Flexing your coaching muscle

Flexing your coaching muscle

Why your best advice isn’t working

Can we start by acknowledging something right away? You and I are well-trained, highly experienced advice-giving machines. Am I right?

You’re an encyclopedia of technical solutions, a fountain of solutions to assist others.  I’ll bet over your career you’ve been trained, encouraged and even rewarded for providing advice.

You know at one point in my career my job title was actually “Advisor” so, I know where you’re coming from. Quite likely throughout your career, having ideas, sharing them, and helping others implement them has been valued and important.

And I’m not suggesting you completely stop that, particularly when you’re managing expectations and information for those senior to you. But, putting all that effort into developing our mental muscles around giving advice has caused us to overlook our other muscles, especially when it comes to helping colleagues and staff.

Back in the day, when I used to frequent the gym (which I acknowledge was far too long ago), I would see a lot of young guys who worked out their chest and arms excessively, proudly building up that hulk-like upper body (and yes, it was usually guys, women at the gym were much wiser about their approach).

In so many cases, these young guys ignored their legs and ended up looking like a popsicle — a big upper body on two little stick legs. Our advice giving is a bit like that, and I’ll explain how in a moment.

So why is giving lots of advice bad for us?

Well, first, think of all the advice you’ve been given over your lifetime. How much of it was not that helpful? Perhaps you knew it was good advice but you couldn’t seem to implement it? Or it was advice that, at one time had helped the advice-giver, but wasn’t helping you? Maybe your situation was just a little bit different. Or, maybe your comfort level is different from theirs and that advice isn’t going to work for you? You can start to see a bit of the problem with giving advice.

Hurting Ourselves

By defaulting to advice-giving with our colleagues and staff we are spending a lot of our work time solving others’ problems. That probably leads to overwhelm from time to time as you try to accomplish your own responsibilities while carrying theirs too. Also, your team is learning to rely on you to contribute solutions.

As well, the more we get used to giving advice, the less we tend to ask for it. You may be isolating yourself and limiting the input you receive when you make decisions. Perhaps on top of it all, we’re feeding an unhealthy need to feel important or needed. Where might you be able to better focus that energy?

Hurting Others

At the same time that we’re not doing ourselves any favours, we’re also extracting a cost from the people we give advice to. We’re not helping them build a comfort level with their own problem solving skills which builds a cycle of doubt and reliance. That means they’re not only dependent on you and not fulfilling their own potential, but it probably also means you’re becoming a bottleneck in decision-making processes.

And, if you have become isolated, your advice might not be as worldly and wise as you think it is — and these other folks are relying on it.

So that’s all rather disheartening isn’t it? What’s the alternative? What are some of those leg muscles we’ve been overlooking? (See I told you that metaphor would make sense in a moment).

One of the best ideas as we seek to move away from giving advice to others is to start using a coach-approach with them.

A Coach Approach

A coach-approach is based on using open-ended, curiosity based, thoughtful questions to help others draw out their own solutions.

You likely know that our team at Padraig are Certified Executive Coaches. Coaching is based on a neuroscience approach of engaging the mind to find new pathways.

Using neuroimaging, doctors and researchers have shown that when someone is given advice, very little changes in their brain activity. But, when you ask a good open-ended question, their brain activity actually changes. Being asked a question forces our brain to digest the inquiry and to begin working on an answer.

Taking that idea and building it into your role as manager, leader or colleague could look like this:

When an employee, or colleague, or client comes to you with a question, enter the conversation with something like — How can I help? Simple, open ended.

Continue that approach to peel back layers. For example, if they say, “you could help me solve this” try something like “what would the ideal solution look like to you?”

Or, “How would things be better if we solve this — can you describe to me what has changed, and what it would look like?”

It may feel odd at first but moving toward open-ended questions and being really truly genuinely curious about their answers yields incredible results.

Tip: Try to avoid leading questions that head toward the advice you want to give. What might happen if you did it this way?” is indeed an open-ended question, but it’s leading them to your solution.

Think of yourself as peeling back layers of the issue or the problem for them, helping them to figure out what’s at the core. It’s there that they’ll quite likely have an ah-ha moment and find their solution.

A coach approach is one tool in the toolbox for a good leader. You won’t use it in every situation.  For example, when you have a clear project goal that must be delivered by a specific date by Jane, then it’s best to be clear and directive in assigning the task to Jane — that’s not coaching and the situation didn’t call for it.

BUT, if Jane then comes to ask your assistance in how to deliver the goal on time — perhaps that’s an opportunity for a coach approach.

The Coach’s Questions

Take a moment to think about who on your team is struggling with a project or goal. How are you going to use a coach approach with them, today or tomorrow, to advance their success?

Who have you given advice to in the last week who might benefit from exploring alternatives? What can you do to help them with that?

If you’re interested in how a coach approach can help leaders throughout your organization achieve more great things with their teams, give me a call. We have a fantastic, short, program that helps build a coach approach into the leadership toolkit for everyone on your leadership team.