A couple of days ago I offered my services to one of the hospital directors here. In their current situation they could need some structuring and focus on start executing. I know that I can help them with this (using my normal “tricks” of visualization, transparency and short iterations etc) and hence asked if I could be of assistance.
Now, this particular director is a really smart one and the response was quick, to the point and a real head twister for me:
Thanks for that offer! What is you can help us with, then?
I was a stumped! What do I do? Why would anyone want that? Who am I to think that I can help them? I’m an IT guy, no formal training, no formal authority here. Why should they want me?
I ended up referring to my past work and try to describe that to the director but I couldn’t get the thought out of my head.
Yeah, this is one of those “Marcus thinks out loud post” on coaching.
This conversation happened to overlap with a general trend on twitter of … “bashing” or dislike with coaches or at least coaching. I see people referring to it as “the dark side” and use a general disapproving attitude towards coaching.
Also I happened to listen to this great pod cast for no particular reason. It spoke about the same topics. When does a team need a coach?
Please don’t misunderstand me this is not “The defense speech of coaches everywhere”.
I think that people that are negative towards coaching often are being coached at rather than wanting coaching. I wrote about this before but just restating; People don’t dislike change - they dislike being changed.
This is especially true with coaching I think; People don’t dislike coaching - they dislike being coached without asked.
Guilty: 1 Marcus.
Many many times. I’ve had jobs that was only that;
"Go to those teams and coach them."
"But they say they have no problems"
"You: do coaching! Them: better. Any questions?"
"No sir, important person who pays my fee SIR!"
I will never do that again. Promise. Scouts honor.
Coaching - what is it
Before (promise), I check the definition up I wanted to write a few words on what coaching means to me; to me coaching means that you get help from someone outside (aka not you) to improve or learn something. You ask this person to help you because you think that will increase the speed or the quality of the learning / improving. There’s a lot of trust between the parties in order to make the relationship a fruitful one.
Ok … hold on while I search for definitions.
Coaching is training or development in which a person called a coach supports a learner in achieving a specific personal or professional goal.
Yeah - I like it. “supports a learner in achieving a … goal”. That’s how I’ve thought it too.
After some soul searching and pondering this for a couple of days I’ve come to some observations and conclusions; the times I’ve failed with coaching I have coached at teams or individuals.
That simply doesn’t work and will make both me and the team miserable.
For me it bubbles down to three simple questions that we need to clear out before any coaching is taking place. In no particular order:
- Do you want to improve? You don’t have to believe that you can do better but you have to realize that you need to improve, somehow.
- Do you want help to improve? There might of course be the possibility that you’re better off handling this improvement journey yourself. The only thing I can offer is my experience and an outside perspective
- Do you trust me to be the one that helps you improve?
If all three answers are Yes - then I promise you that we will succeed together. Whatever endeavor or problem we have; I will help you improve from that and we will succeed.
If all answers are No - then I thank you for you time and wish you success in your future endeavor. We will not be happy together.
If you answer No to anyone of those - then we could do this but I will probably not be to any great assistance to you. The chances of our work being fruitful or worthwhile are definitely lower too. But I’m happy to give it a chance - most times I’ve been engaged as a coach not all three of these has been answered Yes. Some of those times have been great, some have been “Meh…”.
When I got the original question (“What is it that you can help us with, then?”) I wanted to come up with an answer like the one Mr Wolf pulls in Pulp Fiction:
Actually; he’s not too bad. He presents himself and tells what he does (“I solve problem.”). The person on the inside of the door answers “Good. We got one”. He opens up for help, realising that he needs to improve from the current state (dead body in a car in this garage). Mr Wolf then asks for permission to help out (“May I come in”).
He’s a little bit too frank and cocky - not really my style. I’d rather try something like
"What is it that you can help us with, then?"
"I'm mr Marcus - I help people that wants to improve to do so. Do you need My help?"
Now I’m going to buy a book on coaching. I think I need to improve.