Introduction – 10 Steps to Successful Coaching, 2nd Edition


“I absolutely believe that people, unless coached, never reach their full potential.”

—Bob Nardelli, CEO, Home Depot

Every morning I receive a curated list of business articles in my email inbox. And every morning at least one of those articles promotes the benefits of leaders acting like coaches. Here’s a sample of recent headlines that SmartBrief sent me in just one week:

• “Encouragement and Connection Make Good Leaders More Effective”—which suggests encouraging leaders to bring out the best in other people to help them achieve better results.

• “Nine Ideas to Help You Lead Effectively in Pressure Environments” includes tips like “care for people” and “respect them enough to provide tough feedback and ample praise.” “Good leaders,” this article suggests, “challenge individuals to grow in the moment by providing opportunities and responsibilities and offering to coach.”

• “13 Secret Questions That Google Uses to Collect Employee Feedback” provides the questions that Google—an organization at the forefront of leadership development—asks its employees in order to collect feedback on its managers, including “My manager gives me actionable feedback that helps me improve my performance,” “My manager has had a meaningful discussion with me about career development in the past six months,” and “My manager shows consideration for me as a person.”

• “Good Leaders Don’t Give Advice—They Coach” has the subheading, “The best managers help their employees set actionable goals, give constructive feedback, and practice compassionate directness.”

As these clips show, the benefits of integrating coaching skills—like delivering feedback, creating accountability, and just talking to employees about their goals, their values, and what creates meaning in their lives—are no secret. A number of research studies report that coaching provides tangible outcomes, including enhanced learning, work performance, and business results. In 2009, the Journal of Positive Psychology reported on a randomized, controlled study that concluded that executive coaching enhances goal attainment, resilience, and workplace well-being. And a year earlier, the Coaching Psychology Journal reported on an empirical study that claimed executive coaching is an effective method of leadership development resulting in improvement in five areas: people management, relationships with managers, goal setting and prioritization, engagement and productivity, and dialogue and communication.

Clearly, coaching skills have become critical management competencies as organizations prepare a new generation of leaders, using fewer financial, human, and training resources. An explosion in the coaching market in recent years highlights the fact that the work environment continues to be complex, fast-paced, and pressured, and that employees at all levels can derive value from personalized, skilled help delivered in a structured, safe, one-on-one situation. Additionally, the past few years have seen a growing acceptance of seeking help to get more out of life and an increased attention on the importance of mental health.

Coaching isn’t just about patting people on the back or providing enthusiastic encouragement. It’s a powerful management tool to help employees realize their career aspirations. When managers and supervisors master the art of coaching, their relationships with their direct reports are strengthened—and that often translates to increased company loyalty and enhanced motivation among those reports.

Tool I-1 presents some of the benefits that are generally ascribed to coaching for the the coach, the person being coached, and the organization. As you begin your own coaching journey, what other benefits come to mind? What benefits do you hope to see for yourself, your team, the people you will coach, and your organization?


Benefits to Coaches Benefits to Those Being Coached Benefits to the Organization

• They develop coaching skills and receive tools to assist employees.

• Using coaching skills enhances all their working relationships.

• Their teams become more cohesive and productive.

• They feel a sense of accomplishment as they reach their own goals; their performance often improves.

• Employees they coach are more engaged in their organizations.

• Increased motivation and productivity result from personal attention.

• They receive individualized and confidential advice on issues affecting their careers.

• Morale and job satisfaction increase as they experience the fulfillment coming from doing work that honors their values.

• Confidence increases.

• The discovery that real choices are available to them is empowering.

• Cost-effective development occurs on the job and is customized for each employee.

• Responsibility for developing employees is decentralized.

• Manager–employee relationships are strengthened.

• Productivity increases.

• When employees explore their interests and skills, a good fit between them and their work is ensured.

• High-potential employees are less likely to leave organizations that invest resources to help them meet their needs and interests.

One of the reasons coaching is so effective at increasing employees’ productivity and confidence is that it is a tool that embraces all aspects of how people learn. The Center for Creative Leadership famously asked effective organizational leaders how they’d learned what they needed to be successful. The widely adopted 70-20-10 learning model emerged from this research, where the 20 percent represents learning from coaching and feedback. But coaching is more than just a feedback and relationship-based option. Because coaching pushes people to try out new ways of doing things and to take on projects and challenges, it also taps into the 70 percent of learning that is experiential; and because it often results in coachees enrolling in workshops or getting additional education, it also contributes to the benefit of the 10 percent of education-based learning.

Who Should Read This Book?

This book is an entry point for anyone who wants—or has been asked—to do some formal or informal coaching. It’s also for anyone who wants to infuse their day-to-day interactions in the workplace with a powerful new skill—development through coaching. The book also is for readers who understand that applying these skills will help them in their broader lives. Each of the 10 steps ends with ideas for using its concepts as part of a formal coaching process or informally in the daily activities of managing others.

This is a primer, so those who have been through a coaching program in the past may find it a good review and may pick up some new exercises or tools. But, chiefly, it is for people who’ve only just recognized—or been intrigued by—the power of coaching. Maybe you’ve witnessed a great coach in action; maybe you realize your direct reports aren’t working to their full potential, or that you aren’t working to your potential as a leader. Maybe you simply want more out of your experience at work—the chance to connect with others at a deeper level and to promote learning and growth on the job.

This book won’t turn you into a coach, but it will make you more coach-like. Let me try an imperfect metaphor to show you the difference. Sometimes, when I’m feeling sick, I have to go to a trained and licensed medical doctor. She can deal with my more serious health concerns and she knows the right doses of medication for me to take. At other times when I’m not feeling 100 percent, I just need someone to make me a bowl of chicken soup or to send me to bed. Some of the best medical advice I’ve gotten has been from nurses taking my temperature before the doctor comes into the room or from a fellow patient in the waiting room.

In the same way, sometimes an employee needs to work with a credentialed and experienced coach. His issues might be more all-encompassing than his manager feels prepared to handle, she might need someone who’s fully trained to work with a broad spectrum of emotional responses, or he might just need the confidentiality an outside party can provide. At other times, all an employee needs to feel more balanced and in control is you—someone who can be coach-like—pulling out tools and asking questions that make him feel better.

There certainly are some purists who would say that if it isn’t a certified coach using a certain coaching model, it isn’t coaching. I disagree. If an employee feels and performs better as a result of the attention of someone acting like a coach, it doesn’t matter what you call it. You can even call it coaching.

A Note About Naming

While we’re on the subject of what to call things, I have to admit I had some trouble figuring out what to call the people you’ll be coaching. Some of you will do this informally with your colleagues, direct reports, or friends. Others will do it in a more structured manner either with people you know and work with or with strangers. So I couldn’t describe them all as co-workers or direct reports. I call the people I coach “clients,” but that implies some sort of formal business relationship that some of you may not have. That term is also a little more clinical than I like.

So I went with the made-up word “coachee” (much to my spell-check’s dismay!). If “coachee” doesn’t describe the person sitting in front of you, please feel free to substitute whatever word works for you and imagine that word wherever I refer to the coachee in these pages.

Sequence of the Steps

In coaching, I try to hold what I call a “soft focus.” That is, I have a focus I need to keep my client aware of—one that the two of us create together—but I also need to be free to let go of that agenda to work with what my client is presenting to me at the moment. I can’t be rigid about what we’re doing together. I have to maintain the focus but be free to move from it.

This need for flexibility could make it difficult to put the work of a coach into a series of sequenced steps, but the more I look at the prevailing coaching models, the more I see that there is some order to coaching. Therefore, I recommend you address these 10 steps with a soft focus, following the logical and proven methods but being willing to bend when the situation requires. You’ll want to keep the step sequence in mind as an ideal way to do things—and you’ll want to remember that there will be times you won’t follow this sequence. You may complete a step and find you have to go back to it later. For instance, you may have agreed on the logistics of your coaching relationship in Step 2 but find you have to revisit them later when you’re on Step 6 and partnering to enhance growth between sessions. During your first conversation, the coachee may get stuck or may put up resistance, moving you directly to Step 7 to realign when things go bad. Once realigned, you can pick up where you left off. You may find that one step takes only a few minutes and another takes a few months. All these variations are workable when you have a soft focus—an awareness of where you want to be, but one to which you’re not wedded.

Another way to use this book is to put it right in to practice. Read Step 1 and then pick a coachee. Do the rest of the steps one-by-one with this person. Explain that you’re learning as you go so that at each step you’ll be practicing different skills and adding more exercises during your interactions.

Remember, too, that you can use the tools and ideas in each step even if you aren’t doing a formal, step-by-step process. Using what’s offered here in any of your day-to-day interactions as a manager will produce better results from your employees and deepen your relationships with them.

Inside This Book

Here is an overview of the 10 steps covered in this book.

Step 1: Prepare Yourself for the Coaching Role

Before you can coach others, you have to spend some time thinking about what coaching means to you, what your coaching goals are, and what characteristics you need to embody to achieve those goals. Additionally, you need to determine what might get in the way of your being effective as a coach and address those issues head-on. Only after you’ve worked through those obstacles can you effectively help others to address theirs. (In this edition, I merged what were Steps 1 and 2 in the first edition into this step.)

Step 2: Create Your Coaching Relationship

Just as you have to ready yourself to coach others, you’ll have to ready others to work with you as a coach. Often referred to as contracting, this is the step during which you’ll discuss exactly how you and your coachee will work together—a very important foundation for the coaching process, as behavior change happens when people feel free to take risks and try new things. This requires attention to roles, safety, and confidentiality, some of the key considerations during this step. (In this edition, I added robust discussions of when to say no to requests for coaching, how to ensure confidentiality, and the impact of technology on coaching relationships.)

Step 3: Facilitate Discovery

A coaching relationship can be a powerful engine for growth and change, but only if there is a deep sense of trust between coach and coachee and if the coachee truly feels known by the coach. You’ll use this knowledge of your coachee and how he “works” over and over again in the later steps. More importantly, your coachee will realize which of his strengths can propel him toward a desired outcome, even in the face of obstacles. (In this edition, I added more sample coaching conversations throughout the book, beginning in this step. I also beefed up the discussion of how to provide feedback.)

Step 4: Agree on What You Want to Accomplish

Even some of the most eager coachees sometimes enter a coaching relationship unsure about their focus issues and goals. Coaching goals need to focus not only on what coachees want to accomplish but also on who they want to become as they accomplish these things. As such, agreeing on what the two of you want to accomplish through your work together is more than just standard goal setting. To ensure that coaching actually is closing the gap between where the coachee is and where she wants to be, accountability that comes from establishing these expectations has to be built into the relationship. (In this edition, I added content related to goal setting and accountability to this step.)

Step 5: Use the Power of Possibility

Coaching comes from an expansive rather than a limiting place. Coaches need to help their coachees think more broadly about themselves and what they’re capable of accomplishing. Responding to powerful questions posed by their coaches, coachees come to recognize their own greatness and the possibilities that are available to them. (In this edition, I added a discussion of some common obstacles—or “blocks”—to good listening.)

Step 6: Partner to Enhance Growth Between Sessions

A goal of coaching is to help your coachee become self-sufficient. You can jump-start this process with assignments for coachees to complete between coaching sessions. In fact, most of the work of coaching happens outside of the coaching session. Assignments serve to help the coachee notice what is happening for him, try out new approaches, or take action toward achieving specific goals. The way these assignments are created and given is quite different from the way you remember getting homework! (In this edition, I added content on how to create accountability in the coaching relationship.)

Step 7: Realign When Things Go Bad

Coaching relationships can unleash more emotion than your standard manager–employee conversation; so, by their very nature, they have the potential to hit potholes. This step will help you recognize the signs that coaching is derailed and then help you learn how to realign the relationship and troubleshoot a variety of problems that can crop up in the coaching process. (In this edition, I added a list of tools for viewing situations from alternative perspectives to help when you are coaching individuals who are “stuck.”)

Step 8: Maintain Positive Changes

The beginning of a coaching relationship can be exciting and invigorating for both parties. There comes a point, however, when the initial energy is wearing off; when the coachee, who’s made significant changes early on in the process, starts to revert to the way she used to be or used to do things. Knowing how to coach at this step helps keep your time together from growing stale and helps your coachee continue to move forward. (In this edition, I added more content on the importance of recognizing success.)

Step 9: Complete the Coaching Cycle

Many coaching relationships continue long after they’ve ceased being beneficial. Knowing when and how to end a coaching relationship ensures that the progress you and your coachee have made together is integrated into how the coachee lives and works going forward. Likewise, from each coaching relationship you complete you learn much that will help you continue to be engaged and excited about yourself and your coaching. Bringing an appropriate end to the coaching relationship will help both parties confirm achievements made and lessons learned. (In this edition, I added more content on how to notice when it’s time to end but also why it’s so difficult to actually let go.)

Step 10: Prepare Your Organization for Coaching

While most of the steps in this book focus on the how-tos of coaching, this new step helps you to consider the environment in which you will likely provide the majority of your coaching: the workplace. You’ll need to think about how your coaching fits into a broader organizational context and how to create a coaching culture.

After reading and working through these 10 steps once, review them periodically. They’ll inspire you with new questions to ask and new tools to use in your coaching.

• • •

Being a coach to the people you work with can be a very powerful experience. You have the opportunity to help people realize some of these outcomes, which Coach U, one of the premier coach training organizations, cites as reasons that individuals might seek out a coach to:

• Set better goals.

• Reach goals faster.

• Make significant changes.

• Design and live their best life.

• Get ahead professionally.

• Make better decisions.

• Improve relationships.

• Become a better manager, executive, or businessperson.

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of helping individuals achieve those results? As a coach, you can inspire those around you to achieve great things for themselves—at work and outside of work—and to experience greater happiness. And, in the process, you’ll become more self-aware and effective. If you’re ready to experience those benefits, read on!