“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” If you know one quote from Peter Drucker, that’s probably it. And it’s something he never actually said.
But when he said, “culture … is singularly persistent”, he was making a similar point – culture and strategy are the twin DNA of a successful organization. The culture provides the “how” to the strategy’s “why” “where” and “who”.
And if culture is “the way we do things around here”, to help plant (or build, or nudge) a culture that flourishes – one that has impact and one that gets invested in – you need to be deliberate about habits of the people who make up your organization and do the things.
After all, 45% of our waking hours are spent engaging in habitual behaviors. That means that a lot of the time, our unconscious brains are running the show.
Habits, though, are a blessing and a curse. Sure, we get to be efficient with stuff. But we also get stuck in ruts of behavior that no longer serve us. And the worst habit plaguing workplaces right now?
Luckily, there’s an antidote, one that my friends at Box of Crayons are superb at administering – building a coaching habit.
Do this, and you’ll break out of the three vicious circles undermining your corporate culture – overdependence, overwhelm, and disconnection.
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The Importance of Building a Coaching Habit
As it turns out, a lot of leaders don’t want to coach.
They just want to do their jobs well. But what they don’t realize is that a coaching habit is the secret sauce to not only doing their jobs better but also creating a more self-sufficient, successful team.
Think about it. Whenever you rush to fix things for the people you lead, you’re training them to come to you for advice, rather than helping them become more confident, more competent, more capable, and more able to work by themselves.
If you can slow down that rush to provide solutions to every problem, you’re actually going to help your people come up with better answers, and you’re going to work less hard while having more impact.
It really is a win-win for everyone involved.
10 Techniques for Effective Workplace Coaching
For all the amazing benefits of coaching, it’s got a bit of a bad rap. Maybe you think: “I don’t have time to coach” or “I’ve met some coaches and I don’t want to be like them.”
Here’s the good news. Coaching shouldn’t be this formal, time-consuming act. In fact, to coach you only need 10 minutes or less – if it takes you more than that you’re wasting everyone’s time.
I’m on a mission to unweird coaching for good because it really is one of the most powerful ways to bring the best out of your people, help them play to their strengths, and unlock your own greatness.
So, here are the 10 techniques for effective workplace coaching:
1. Stay Curious a Bit Longer
In my view, curiosity is one of the most underutilized leadership powers. Stay curious. It’s as simple — and as difficult — as that.
Questions are the kindling of curiosity and, if you’ve read The Coaching Habit, you’ll know I have my all-time favorite seven. Questions like “What is the real challenge here for you?”, “What else?” and “What do you want?” are powerful ways to find the real issue, boost autonomy, and spark innovation.
You see, on an organizational level, curiosity frees up some of the potential within the enterprise.
But it’s not just the person being coached who wins. The person who stays curious and asks questions wins as well. You’ll be able to focus more on the work that needs to be done. And in the end, you’ll work less hard but make more of a difference.
2. Make Coaching an Everyday Interaction
The “no time, no time” perception of coaching is widespread, and it’s often cited by managers as the biggest barrier to why they don’t coach.
But here’s the thing – coaching isn’t a role you need to carve out oodles of time for. It’s an informal everyday interaction. You can coach in person, over the phone, over Zoom, on Slack, or by email.
Anytime you’re interacting with somebody is an opportunity for you to stay curious longer, no matter what the channel.
So, don’t try to add coaching skills to what you do as a leader. Instead, transform what you already do to become more coach-like.
3. Realize That Your Advice Is Not as Good as You Think It Is
People have spent a lifetime being rewarded for not asking questions, and for instead focusing on having the answers.
At all levels of school, it’s all about getting the A. In the first years of your career, it’s about building up the knowledge to become an expert and knowing your stuff.
Then, once you gain seniority in an organization, well, now you’re really expected to know your stuff – how else could you hold that particular rank?
This deeply ingrained habit of responding to situations with advice, solutions, and suggestions is driven by what I call the Advice Monster (which you can read about in my book The Advice Trap.)
We all have one. It’s the voice in your head that starts bubbling up as soon as somebody starts telling you about something.
Even though you don’t really know the situation or the people involved and you certainly don’t have the full context, after about 10 seconds, your advice monster is like, “Oh, oh, oh, I’ve got something to say here!”
But the truth is that advice is almost always overrated. You see, the more you tell people what to do, the less empowered, engaged, and autonomous they will be.
Put it this way, if The Coaching Habit were a haiku instead of a book, it would read:
Tell less and ask more.
Your advice is not as good
As you think it is.
4. Be Lazy (Stop Doing Work for Your Team)
Now I know this sounds weird at first glance, but hear me out.
Being lazy doesn’t mean closing your laptop and putting your feet on your desk – it means being slow to action when someone comes to you with a problem.
After all, you want the other person to be doing the work, particularly when it requires them to stretch a little. When they’re doing the work, they’re actually unlocking their own potential. On top of that, you’re helping them to learn, rather than simply telling them what to do.
So, instead of leaping in to fix things, hold back and offer up space for your team members to talk and come up with their own solutions. By asking questions, the power switches to the other person, and they become responsible for finding solutions.
Getting into the habit of asking questions is the simplest way to stay lazy and stay curious. It’s a self-management tool to keep your advice monster under restraint and it helps your people expand and grow.
5. Build Relationships Based on Fierce Love
When I’m asked to talk about my philosophy of coaching, I’ve got two words – fierce love. Let me break that down.
Fierce in this equation means not to get too comfortable in the conversation you’re having. Be bold, courageous, and vulnerable when you engage with others.
Love is a reminder to fully champion the other person. Help them along their journey to being the best version of themselves they can be.
If you can practice fierce love with your people – pushing them to the edge of who they can be, believing the best in them, and seeing them in their full humanity – your coaching habit is going to be more effective, powerful, and transformative.
6. Aim for Psychological Safety and Bravery
At its core, coaching is all about helping you and the people around you unlock their greatness.
And to do that, you need to build relationships that are safe, vital, and repairable.
What does that mean exactly? Well, safety correlates with psychological safety; the idea that people need to feel safe to show up as their authentic selves without being judged.
Safety is super important but, going back to fierce love, leaders also need to build relationships that are vital and repairable.
Vital in that they stretch people out of their comfort zones and repairable because every relationship goes through ups and downs. You need to find the commitment and capacity to fix the damage and carry on.
Nurture your relationships in this way, and your coaching habit will have way more of an impact.
7. Be a Proactive Role Model
Let me share a brief story:
A mother approaches Gandhi and tells him, “I need you to tell my son to stop eating sugar; it’s driving me crazy.”
Gandhi says, “Come back in a week.”
The mother returns after a week, and Gandhi states simply, “Stop eating sugar.”
Puzzled, the mother asks, “Thank you, but why did it take a week?”
Gandhi explains, “I had to stop eating sugar myself before I could give that advice.”
The moral of the story? Whether you’re acting intentionally or not, you’re a role model to the people around you.
By modeling coach-like behavior, you’ll encourage the people you work with to become more curious and slower to give advice.
8. Be Generous With Support and Encouragement
You’ve probably seen that, in all my emails, I sign off with: “You’re awesome and you’re doing great.” Now, my mum hates that sign-off. She says it’s grammatically incorrect and it’s too American.
I love you, Mum, but the sign-off is staying.
You (and my mum) wouldn’t believe many appreciative emails I receive from people saying, “Thank you,” or “I needed to hear that today.”
And that’s exactly why I say it. As humans, we all want to know we’re doing a good job and making progress on stuff that matters. As The Progress Principle outlines, we feel more purposeful and fulfilled when we do.
With that in mind, it’s crucial to combine your coaching habit with regular encouragement and support. Assume positive intent, recognize the small wins, and remind people of their worthiness. When you do this, your coaching efforts will go way further.
After all, when you see the best in someone, you help them to see the best in themselves.
9. Give Feedback That Speaks to the Human, Not Just the Task
Coaching and feedback dance together on the same floor. They have a really powerful partnership, and you can combine them well by using Marshall Rosenberg’s model of non-violent communication.
Roseberg’s model states that all communication has four parts to it – the data, your feelings, your judgments, and what you want or need.
In any feedback scenario, it’s really useful to hone in on the data and what you want instead of letting your judgments about the situation shroud the facts. Once the cloud of opinion dissipates, the actual data will be way easier to see and you’ll be able to communicate better.
When it comes to feedback, I also think it’s really helpful to focus on speaking to the human, not simply the task at hand.
Rather than focusing on how good or bad a job the person did on this one thing, look at them in their entirety.
Have they grown over the last few months? Have they stepped up? Are they making braver decisions?
Notice the being behind the doing and be generous with your praise. You’ll create a better rapport with the person you’re coaching as a result.
10. Find Failure Fascinating
When you start pushing people to reach their potential and exit their comfort zone, they’re probably going to fail a few times. In fact, they should fail. Because if they don’t, they’re playing it way too safe.
In the book, Ben and Rosalind Zander explain that they ask their students to say: “How fascinating!” as loud as they can whenever they make a mistake.
Instantly, this approach changes the whole feel around something going wrong. Instead of allowing their students to feel embarrassed or chastising them, the Zanders help them to channel a growth mindset so they can learn from what happened and improve for next time.
You can easily do this with the people you work with too; asking questions like: “What went well?” and “What could we do better?”
Say Less, Ask More, and Change the Way You Lead Forever
Honestly, coaching is simpler than you think. It’s really all about staying curious as long as you can. The more questions you ask and the further you delve into the issue at hand, the better for everyone.
So, curious to learn more?
The Coaching Habit gives you 7 questions and the tools to make them an everyday habit.
Master them, and you’ll be able to work less hard and have more impact on the world.