I read an article last week that was titled "You Can't Learn To Swim By Reading About It" that got me thinking about how little time organizations and individual leaders invest in practicing the skills associated with coaching for performance. Perhaps as Amanda Knight suggested in her comment to the blog I published last week "the challenge many face is committing to the time and discipline that is needed, especially in 'now' focused, 'get 'er done' environments". 

I think most are familiar with the 10,000 hour theory that has been applied to world class athletes. Maybe it's the thought that committing that much time becoming great at coaching is too daunting a task that's holding back leaders and organizations from developing the requisite skills to coach effectively. The good news is that after I read that article last week I did a little research on learning how to swim. I now understand that I can make significant improvements in my swimming stroke in just 6 practice sessions. The key is deliberate practice.

I see people on the practice range at the golf course trying to figure it out themselves all the time. They set a ball down, swing at it and repeat...over and over. They're not getting the level of improvement that they feel they should be and the get frustrated. I was one of those people until I took my first golf lesson years ago. Within 5 swings the professional I was working with told me what I was doing wrong and what I had to do to cure the wicked slice that I had been practicing over and over on the range. The hard part was the deliberate practice that it took to create the muscle memory required to do it right.

Sir John Whitmore's book Coaching For Performance, GROWing Human Potential and Purpose (available on Amazon) is a must read for anyone that aspires to become a better coach. I don't want you to think that I'm suggesting that you can learn how to coach simply by reading about it. It is going to take some deliberate practice on your part and it's going to feel incredibly uncomfortable for a while. That should be part of your ongoing leadership development plan. The good news is that with practice and time you will get better at it and it will move from your conscious mind and into your subconscious. That's when you'll know that your deliberate practice has paid off.

I've written about the GROW model in this blog before but like anything that is good it bears repeating from time to time. The GROW model works great with any performance development plan. Here's how the model works:
1. Establish the Goal - first you need to look at the behavior the person you're coaching wants/needs to change and have them agree and commit to the change. If your organization uses a behavioral assessment such as the McQuaig Talent Assessment System, identifying the behavior to be developed is so much easier. If you haven't experienced a behavioral assessment yet contact us here for a no charge trial

As you structure the goal remember to set SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound). 

Useful coaching questions as you're setting goals are:
  • Help me understand what you'd like to achieve in the next 3 to 5 years.
  • What's the effect or result of this?
  • Does this fit with your overall career objectives? How about the teams objectives?
  • Have you taken any steps toward this goal? If so what are they?
  • Tell me how you would know that you've achieved this goal.
  • Describe some smaller goals along the way that would contribute to your success. 

2. Examine the current Reality - this is an important step. Too often, people try to solve a problem or reach a goal without fully considering their starting point, and often they're missing some information that they need in order to reach their goal effectively. Many times you'll find that the solution begins to emerge as they come to grips with the reality of the situation.

Useful coaching questions here are:
  • What is happening now (what, who, when, and how often)? What is the effect or result of this?
  • Tell me about the results this has produced.
  • When things are going badly on this issue what happens?
  • What's the effect this is having on others?
  • Describe what you feel is missing in the situation.
  • What assets do you have that you're not using?
  • Explain what you feel is holding you back.

3. Explore the Options - Once you have explored the current reality together, it's time to determine what is possible – meaning all of the possible options for reaching her objective. It's critical to the process that you don't turn into a problem solver here...this is about self-discovery. Let the person you're coaching do most of the talking. Your role is to guide them in the right direction without making decisions for them.

Some questions you can ask are:
  • What have you thought of so far?
  • What other options do you have?
  • What else could you do?
  • If time wasn't an issue what would you do?
  • If this was totally up to you what would you do?
  • If you asked your friends what you should do what advice would they give you?

4. Wrap-up - the final step is to get the person you are coaching to commit to specific actions and a timeline in order to move forward towards the goal you've just established. In doing this, you will help them establish their will, boost their motivation and significantly increase the likelihood of success in achieving the goal.

Some great questions to ask at this stage of the process are:
  • So _______, what are you going to do?
  • How are you going to do this?
  • How will you ensure it happens?
  • What could stop you from doing this?
  • How would you rate your willingness to take on this action plan on a scale of 1 to 10?


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