The Joys and Rules of Successful Coaching


Most support executives tell me that their most satisfying activity is coaching, and that they take special pride in seeing their protégés succeed and advance. And yet, they bemoan that they have no time to coach. Fortunately, there are ways to make coaching more productive–or hire out. Read on.



Why does coaching work?

Coaching is a wonderful way to develop current and future leaders.

  • It allows them to acquire skills that they may not be able to pick up by performing their normal duties, observing others in action, or researching on their own.
  • It provides a just-in-time learning environment, unlike standard training programs whose effects fade when the skills cannot be applied right away.
  • It boosts confidence along with developing new skills.
  • It is efficient. A lot can be packed into a coaching session!
  • It provides a safe space to explore challenges and difficulties.
  • It maximizes the capabilities of your existing team, without having to hire more staff.

What’s the right approach to coaching?

Because coaching is personalized, there is no one-size-fits-all, but there are 12 rules for success:

  • Select a promising participant. Coaching can work wonders, but it cannot overcome a coachee’s total opposition to change. Don’t waste time and resources coaching the unwilling
  • Make room for change. A coachee will likely behave differently, ask for more responsibilities, demand change around them as a result of the coaching. Be ready for it.
  • Set a goal. Is the coachee preparing for a promotion? Wanting to mend a broken relationship? Needing to learn a new task? Be clear on the desired outcome.
  • Adopt a regular schedule. As for any other important but non-urgent tasks, no schedule often means no consistency.
  • Start strong. Progress builds up gradually so choose an intensive cadence early on. I like to start with a weekly schedule for the first few months, after which sessions can be spaced out.
  • Build trust. Coach and coachee need time to develop a strong rapport, especially if coaching is prescribed to the manager as opposed to self-directed. Start with less personal topics and work up to more delicate ones over time.
  • Let the coachee dictate (a big part of) the agenda. Sure, you want to work towards a given goal, but adapting to current circumstances makes for very fast behavior change.
  • Incorporate practice.  Coaching is not just talking about issues: the coachee must practice the skills, both with the coach and out in the wild. Coach, practice, assess.
  • Evaluate progress.  It takes time to see tangible results, but if both coachee and coach don’t start to see benefits after a few sessions, the approach or fit need changing.
  • Mix coaching with standard training. If training programs exist for the skills you are after (e.g. presentation skills), start with training and offer coaching afterwards (at least if you are watching your pennies).
  • Consider group coaching. It’s more efficient and cheaper to work with a group, and it’s also helpful to see how peers handle issues. Remedial coaching is best performed 1:1, however.
  • Hire a pro. You may not have the time or the skills to coach. Hire an expert. You can choose an all-purpose management coach or a subject-matter expert. Ask for a trial run if you are not sure.

How are you handling coaching with your team? Please share in the comments.

And if you are ready to hire a pro, talk to me. My partners and I have coached would-be managers, first-line managers, directors, and executives, both for developmental and remedial reasons, and we will craft a program that’s right for you and your team.

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