Up to a certain point in my career, my success was defined largely due to my ability to find creative and often changing solutions to difficult problems. With this strength in mind, I found that when working with others I often jumped past a lot of the detail and rapidly offered solutions and alternatives. The sheer volume of options I can provide means many did stick and work. However, using this approach risked those seeking support or assistance becoming dependent on my problem-solving rather than developing knowledge and learning to solve problems themselves.
When I became responsible for other staff I recognized that many of the strengths that got me to that point were not appropriate to leading or coaching others. I had spent little time learning basic coaching skills such as coaching through questioning and other simple tips and rather gave people the answers or did the work myself – which led me to be overwhelmed and unable to scale the business.
Having led a number of teams, managed a full spectrum of staff, implemented organizational programs and most recently was responsible for company-wide challenges and strategies, my coaching skills have become more and more critical to the role that I have played.
So here’s the thing I’ve learned. Just because you’re coaching doesn’t mean you should only ask questions, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t direct or tell and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to have the fun of solving problems for (or with) others. You just need to understand more clearly when it’s appropriate to do so and when it’s not. *And although I am not a parent - I assume the same theories can apply.
Learn to spot when you’re “telling” when you should be ”coaching” and vice-versa. This can be really tricky to achieve when you have all the answers and ideas.
Fortunately for me, I learned a lot from several resources that included management & leadership courses, systems like “True Colors” & DISC analysis, as well as, from mentors such as one of our founders who really invests in our franchisees & staff. All managers are trained and encouraged in doing just this…
Recently I stumbled across a coaching and leadership model that is based on “Situational Leadership”. Without being able to cover the full depth of the model in a blog, here’s the basic conceptual framework – this should be plenty to help you recognize when to coach and when to “tell”.
There’s a direct correlation between the style of leadership you (as a coach/leader/mentor/manager/team member/person) use and the development level of the coachee/seeker/mentee/staff/team member/person/team.
This is termed as the four “Development” levels (D1-D4) and 4 corresponding “Styles” (S1-S4) (see below in diagram)
As an analogy, consider learning to drive a car. Most new drivers are really keen, think this is going to be easy and can’t wait to be out under their own steam (Level D1). As an instructor, you need to let this play out, give them the space to try and succeed (or more often fail) but you do need to be quite prescriptive in what they do for their own safety (and that of others) (Style S1). When things get hard and motivation wanes (Level D2), you continue to tell them what to do but in a coaching style (S2). As competency develops, the trainee becomes more competent (D3) and your style will need to follow. Eventually they will (hopefully) become self-sufficient (D4).
There’s a few really important points that help us use this as a thinking tool.
- The model applies to each specific task. If a person has never performed that specific task before, re-assess their development level. Some complimentary skills may apply but don’t assume competence in one area translates directly to the task at hand.
- Watch for transitions in motivation as a guide to levels of support to offer. When individual motivation is low, the coach/leader must be more supportive – more guiding and questioning. When motivation is high, less support is needed.
- When individual competency in the specific task is low, the coach/leader should be making the decisions on the course of action (even if leading through questioning). When individual competency is high, the coachee makes the decisions but may still occasionally want to validate these with the coach.
- A mismatch between leadership style and development level can be harmful. The further apart the difference, the more dissonant the leadership style will be.
There are a couple of important extensions to the model that need consideration.
In many work environments, there are times when a person may have high expertise in an area but not be motivated to actually work in it. Similarly, someone who reached a high level of competence in an area but is ignored may lose motivation. In these instances, they have actually regressed around the model (from D4 to D3). Your leadership style needs to change!
In other situations, you may have someone with little or no motivation to work on a new task and little or no competency. Rather than starting at development level 1 (D1), you’re actually starting at D2. You need to work with the other person to build motivation and competence. At this point they either develop to “D3″ or first to “D1″ and then back through the cycle.
Like all frameworks, this is a tool only. Use with caution. The more you understand how to use this, the better you’ll manage with it.