Start A Coaching Conversation

Many employees are highly capable individuals who want to work—and be—smarter. They’re crying out for help. I hear about it all the time in the work I do.

It’s up to their leaders to learn how to ask the right questions and conduct truly engaging coaching conversations.

The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution. ~ Bertrand Russell

Generations X and Y have been making major organizational contributions, albeit with different expectations from their managers. They embrace personal development, while valuing freedom and independence. They want to work for leaders who will help them fulfill their career potential—mentors who can help them improve their thinking.

As these future leaders develop, they will move from managing themselves to managing others. Their leadership potential depends on their ability to change the way they think.

Regrettably, the organizations that employ them usually allocate few internal resources to help them through this shift. It’s time for leaders to learn how to train the next generation in higher-level decision-making.

            What we think, we become. ~ Gautama Buddha

Some leadership experts have adopted the “iceberg” model to describe human performance. This metaphor suggests that some of our behaviors are visible, while most other behaviors, thoughts and feelings lurk below water.

Our work achievements are driven by how we think. Why, then, do leaders focus on what’s superficially visible when addressing employee performance? Evaluations rarely consider the factors that drive habits, nor do managers reflect on employees’ feelings or thoughts.

If we want people to think better, we must essentially let them do all the thinking. David Rock, in his book Quiet Leadership, suggests the following five-step process for establishing a coaching conversation that enables self-directed learning:

  1. Let the employee think through his specific issue. Avoid telling him what to do or giving advice. Ask questions about his thought process.
  2. Keep him focused on solutions, not problems.
  3. Challenge him to expand his thinking and stretch himself, instead of clinging to his comfort zone.
  4. Focus on what he’s doing well so he can play to his strengths.
  5. Make sure there are clear processes behind every conversation. To be truly helpful, a coaching conversation requires permission to ask questions and explore possibilities.

Have you had a coaching conversation with your manager or your direct reports lately? I’d love to hear from you.

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