One of the things that makes a coaching exchange unique is that there is, and always will be, a request for taking action by the coach to the coachee. Without this, it’s just an interesting conversation.
Seventeen years ago, when I began my coaching practice, I realized the best way to grow my business, which happen to be doing something no one had ever heard of or had any experience with, was to coach as many people in impromptu exchanges as often as I could so they would become evangelists for coaching. One of the first people I tried this with was a good friend who had become a brainstorming and downloading partner with me in my previous business. We’d often have lunch or get together for drinks and spend hours exchanging ideas for each other’s business and download problems we were having with our businesses. It was always very stimulating and interesting as we both understood one another’s world and the ideas flowed fast and furiously. But as interesting and stimulating as the conversation was, very little stuck when it came down to actually doing something about it because there was always something missing from those conversations.
When I began getting a few coaching skills under my belt, I went out for lunch with this friend. No sooner had we sat down when he fired right into some of the challenges he was having with a couple of his employees. I listened for a few minutes and then asked him if we could do something different. “Sure, what?” he asked. I asked him if it would be OK if I coached him around this instead of us having our usual kind of conversation. A smirk crossed his face and he said, “OK, I guess so – whatever that means.” And I replied, “It means that we’re going to do more than exchange ideas. I’m going to ask you a lot of questions to get at YOUR best ideas. I may ask some tough questions that may not be the most comfortable, but I believe they’ll help you get some new understanding about what is really going on and some hidden wisdom you may not have tapped into yet. And then, I’m going to ask you to take action and we’re going to work together to help you plan out the best actions to take that are going to have the biggest impact on what you want to accomplish.” “Go for it” he said, with that smirk still on his face.
By the end of our coaching exchange (and lunch) he not only walked away with a solution to the challenge he was facing with these two employees, but a full plan on how to develop these two and other employees, into emerging leaders as his business grew. We outlined an entire set of standards that defined what a strong leader would look like in his company and the steps employees could take to be recognized as a leader. In the end, I made a request of him to take bold action around being a leader who created an environment for others leaders to grow. Up until that moment when I challenged him with that request, most of his energy was spent on coming up with day to day solutions and putting out fires. That request made him realize he had to rise above the role of firefighter and become the visionary for his company. He accepted the request and the action plan was created.
Today, seventeen years later, his business has grown way beyond what he could have ever imagined and he has had his own coach ever since. And his company has embraced a coaching culture and thrives because of it. He still likes to reminisce about that lunch and what a difference that action plan made for him and his business. If that request that challenged him and the action plan had never been made, and we had not drilled into the details of planning out what he would DO moving forward with timelines, measurables and benchmarks for success, it would have just been another one of our interesting and very stimulating conversations that would have most likely been left at the table of that restaurant.