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7 Things Coaches Need to Get Over

by Mike Orzen
June 8, 2017

7 Things Coaches Need to Get Over

by Mike Orzen
June 8, 2017 | Comments (16)

Over the years, I have noticed some common misperceptions about coaching effective problem solving skills and developing lean thinking. Here's a few:

1) It's not about being smart (and it's not about you). Good coaching is not about your intelligence and ability to solve the issue the learner (e.g., person you are coaching) is attempting to address. The more we focus on our own skills and the problem to be solved, the less we focus on the learner's thinking process and their development. 

Good coaching is about centering on the other person's pattern of thinking as they work to develop potential countermeasures. In fact, when you have no bias and don't actively engage in solving the problem, it becomes easier to be an effective and helpful coach. The learner is the writer, producer, director and actor: make your coaching all about them.

2) Fake it until you make it is not a sound approach. To be a good coach you don't have to be an expert in the subject the learner is exploring. In cases where the topic is specialized or highly technical (for example, chemistry or IT) and you know little about the subject, be 100 percent transparent! Pretending to be someone you are not will only erode trust between you and the person you are coaching. The supply the subject matter expertise and provide the coaching.

3) It's not about what you would do. Redirecting the conversation in an attempt to get the learner to think a certain way steals the learning experience from the other person and is disrespectful. As a coach, your role is to gently expand the learner's problem solving skills by asking open-ended questions that do not lead the witness. Leading the witness is doing the thinking for the other person, putting ideas in their head, cross examining them, giving direct advice (as in "this is what I would do"), or otherwise taking over solving the problem. Your problem-solving expertise is irrelevant as it relates to your playing the role of problem solver. It is very relevant as it relates to your role of coach: the better you are at applying the Plan-Do-Check-Adjust (PDCA) cycle, the better you will become as a coach if you stay clear of engaging directly in solving the learner's problem!

4) Your stories don't always help. Telling stories that provide clues or suggestions based on your experience often influences the direction of thinking the learner is pursuing and detracts from the value you provide as a coach. The effect is similar to leading the witness but can steal even more time and focus away from the learner. Storytelling can seem like an appropriate element of coaching but often negatively impacts coaching by making the dialogue all about you (see #1 above).

5) It's not about asking standard questions. With the popularity of Toyota Kata, many people equate the five coaching questions as everything there is to know about lean coaching. While the Kata questions can be very effective when used appropriately, they are not the end-all be-all to good coaching. Recitation of questions read from a card (or memorized) can detract for the authentic connection which needs to be fostered between coach and learner. A great coach is constantly scanning the learner's thinking to see where they are in their understanding and application of PDCA. Don't allow the Kata questions or any list of coaching questions distract you from the active listening and concentration required to accurately sense and respond to the learner's current level of understanding.

6) Evaluating the learner is harmful. In coaching, judgment can limit our effectiveness. When we place labels of the learner's thinking, we limit our view of the other person. A great coach sees the other person as having the ability to solve their current problem as well as become a better lean thinker than they are. In fact, that's your job: to support the other's development to be the very best they can be and sincerely desire that they exceed your skill set. We might call this practice "coaching with humility." 

7) Eat your own dog food. To effectively connect and coach another you must be authentic. To become a good coach, you need three things: a good coach to coach you, practice, and perseverance. If we don't practice what we preach - PDCA, continuous improvement, lead with respect, reflection, go & see, life-long learning, etc. at work and in our personal life, then we are frauds. Positioning ourselves as coaches while espousing lofty ideas but failing to apply them to us personally will become obvious to those we are coaching. If we're not leading by example, then we're not consistently practicing and learning - we won't be able to make a connection with the person we are trying to coach. 

Let me know your thoughts on this subject. Are there other misconceptions that get in the way of effective coaching?

Learn more from Mike Orzen about improving your coaching practice at the 2017 Lean Coaching Summit, July 19-20 in Austin, Texas. More information is available on the summit webpage.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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16 Comments | Post a Comment
kevin kobett June 08, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Why are you hiring people that need coaching?



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Justin June 08, 2017
6 People AGREE with this reply

Doesn't everyone need some kind of coaching or do you just hire folks that know everything? Is that even possible?



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MARK GRABAN June 10, 2017
5 People AGREE with this reply

Who doesn't need coaching? Pro golfers and tennis players have coaches. Major League baseball players often hire private coach / instructors...



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kevin kobett June 11, 2017
2 People AGREE with this reply

Use the Lean Post search app. If you type in "interview", you will find lots of posts. For the last two years, only one post dealt with the hiring process. The others are interviews with experts.

Now type in "coaching." It appears to be the number one topic on Lean Post.

There is no way coaching is more important than hiring. 



Reply »

Justin June 12, 2017

Lots of transformations start from within orgs with those already working at the company, are you saying we should fire all our staff and hire new people with the skills we want so we don't have to develop them?



kevin kobett June 12, 2017

Justin,

Thanks for asking. This is what I would do with the existing work force:

http://leanstories.com/?p=47

I do not blame someone for trying to get ahead by playing politics in the existing culture. Everyone gets a clean slate. However, if someone in a leadership position with adequate coaching does not get on board within a couple years, I would not hesitate to terminate him/her. Earlier if he sabotages the effort or does not welcomes coaching.

Traci Richardson had a post in 2014 about Toyota's hiring process. I would use a process similar to this to reduce coaching costs.

 



Mark Graban June 12, 2017
2 People AGREE with this reply

Who doesn't need to be smart in their hiring practices? As hospitals get down the Lean path, I see more of them hiring for cultural fit, not just technical skills. 

We can hire smart AND coach those hires. 



kevin kobett June 12, 2017

That's why we should write about hiring as much as coaching. A good hire is a good coach. How many people go thru life without coaching someone else? We want as many coaches as possible.

Please don't use capital letters.



Brenda Benedict June 08, 2017

Sound advice for coaching in general. I was a literacy coach working with teachers to improve their practice before working in the lean world.  Those ideas are true for my work there too. 



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Eric J. June 10, 2017

Amen, Brother!



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Gerhard W. Kessler June 12, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Interesting article - I agree, that we (at least myself) sometimes talk too much about success stories we had



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Tim Gleed-Owen June 12, 2017
2 People AGREE with this comment

The introduction is interesting and a little inspiring, but I was frequently tripped up by a poor level of editorial correctness.  Blatant typos are, unfortunately, a very good way of distracting the reader from the desired message.  Don' penny-pinch on correct English!



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Daniel Margolien June 15, 2017

I was first involved with quality circles in 1985 as a facilitator.

The points in this article bring me right back.  I got a lot of feedback about telling people what to do, taking over the projects, etc.

Its a delicate balance to coach so people learn vs advising, suggesting, telling, manipulating.

Thanks for the article.



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Corina Iorga June 17, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Right on point. 

I see so many self entitled Agile Coaches that dont "eat their dog food" that the smell of fraud is really unbearable.

 

Thank you so much for this article.



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Katie Anderson June 19, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this comment

Mike - excellent post! I agree 100% with what you have written. Great thinking and advice for anyone in a leadership or coaching role.

Your article makes me think of many things, but in particular two quotes that I often reference when helping others advance their coaching skills in a workshop or 1-1 setting:

1) "Until I heard where YOUR thinking was at, I didn't know what question YOU needed." - attributed to John Shook

2) "Getting ready to speak is not the same thing as listening." - I learned this from Margie Hagene, who learned it from her coach and mentor

 



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David McEwen July 20, 2017

Very relevant post, Mike. In my experience, working with clients that are biased to action, which many, if not most have been (again, in my experience), I find it challenging as a coach to not plant seeds with stories or slightly leading questions to meet their need to make (faster) progress. While it might feel as though it's about me, many times they are stuck, or not as attentive as they could be due to the race going on in their head. Ideally, I would love to see or get them to "slow down to go fast" so their own thoughts can evolve.

What ideas do you (the readers) have on how best to balance meeting them where they are (biased to action, just tell me what I need to know, I don't have time for slowing down) and developing them into effective Lean coaches? Thanks!



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