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Stop Trying to Coach Me

April 11, 2024
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“Pablo, stop trying to coach me” My coworker said in a frustrated tone as I took a step back and tried to understand where she was coming from. “I know you mean well. At the same time I want to have a real conversation and this feels condescending.” I felt embarrassed yet grateful that my coworker had given me that very direct and useful piece of feedback.

Coaching gives you lots of great tools that you can use as a manager but it is not ideal for every situation. Below I provide a quick guide on what type of situations you should approach with a coaching mindset and which ones you should not.

When a coaching approach is helpful

Skill Development and Training: A coaching approach shines when team members require skill development and training. By offering guidance, asking powerful questions, and encouraging self-reflection, you can help employees grow their competencies and confidence in their roles.

Goal Setting and Performance Improvement: In situations where employees are striving to achieve specific goals or need performance improvement, coaching can provide the necessary support and motivation. By taking a coaching approach you can help set clear objectives, track progress, and celebrate achievements.

Conflict Resolution (within a team): Coaching is an effective tool for resolving conflicts within teams. Through active listening and impartial guidance, you can help employees find common ground and work through differences constructively. Note that this is not a good approach to take when you are trying to resolve a problem with a peer. A coach-coachee relationship assumes a power dynamic that is different from that of a peer-to-peer relationship.

Employee Engagement and Morale: A coaching approach fosters a positive work environment and boosts employee morale. By empowering team members to contribute their ideas, you can create a culture of trust and inclusivity.

Succession Planning and Leadership Development: When grooming future leaders within an organization, coaching is invaluable. It nurtures the skills, mindset, and emotional intelligence required for effective leadership.

When a coaching approach is detrimental

Time-Sensitive or Crisis Situations: In emergencies or high-pressure situations, a coaching approach will not be practical. Immediate action and directive decision-making are often necessary to resolve critical issues. You will not have time to ask probing questions or help people get to their own conclusions.

Poor Employee Fit: While coaching is suitable for developing skills, it may not be effective if someone in your team lacks the fundamental capabilities required for their role. In such cases, a more directive approach or an honest and compassionate conversation about fit is what you need.

Toxic Workplace Culture: A coaching approach may not be successful in addressing deep-rooted issues in a toxic workplace culture. In such environments, other interventions, like leadership changes or organizational restructuring, may be more appropriate. Furthermore, toxic workplace cultures tend to have low levels of psychological safety which will make people hesitant to say what they really think or feel.

Lack of Employee Buy-In: For coaching to be effective, coachees must be open to the process and willing to engage actively. If there is a lack of buy-in or resistance, the coaching approach might be less impactful.

Peer to Peer Conversations: Coaching generally assumes a certain power dynamic as the coach tends to guide the conversation. Taking a coaching approach with a peer (who has not asked you for advice or asked you to take a coaching approach) might come across as condescending or frustrating.

Coaching is a powerful management tool that can bring out the best in your team, foster growth, and create a positive work environment. However, it's essential to recognize that it may not be suitable for every situation. As with any management approach, the key lies in understanding the needs of individual team members and the context of the organization. By leveraging coaching effectively, managers can help their teams thrive, leading to enhanced performance and a culture of continuous improvement.