Leaders know everything.

It wasn’t so long ago that I used to believe this. As it turns out I have learned overtime that leaders don’t know everything, in fact there is every chance you ask a leader about a particular problem and you might be shocked to learn they only have a vague understanding of the problem.

If so, how is it that people manage to become leaders? It could be that good leaders have coaching skills and techniques have the ability to empower people to solve the problem themselves.

It should be noted, not all leaders are coaches, nor do they have the desire to do so. Depending on the coaching style or even the time available to solve the problem - leaders may be mentors or tutors.

Before we continue I want to ask the following question:

Someone asks you for assistance on a problem do you :
a) Make suggestions on how to fix the problem
b) Ask questions about the problem and paraphrase
c) Solve the problem for them

As you guessed from the title, depending on your answer places you somewhere on the spectrum.  If you answered [A] then you are considered more of a mentor.  If you answered [B] then you are considered to be more of a coach.  Finally, if your answer is [C] you are considered more of tutor style.

The Coaching Spectrum

What does this mean?

The two extremes of the spectrum are known as Directive (Push) and Non-Directive (Pull).  The Directive end of the spectrum is more about solving peoples problems for them.  Non-directive is about empowering people to solve the problems themselves by helping them understand.  

Often the term mentor and coach seem to be used interchangeably, and looking at the spectrum they overlap. The overlap does not mean they are the same thing.   Mentoring is often informal, longer term and more directive. As a mentor you can offer your own suggestions and provide advice to the team member. Coaching often follows a more structured approach, focussed on a problem and non-directive in nature on the other hand offers no opinion and encourages the subject to think about the problem and come up with their own solutions.

Looking at your past when you faced a problem in the past, did you benefit most when:

a) Your coach solved the problem for you
b) Your coach sat down and worked through the problem with you.

I am going on the assumption that through effective coaching techniques such as asking you questions, paraphrasing and reflecting the situation back to you that you not only solved the problem but learned from it too.

It is for this reason that non-directive coaching is the most empowering and offers longer term results with a better understanding.

Help?! Panic!? We have a production problem.

As with everything nothing is ever black and white.  There are times when sometimes you might feel it necessary to solve the problem for the subject.  A typical example might be time sensitive problem where there is no time to coach. This would involve a more direct approach to either solve the problem or tell them how to solve the problem.  

In my experience whilst this solves the short term problem it often leads to a lack of understanding of the problem with the likelihood of the team member asking about the same problem again.

Skills required

Personally I tend to lead by empathy and it got me wondering what skills are likely for effective coaching.  Here are a few I have come up with for a starter for ten:

  • Empathy
  • Active Listening
  • Questioning
  • Open Mind
  • Non Judging

Wrap up

The coaching spectrum is a good visual representation of coaching.  It clearly identifies the types of coaching and what is required to get the most out of your team members.  Coaching often results in more motivated team members and can result in higher quality solutions.

Leading isn't about ruling, rather it is more about empowering people to help them realise their own potential.  One of most satisfying aspects of my job is watching people grow.

To finish up here is a simple summary view of where and when different types of coaching may be applicable.

Push/Directive Approach (Controlling)
Simple Tasks, Time Dependant Tasks

Leans towards Directive
Simple Tasks, Time Dependant Tasks
Creating a long term working relationsip covering wide array of topics

Pull/Non-Directive (Empowering)
Short term problem solving using techniques to allow the team member to think about the problem without judgement to solve the problem themselves

Please feel free to comment on how you fit in the spectrum and what you thoughts are on the coaching spectrum.