systems onto your coachee as a coach. An inexperienced coach can do much harm by putting their thumb on the scale.
For example, the coachee may be challenged in working collaboratively with their colleague. The coach can do irreversible harm by hinting they have difficulty working with that person. Because the coach holds trust with the coachee, they naturally yield more weight to their coach’s input. And even when the coach is innocuous in their comment, it may get amplified in its impression upon the coachee.
The coachee has relationships with their colleagues, with their department, with their organization, and with society at large. The coach’s relationship with the same entities will be different because they are different people. The coach’s personal biases and preferences must not be advanced to the coachee.
Maintain distance from your coachee’s situation. They are not you, and you are not them.
Coaching is not therapy. Do not believe that you are their psychologist. Get professional help.
Coaching is about developing problem-solving fitness. Conversely, therapy is a more involved process aiming to overcome illnesses.
An analogous parallel is to note the differences between a physical fitness guide and that of a physiotherapist. If I want to get better at lifting barbells, I will seek out a weightlifting coach who can guide my technique and progressively improve my physical conditioning. But if I have rehabilitation needs because of injury: chronic or accidental, then a physiotherapist is the right choice. This is because coaching does not repair; it only develops upon potential.
Just as I expect my weightlifting coach to be skilled enough to notice that my movement or my pain through actions requires specialized therapy, a coach needs to know their limits and not get carried away in their desire to “help.” And you can only learn these limits through deep hands-on engagement in your field of work.
My specialty is enabling leaders to foster organizational agility. This means that I am not a fitness coach or a life coach. And I will recommend my coachee to get therapeutic help in cases where their mental health is in question. It is better to be cautious and refer to licensed therapists because illnesses harm your coachee and can negatively impact others with who your coachee comes in contact.
- Don’t be “coachey-coachey”, who thinks coaching solves everything.
Specialize in your field of coaching. You can define the area you specialize in, but if you claim to be a generic catch-all coach, then we know you are just phishing.