When we think of coaching, we often jump immediately to the experience of a manager coaching a direct report, and by all means coaching an employee is a very important tool in a manager’s toolkit. However, today I want to share with you three other ways in which you might experience coaching in the workplace but perhaps haven’t considered it.
Here at Fierce, our coaching model is designed to be used by anyone, supervisors and managers of course, but also mentors peers. Supporting loved ones, working through big decisions, teaching your children how to make good choices, or even helping you solve a problem for yourself.
Coaching is about developing another person’s ability to generate and embrace their own solutions. Remember, coaching is not about giving feedback or confronting behavior. Those are different conversations. Coaching is about asking questions to help someone else think for themselves and make decisions on their own.
Coaching’s about depth. Going deeper into the conversation to really get at what is at stake, what is at the heart of the issue.
The 1st way in which we might consider using our coaching model is with ourselves.
You may not know it, but you’re a coach. You may not be certified, but you’ve been coaching yourself since you can. Remember as a child, you coached yourself how to get back on the playground after you fell off the jungle gym and scraped your knee. Later, you coached yourself how to pick up the pieces in your own life after your first bad breakup. Your self coaching stems from your ability to harness your inner wisdom and experiences to make choices that are best for you. You cultivate your own personal development and action plan.
A personal example. During the early months of the Pandemic, I lost my job unexpectedly and it hit me hard. I loved that job, the team, the organization, most importantly the work itself. So I was reeling from the loss of my identity and purpose. Quite honestly, my self-confidence took a hit. Despite knowing that being let go wasn’t personal our whole team was impacted., I still took it very personally. At the time I didn’t have a coach or mentor or even a manager to turn to. So I used the Fierce coaching model and journaled myself through the coaching steps.
At first I sat in the space of feeling sorry for myself, perhaps for longer than I’d like to admit, until I got to the step where I named my feelings, particularly on the future implications. This is where I got deeper within myself, as I considered where I’d be if nothing changed in the next several months. What did I feel if nothing changed, well, I feel disappointed, frustrated, even angry.
When I tapped into those emotions, I felt motivated to do something now, to take back some control. I recognize the future implications if I didn’t take some necessary steps to stop wallowing in my self-pity. The good news, I was able to coach myself out of my downward spiral. I looked at this as an opportunity rather than a setback. I was able to see where I did have some control versus where I obviously didn’t. I committed to a future where I could pursue what I really wanted to do.
A second way that you might not have considered is to engage in peer coaching, either peer-to-peer or peer group coaching.
Peer coaching is when one or more employees work together to help each other define and reach their goals. Organizations can use peer coaching with employees to cultivate collaboration, learning, and growth. The benefits of peer-to-peer or even small group peer coaching come from those powerful learning interactions among colleagues, among peers. Who aren’t necessarily even on the same team, but are roughly equal in terms of experience and or position.
By bringing people together who have no formal interactions or accountability to each other, you can create deep learnings that wouldn’t be available otherwise.
Peer coaching can help us gather insight from diverse perspectives, provide opportunities to practice new skills in a safe space, and develop an accountability system, even a support network.
Another personal example, about 10 years ago I participated in an experiential leadership program where I spent 3 1/2 days off site with some colleagues. There we learned many skills to help us be more effective leaders. Things like communication preferences, team dynamics, decision making styles, you name it.
We spend our time in small development teams and within these teams we quickly built strong levels of trust amongst each other because we learned some new skills and then had to practice these skills by solving challenges together.
After that course, my development team continued to meet monthly as a peer coaching group. We brought issues that we were facing back on the job to our monthly checkins and shared ideas and ways to address these challenges. We represented various parts of the organization, but we could all relate to so many of the same challenges and we struggled with so many of the same issues. I learned so much from this group and I think it’s safe to say so did my colleagues. We really did create that safe space to share real life back on the job challenges, bounce our ideas and solutions off of each other, and support each other on our respective leadership journeys. I participated in these meetings for years after that program ended, and I learned so much from my peers.
The final way we might approach coaching is by coaching up.
Yeah, you can coach your manager. There’s an obvious power dynamic embedded in that hierarchical relationship between a manager and an employee. So you might be wondering, how do I coach my manager? Coaching your boss fits into this paradigm of thinking big, but acting locally. That is you’re helping your leader generate an insight or an idea that she might be missing and needs to have.
Your perspective as an underling enables you to see things from another point of view, and if your manager is open and willing, she’ll be open to you asking questions to help her come up with solutions that she might not have thought of otherwise. Most managers I know welcome insights from their people, but remember, this isn’t about giving your manager feedback, it’s about coaching them.
Helping them come up with their own solutions. So it’s really about learning how to ask open-ended questions to probe deeper. It’s about finding ways to help them think through a situation from a different perspective, again, by asking questions. Most of us are stretched for time so making time for your manager to discuss what is important to him to help him solve some of the broader challenges he’s facing can be super impactful and a great way to manage up.
Admittedly, to open the door here, you must have a solid foundation with your manager that includes permission to speak openly and for them to be willing to share their concerns or unknowns. They may even have to show some vulnerability, like admitting that they don’t have all the answers. Some bosses make it easy, others take time to get to this point to show this level of openness.
So before you coach up, you may need to build a positive, trusting relationship with your boss. Take some time to get to know him better and know that it may also take some time before you feel comfortable asking him these types of thought-provoking questions. It’s also important to be aware that you can have no expectation of change when coaching up. You’re providing the space for your manager to think deeply and differently about an issue that he’s facing. Hopefully, it will lead to some great insights and also show what an important thought partner you are.
Let me share one last personal example. In a previous role, I had established a very solid relationship with my manager, and as a result, she often shared with me some of the broader challenges on her plate, including some of the bigger initiatives that faced our department. While she didn’t look to me to necessarily solve those problems, she was open and willing to engage in discussions with me about what was challenging for her. Years later, after we parted ways, she told me how much she appreciated it when I asked her those questions to help her think deeper into an issue.
Sometimes the question I offered was as simple as What else, and then go silent and gave her the floor to process and to think. Other times, if she was feeling overwhelmed, I’d ask what do you wish you had more time to do and what things are you doing that you’d like to stop doing and or delegate to someone else?
These last questions in particular helped her to reflect on her own behaviors and how they were creating a bottleneck to getting things done because she really did have her hands in too many things. She appreciated the space I gave her to think about how she could delegate some things to her team to help in their development. Guess what, even I got some of those things, including working on some high visibility projects that gave me some amazing growth opportunities.
I hope that this has given you a new perspective on coaching and that you’ve learned some new ways to think about how you can apply coaching techniques and conversations in your life.