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Bossing vs. Coaching... Where's the Bench?

One of the greatest challenges facing a Leader is the shift between thinking of yourself as the star player who takes center-field...

... to thinking of yourself as the coach who stands behind the bench filled with high-performance athletes.

Former Calgary Flames Coach Bob Hartley
On June 24, 2015, Hartley won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's coach of the year. He was the first coach in Flames franchise history to win the award.

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 to play the game with the players!

The coach is the last person you want making those small decisions (shoot or pass)...

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 develop a team that knows how to:

  • Make better decisions

  • Solve problems that are holding them back

  • Learn new skills, and

  • 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.

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 manager training or don't see the value in it.

In working with numerous blue-chip organizations in the public, private and non-profit sectors I have 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.

Having the necessary job experience or knowledge doesn't necessarily equate to strong coaching or leadership skills...

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 far too many managers are left to learn leadership on their own.

Many have to develop this important skill through trial and error or by following their instincts.

As good as these instincts may be, we all know that quality coaches produce winning teams, so it's worth investing and learning solid coaching principles to help you.

One such model I've used with many clients of mine is a simple yet effective framework I call the C.O.A.C.H. model.

The C.O.A.C.H. Model For Leading Teams

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


You must first describe the CURRENT situation.

Do you know what hats your team member's are wearing?

Without a clear picture of where you're starting, it's difficult to lead your team anywhere specific because you don't know which way to go!


Another great term to use here might be goal setting...

After all, if you don't know what OUTCOME you desire, it's pretty hard to give your team any clear direction.

For sporting teams the desired outcome may seem simple.

Win games by putting points on a score board!

For your organization, wins may be defined a little differently, but it's important to take the time to clearly identify "What does a win mean for us?"


Please notice that we're not actually at the action phase yet.

Coaches rarely dictate. Rather they're working on helping players learn for themselves through continuous strengthening of core principles.

You should beware of 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. This is where the real skill in coaching comes in.

It can be easy to simply tell your team member what to do, and tempting to just take the stick away from them and do it yourself...


Ask those smart questions that can help your team members arrive at the correct answers themselves. This will not only solidify the process for them in a much more tangible way, but will help avoid them coming to you again and again with the same challenge.


Finally, its time to ask your employee how THEY plan to be accountable for success...

How long do THEY think they need for a particular project, then get THEM to commit to the win.

Let's take a look at some sample questions for each of these so we can get a better idea of how this process can work with your staff...

"Let's Describe the CURRENT Situation!"

This is harder than it seems, because many times you and your employees may have different interpretations of the problem at hand, the state of the company’s fortunes, or the objectives of the company as a whole.

Often this step is valuable in and of itself.

A person confronted with a difficult workplace issue may be confused as to what is really going on or they may be overwhelmed by the situation, or they may simply not be able to see the forest for the trees.

A guided conversation with a neutral third party (i.e. The Coach) helps them see the situation clearly. This can be rewarding and helpful and may even be sufficient.

So how do you go about it?

Begin by asking probing questions about the current situation so you can ensure that you are both on the same page.

Sample probing questions to Describe the CURRENT Situation could be:

(As you read through the list try to identify what is a common element to all of these questions)

  • What is Happening Now?

  • What impact is the current situation having?

  • On a scale of 1 to 10: how serious is the situation?

  • How do you think other people at work are feeling at the moment?

  • What is your biggest priority at work at the moment?

  • What has gone really well for you at work recently?

  • What is most important to you about your work?

  • On a scale of 1 to 10: how fulfilled are you in your role?

  • In which aspects of your work are you LEAST comfortable and confident?

  • In which aspects of your work are you MOST comfortable and confident?

  • Which aspects of your work do you avoid or shy away from?

  • What do you value most about working in this organization?

  • What do you think you do to enhance this organization?

  • What are the major challenges facing you at work at the moment?

  • What obstacles are holding you back from doing your job more effectively?

  • What is most important to you about your work?

  • What are you like when you are at your best at work?

  • What common elements to all of these questions did you uncover?

  • What stands out to us was that each question demands a specific answer.

"Let's Define desirable OUTCOMES!"

Once the current situation is defined, agreed upon and accepted, then you can begin to discuss the desired OUTCOME...

This stage is a bit like deciding on your destination before consulting a map.

You need to know what province or state your destination is in before you can determine which detailed map you want to unfold.

Remember that there is a big difference between deciding to leave and knowing where to go, so be sure to take your time carefully defining your where you want to go (i.e. the desired Outcome) in these early stages.

It will pay off with less back-tracking, reduced second-guessing and better results.

And it will save on gas!

You may feel tempted to rush to problem solving right away particularly if you have a limited time for this coaching session, if the situation is potentially dangerous or if a deadline is looming.

Often we want to be a hero and provide the answer to our employee if they are struggling with the question. Resist this impulse.

There’s another danger to moving too quickly...

When one leaps to a solution quickly, often it's a vision of a future in which the current problematic situation has dissolved or transformed into a more positive, problem-free state.

- Sometimes your employee expects a magical overnight change.

- Sometimes they expect you to do it for them.

If this is the case, you’re likely dealing with an individual who has surreptitiously slipped on their Sun Hat.

You’ll need to put your coaching session on hold in order to have a challenging conversation with them (be sure to go back and read about The 4 Hats in one of my previous articles).

It’s also possible that your employee is expecting everyone else (even you) to change in order to accommodate or correct their Current Situation.


Guide them towards an Outcome that envisions what the future might look like if they let go of their old way of doing business.

Remind them that the only person whose behavior they can control is their own, and if they want the Current Situation to change, it’s up to them to be proactive.

Usually your team member will have put some thought into what they want to achieve and may be presenting you with one or two desired outcomes.

Sample Open-ended questions that help define desirable OUTCOMES.

As a coach you can play an invaluable role in helping your team member expand their range of options and encourage them to explore novel ways of tackling seemingly intractable problems by asking some of the following big-picture, open-ended questions:

  • What goal do you want to achieve?

  • What are you hoping to achieve with this goal?

  • If anything was possible, what would you do?

  • What do you want to achieve from this coaching session?

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

  • What are the key outcomes you want to achieve in your work?

  • What do you want to change?

  • What do you really want?

  • How can I, as your manager, get the best out of you?

  • What is it that you really want to be and do?

  • What are the greatest opportunities for improvement in your current role? Why?

  • What would make your job even more meaningful?

  • What are the top 5 things you’d like to do in your role?

  • What would need to happen for you to improve your performance at work?

  • What outcome would be ideal?

  • What is most important to you about your work?

  • What would you like to accomplish?

Use these open-ended questions to get to a desired outcome that does more than simply address the symptoms. Strive to help them drill down and solve root causes. Don’t quit until you get your employee to identify a solution or aspiration that excites them.

"Let's Identify possible ACTIONS."

Once you and your team member have agreed upon the outcome you desire, you can start to generate a list of actions that have the potential to get you there. By asking the right questions you may get them generating a number of new ideas that they might not previously have identified.

Working together like this is different from brainstorming as a group....

Group Brainstorming has received a lot of criticism lately, and deservedly so.

Studies have shown that traditional group brainstorming – in which we identify a problem or goal and then encourage the group to generate as many ideas as possible no matter how wacky – does not generate significantly better solutions than working alone.