In Coaching Tool-Kit

“I am dreading this conversation!” Anna (an executive coaching client) had a tone of resignation in her voice. She was not looking forward to yet another conversation with Bob (her direct report) about how he was going to resolve his people issues.

Bob has an issue with micro-managing his people. Three people in his department have recently resigned. Anna had a conversation with Bob about how he was going to fix the issue two weeks ago, but nothing has changed. The rest of his people seem to be in a state of resignation.

Sort of like Anna. She’s resigned to having to go in and fix the problem herself. You see, Anna’s really good at fixing problems (finding root causes, thinking through solutions, getting results).

Clearly, Anna’s coaching with Bob is not getting results and it’s frustrating Anna. Most high-achievers like Anna are energized by fixing the problem.

How about you? Is your coaching getting results?

When coaching isn’t working, the question to ask is: “Am I coaching the person or fixing the problem?”

The coaching conversation is very different, depending upon whether your focus is on the person or the problem. In Anna’s case, she’s defining the problem as “We have several people who have resigned and morale is low.”  She believes she needs to fix this and can’t count on Bob because nothing has changed in the last two weeks.

Here’s the “Fix The Problem” scenario. Anna sets up a meeting with Bob. Here are the questions she asks:

  • Why is the morale issue not fixed?
  • What will it take to fix the issue?
  • How do you (Bob) intend to manage the department with the vacancies you have?
  • What’s your timeline and plan of action?

In this instance, Anna’s focus is to jump in and fix the morale and vacancies issue.

If Anna’s approach was “Coach The Person” the questions she would be asking would be different. Here’s what they may look like:

  • How are you (Bob) doing? What’s working well? What’s not?
  • How are your people doing? What feedback are you getting from them?
  • How do you see this situation? What do you see as your role?
  • What are your goals in this situation? What does success look like to you?

In this approach, Anna’s not taking on the responsibility to “fix the problem”. She’s getting curious about Bob and why he has not taken any steps to resolve the issues. She listens closely and watches Bob’s body language to notice how Bob is feeling (stressed, disengaged, confused). She wants to discover and help Bob see his blind spots. She is curious about whether he is taking accountability, and what his goals and aspirations are. She gives him clear feedback on behaviors and gets his commitment to taking action.

I asked Anna what she saw as her role in this conversation with Bob. Of course, as we discussed the two approaches, Anna decided to experiment with being the coach rather than the problem-fixer.

When you coach the person, you are investing in their growth. You’re also putting accountability where it belongs rather than taking on what should be someone else’s role. Here is a useful tool called “The Five C’s of Great Coaching Conversations” that may help you plan for your next coaching conversation.

The next time you notice yourself getting frustrated for not getting results in coaching, notice where your focus is: the person or the problem.

This post first appeared in my Forbes Leadership blog.

This article was written by Henna Inam, executive coach, speaker, and author of the book Wired for Authenticity. She works with people to help them realize their potential to be authentic, transformational leaders. They create organizations that drive breakthroughs in innovation, growth, and engagement. Her corporate clients include Coca Cola, The Home Depot, and others. Join the thousands who follow her blog here. Connect on Twitter @hennainam.

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Showing 5 comments
  • Marvynne

    A very timely and useful article – great tools and I shall be sharing with my colleagues. Thank you :)

    • Henna Inam

      Thank you Marvynne! I hope this is useful to your colleagues.


  • Michelle Prince

    Terrific post! Great reminder of the difference between managing and coaching.

  • Kim Derderian

    It would be great to complement the “Fix the Problem” scenario with a “Coach the Person” scenario!

    • Henna Inam

      Hi Kim –

      Thanks for joining the conversation. The “coach the person” scenario is when she asks Bob these questions in the second part of the blog post. For your own use, the Five C’s of Great Coaching Conversations link may also be useful.


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