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Behind The Bench, Not On It

You don't want the coach on the field.

One of the greatest challenges facing a new Leader is the shift in thinking from star to coach. You’re no longer thinking of yourself as the star player who takes centre-field. You’re thinking of yourself as the coach who stands behind a bench filled with high-performance athletes.

The coach doesn’t get onto the ice and play the puck for them, or get onto the field and block the tackles for them, or run onto the court and move players about. In fact, a team is heavily penalized when a coach tries!

In fact the coach is the last person you want making those small decisions. The coach’s job is just the opposite: to train the team so that they can make the best decisions possible while they are in the heat of the moment. By doing this, you'll help them make better decisions, solve problems that are holding them back, learn new skills, and otherwise progress their careers.

The more effectively the coach coaches, the less he or she has to do at the micro level, and the more time the coach can spend on strategy and performance-related issues.

But who coaches the coach?

Some people are fortunate enough to get formal training in coaching. Their company invests heavily in training its managers and has offered some support in learning the art of coaching. But many individuals work at companies that either can’t afford such training or don't see the value in it. In working with numerous blue-chip organizations in the public, private and non-profit sectors Russell has found that managers are usually promoted into their positions because they have the requisite technical experience or proficiency. They’ve been there long enough to know how the equipment or processes work. As far as the hiring process is concerned, if these individuals have well-developed people skills then it's a bonus rather than a requirement.

It doesn't necessarily follow that if we know the equipment or processes inside out that we intuitively know how to coach individuals who are struggling so they can transform themselves into high performers. It seems common sense when you see it in writing. But in practice, as far as managing the people go, too many managers are left to their own devices. Many have to develop this important skill through trial and error or by following their instincts.

If you’ve been appointed a Leader, then your instincts are likely very good. But it might help you enhance those instincts if you can set them within a simple, easy to remember but powerful and effective framework like the C.O.A.C.H. model.

The C.O.A.C.H. Model

There are any number of models in common use from G.R.O.W. to S.T.A.R. and they all have a number of easy-to-remember acronyms. As you’ve already seen we’re big on acronyms in our workshops and take-home materials (B.E.E.F. anyone?). We find it makes ideas and frameworks sticky, so that you can remember them when your unmanageable employee or team member is sitting in front of you and the pressure is on. Other coaching models on the market have value however, as you’ll see when we dig into it, the model we offer places special emphasis on accountability.

In the model we propose to you, C.O.A.C.H. stands for five different stages.

  • You must first describe the CURRENT situation so that you and your Hard Hat or Graduate Cap are on the same page.

  • Then you can together define the OUTCOME you desire. After that, it’s time to identify what ACTIONS are possible.

  • But beware leaping into action or settling on any one of these actions prematurely.

  • You must ask CRITICAL questions that lead your employee to making an informed CHOICE.

  • Finally, its time to ask your employee HOW they plan to be accountable for success. A good way of thinking about the C.O.A.C.H. Model is to think about how you'd plan a journey. First, you’d establish where you currently are by agreeing upon the current situation. Then you would decide where you and your family are going by defining the ideal outcome. After that you and your travelling companions would make a map by brainstorming possible routes (or, in our case, possible actions). Together you’d chose a route by asking the kind of critical questions that would lead to an informed choice about the direction you want to take. But you likely wouldn’t put you vehicle on autopilot once you set out. Even if you had a GPS guiding you, one of you would act as navigator and be accountable for periodically checking landmarks against the map.

If you follow the C.O.A.C.H. Model (or any coaching model for that matter) you’re not just setting out in a random direction, you are ensuring that all your team members are heading in the same direction. You’re also making sure that they are prepared for the obstacles that they might meet on the way. And that they they’ve committed to seeing the journey through.

Don't forget that the goal here is to have a conversation, not to follow a process. Any coaching model is a framework, especially this one. And as such it is intended to be used as a launching-off point for a broader discussion. It can also be a touchstone for you to return to when you feel the conversation is getting off track. What it is NOT is an activity with rigid rules that must be adhered to. Remember that the goal is the dialogue and our model is only a tool by which to start and guide that conversation.

Sir John Whitmore, a former race car driver and performance coach, wrote that “coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance.” In short, it’s about helping your people learn and define for themselves, rather than telling them what to do. You want to foster awareness, responsibility, and self-confidence in the coachee. When dealing with Hard Hats and Graduate Caps it is helpful to remind yourself that while you (the coach) can own the process, its vital that the coachee owns the content of the conversation.

If you'd be interested in seeing the C.O.A.C.H Model in action join us for our monthly Lunch n Learn "Coaching For Results", on June 19th here in Downtown Calgary.

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