Thursday, April 04, 2019

Take a Leap of Faith in Your Coaching

There are many aspects of coaching that involve an element of risk. Taking a risk requires courage. Consider how the following coaching techniques require courage and how using or avoiding these techniques will impact your effectiveness as a coach.

Providing candid feedback providing feedback that is well received, considered and acted on is a skill. But how else is a coachee going to realize that they have a blind spot or are missing something important?

Challenging – as a coach, a big part of our job is to challenge our coachees in a constructive way to stretch their expectations and reconsider their perspectives, assumptions, and beliefs. Without this, they may never make the mindset shifts required to make a change that they themselves want to make.

Offering up a hunch – as you are listening to a coachee, you may have a hunch. If you don’t offer the hunch for their consideration because you worry that they may dismiss it, you run the risk of them missing out on a wonderful opportunity to short-circuit their search for a solution.

Interrupting – imagine a coachee has scheduled 30 minutes to discuss an important issue with you, but they end up focusing on all of the details of the issue and telling a story for most of the 30 minutes. Interrupting risks alienating the coachee, but having them walk out at the end realizing that you let them talk the whole time runs the risk that they don’t see any value in your coaching.

Asking powerful questions – although powerful questions are one of the most effective tools in the coaching toolbox, sometimes they fall flat. How would avoiding powerful questions impact the effectiveness of your coaching?

Offering coaching – coaching is not universally understood and recognized as valuable. By offering your services as a coach, you risk hearing “no thanks.” But if you decide not to offer your services to a potential coachee you risk a missing out on an opportunity for both yourself and your potential coachees.

Being in the zone – if we are thinking about “am I violating a coaching principle” as we coach, we will constantly be taken out of the fluidity of being “in the zone.” There is a big difference in effectiveness between being in the zone and being out of the zone. Rather than second guessing yourself as you coach, just be yourself. If you do violate a coaching principle, it is unlikely that the coachee will know or care and you can always use it as a learning experience to do better the next time.

Whatever your current tolerance is for taking a risk while coaching, consider challenging yourself to push your boundaries a little more. After all, you are encouraging and expecting your coachees to push their boundaries and take the risk of making changes and learning and applying new skills. It is only fair that you model the courage that you are expecting of your coachees.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Coaching Can Be Fun!

There are at least three good reasons to have fun when coaching. First, sharing a good laugh together is a great way to build rapport. It reminds us that we are human, that life has its ups and downs, and that togetherness is one of the things that helps us get through the rough parts and that makes the celebrations that much sweeter.

Second, sharing a good laugh makes us feel good and consequently increases our energy level. It puts us into a more creative and collaborative mood.

Finally, coaching takes us to some awkward or difficult moments. Humor can reduce the tension and help us keep our minds open to possibilities that we may not have previously considered.

A word of caution. Not everyone will appreciate every facet of your sense of humor. I once got the following feedback in a retrospective after a coaching workshop: “I think some folks may have interpreted your sarcasm as mocking what they said.” Especially when a person is feeling vulnerable they may misinterpret your attempt at humor as making light of them rather than the situation.

It is always best to be yourself. If you tend to use humor a lot, that’s great! Just be mindful of who you are interacting with at any given moment. If they don’t seem to fully appreciate your sense of humor, just dial it back temporarily. While your sense of humor is part of who you are, we regularly adapt our behavior to the given situation all the time. Think about how you might act differently at work, at home, with close friends, or at a wedding to name a few examples. Coaching involves interacting with many different people with many different personalities. Make sure to take each person’s uniqueness into account when you are coaching them.

One more point regarding humor: it doesn’t have to come just from you! To the extent that you are comfortable, let folks know that it is totally appropriate to have some fun during coaching. If your coachee makes you laugh, point out how it contributed to the session (assuming it did) and encourage them to be themselves around you.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Using Your Intuition When Coaching

Some people are big fans of intuition and others are very skeptical of intuition. Perhaps it depends on
the definition of intuition. For the purposes of coaching, there’s at least one definition of intuition that can be very helpful: “an insight that arrives in the moment without a clear chain of reasoning to support it.”

Our brains are amazing. We make decisions in the moment on a regular basis “without even thinking about it.” Of course, we are thinking about those decisions, but it happens much faster than when we are trying to figure out something new or do something new for the first time. We often call this distinction acting with or without conscious thought. When we act “without conscious thought” it just means we aren’t aware of our thought process as it unfolds, but we can explain our reasoning afterwards if we need to. For instance, if a car comes out of nowhere and we swerve to avoid it, we can explain “I had a feeling that there was a car about to hit me coming from the left, so I moved to the right.”

When coaching, we can think of intuition in a similar way. We get an insight on what is happening in the moment which is likely based on our past experiences and our skills as a coach. However, we aren’t quite sure how to explain the reasoning behind the insight. As a result, we may doubt the value of that insight and resist sharing it.

If your intuition provides you with an insight that would have helped the coachee move forward, but you didn’t share it, that’s a shame. On the other hand, if you present an insight as an observation, you run the risk of leading the coachee astray.

When you are coaching, and your intuition provides you with an insight, consider sharing it like this:

“While we’ve been talking, I think I may have had an insight, but I’m not sure. May I share it with you to see if it fits in with what we are discussing?”

As long as you make your offer quickly and make it clear that it is up to them to decide whether your thought was truly a relevant insight or not, it is hard to go wrong. If it was useful, then they will incorporate it and move forward. If it was not useful, very little time was expended and you can move on. The more you lean on your intuition, the more your skill in presenting potential insights will grow.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Going Beyond the ICP-ACC - Becoming a Certified Professional Coach

I have decided to head down the path of becoming a certified professional coach. Specifically, I am enrolled at the International Coach Academy, pursuing the PCC level of coaching as defined by the International Coach Federation. I am doing this for a couple of reasons. First, when covering the professional coaching aspects in my ICP-ACC workshop (the coaching mode/stance from ICAgile’s Agile Coach model of coaching, mentoring, facilitating, teaching), I want to be able to do that from the position of being a certified professional coach. Second, I am planning to offer ICF certified coach training to the Agile Coaching community, hopefully starting in the beginning of 2020.

As I make my way on this journey, I would like to invite you to come along with me. I will be incorporating more of what I learn on this blog, in my ICP-ACC workshop, and in additional workshops that cover more of the ICF coaching competencies. I am hoping that some of you will want to be part of my first graduating class of ICF certified coaches as part of my ICF accreditation process, much as some of you were part of my ICP-ACC accreditation process.

As a start, in this post I will introduce you to the International Coach Federation, the professional coach certification process, and areas of the coaching competencies that don’t typically come up in the materials and offerings that most Agile Coaches are exposed to.

The International Coach Federation – ICF
The ICF is the world’s largest professional coach association. They offer a coach training accreditation process for coach training organizations as well as a certification process for coaches. You can become a member of the ICF without being a certified coach. Membership obligates you to follow their ethics guidelines and signifies to the world that you intend to operate as a professional coach. This is a good step to take along the way to becoming a certified professional coach.

The ICF Coaching Competencies
The ICF’s coaching competencies cover 11 different areas, from ethics to powerful questions to managing progress and accountability. The learning objectives of the ICP-ACC primarily overlap with the ICF’s competencies in the areas of: coaching agreements, active listening, powerful questions, presence, self-management, feedback, and coachee accountability.

Looking Beyond the ICP-ACC
Considering that the goal of the ICP-ACC is to simply introduce a few of the concepts of professional coaching while also covering many other aspects of Agile Coaching, it can only scratch the surface of professional coaching. If you are interested in learning more about what it means to be a professional coach, here are two resources I encourage you to explore. The descriptions of the ICF competencies: and the behaviors associated with coaching at different levels:

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Advanced Agile Coaching

This post assumes that you are already familiar with Agile Coaching as described in Lyssa Adkin's Coaching Agile Teams, taking an ICAgile ICP-ACC class, or having read the Agile Coach Basics mini-book on this blog.

The Coaching Mode
When you are in the coaching mode of Agile Coaching, you are not working together to solve a problem; you are enabling the coachee to do all of the problem solving on their own. All of your mental energy should be focused on looking for which coaching techniques to apply and applying them.

Coaching Triggers
When you are in the coaching mode, your main job is to look for coaching triggers. A coaching trigger is a specific set of circumstances that indicate the use of one or more coaching techniques. For instance, if the coachee is wandering aimlessly, that’s a trigger that indicates using a technique like focusing, interrupting, or orienting. On the other hand, if they seem distracted, you should consider using the technique of releasing. Here is a brief introduction to eleven coaching techniques and their coaching triggers that you may find useful.

When you are given a direct request, such as “can you go give that team a refresher on Scrum”, always try to move the conversation to a coaching conversation. For instance: “Sure. What’s the background on this?”

You may notice that the coachee has something on their mind getting in the way of working on their main concern. Consider bringing it out into the open with a question such as, “you seem a bit distracted by something. What’s up?”

When you are overloaded, you may feel the need to ask the coachee to pause, slow down, or repeat information. Instead, try following along with them and allow them to pursue their problem solving thought process wherever it may lead. When things settle down, you can always ask for a summary.

If something the coachee is saying doesn’t make sense to you, it may be there’s something they haven’t completely thought through but they don’t realize it. Having the coachee back up and take a look at what they are saying may help them uncover a hidden assumption or a blindspot. Example: “I’m not sure I’m following you. What’s another way to explain that?”

By thinking of a goal as a user story, with a who, what, and why, most of the ideas from user story splitting can be applied to the goals that coachees come up with during coaching. For example: “If you were to break this down into smaller pieces, what would those pieces be?”

As we go about life, we create mental models for everything: mental maps, labels, and analogies to name a few. We say things like “kind of like Scrum, but without the sprint boundaries,” “helpful,” “stubborn,” and “I feel surrounded.” If the coachee seems to be stuck in a particular mental model, having them brainstorm alternative mental models may help them find a new direction to take.

Very often, the coachee will express a potential solution unintentionally disguised as something else. Here are some key indicators that the coachee is skipping over a potential solution or piece of the puzzle. The coachee says…
  • Do you think I should do X, Y, or Z?
  • I wish they would…
  • I don’t get why they do X (instead of Y).
If the coachee is presenting potential options and then asking your opinion, turn the tables on them. For instance, if they ask “do you think I should do A or B” you can turn that into “Well, I may have some thoughts on that, but tell me your thoughts first.” When the coachee is deciding on an option, make sure they consider the ones that came up while highlighting potential solutions.

Part of being a coach is taking on the work of keeping the coachee focused. That allows the coachee to follow their thought process wherever it leads without worrying about the time. If you feel they are getting off track, you will be there to check in with them to see if they feel they should continue down the current track or need to refocus. Focusing has three related techniques: interrupting, orienting, and summarizing.

Any time you feel that the coachee has gotten off track, or you have come across a coaching trigger, it may be time to interrupt the coachee. Here are a couple of methods of interrupting that may work for you or perhaps they will remind you of a method that you like to use:
  • Open your mouth and take a breath as if preparing to speak, but then don’t say anything and close your mouth again.
  • In as friendly a way as possible, raise a finger and say “if I may?” and give an expectant look.
No matter what, continue listening and make it clear from your body language that you are definitely still paying attention. Note that some people have an aversion to being interrupted for any reason, so use your discretion when interrupting and err on the side of being patient.

Most situations that arise in coaching are part of a bigger picture. The bigger picture influences the coachee and their problem solving approach. If you have a sense that the coachee is missing the forest for the trees, consider asking them to orient themselves to the bigger picture. For instance, asking “How does what we are discussing relate to your goals and vision?”

When something is clear, it can be easily described. If you find the coachee is using a lot of detail to describe something and it is still not clear what they are saying, ask them to summarize. This can help both of you to determine if there is a need to explore the topic further or pivot to another technique. Example: “That was a lot of detail, can you summarize it for me?”

Next Steps
Check out the book Co-Active Coaching, which is one of the best and most practical Coaching books out there, or pursue an International Coaching Federation certification. You may also be interested in my new online Advanced Agile Coaching workshop which this blog post is based on.