Becoming a good workplace coach makes walking a tightrope look easy. A few tips for finding balance.
Building trust in a coaching relationship is just the first step. Good coaches also put effort into finding the right coaching balance.
What do I mean by that? As a coach you have to set the right tone for your protégé. This means you have to be sensitive to a number of factors: How do your actions and intentions come across to your protégé? How do you project yourself toward your protégé? And how does your protégé project back to you? Your challenge is to achieve consistency among these perceptions.
Balance your coaching approach by keeping these rules in mind:
1. Cheering: Be encouraging, not inflating
Good coaches understand the importance of encouragement. You want to provide your protégé with a sense of momentum and a feeling of confidence. This is the “you-can-do-it spirit,” the slap on the back, the extra emotional boost. When your protégé faces a difficult moment, you want to be able to be there with the right note of support and encouragement.
Cheering, while helpful, also has to be appropriate. To the degree that your cheering is seen as a celebration of your protégé's accomplishments, it is always positive. But sometimes cheering becomes too aggressive, and it seems as if you're trying to get someone to go further than his or her capacity will allow. So be careful and make sure that you cheer in celebration. When you cheer to motivate, make sure you are not asking the protégé to exceed his or her capacity.
2. Sponsoring: Be supportive, but don't push
Good coaches understand that they need to be supportive of the efforts of their protégés, and to give guidance regarding avoiding organizational pitfalls. When coaching, you are often acting as a political sponsor. Your role is to assist your protégé in maneuvering successfully around the organizational terrain.
Coaches, however, must avoid becoming micro-political consiglieres who become overly involved with a protégé’s tactics and strategies.
As a coach, you understand that your protégé is responsible for his or her own activities. While you want to be supportive, you have to be careful not to push too far or too much.
3. Counseling: Be empathetic, but maintain boundaries
Good coaches know they are responsible for helping their protégés think about and analyze their interpersonal skills in the context of the situation and the people they are dealing with. If you sense that your protégé is rubbing others in the organization the wrong way, take him or her aside and suggest ideas to handle the various office personalities.
Good coaches understand how to see the world from the eyes of their protégés to better help them analyze tough situations. The more you stand in the shoes of the other, the more empathetic you can be, and the more help you can offer. But you still have to maintain boundaries. Good coaches understand that they can’t lose their voice in helping others. Letting your empathy overwhelm your boundaries will kill your objectivity and weaken you as a coach.
4. Balance educating: Be authoritative, but not authoritarian
Good coaches never lose sight of their role as educator. When you assist your protégé in acquiring skills, knowledge, and processes, you are taking on a classic mentoring role. Your objective is to share your expertise and experience with your protégé, so your protégé can better meet his or her personal goals.
Coaches inevitably must speak with some authority, but they must be careful not to be authoritarian. They must share and explain their ideas, but must not dictate and insist upon them. When authority figures act in an authoritarian manner, they lose the balance of a partnership. They lose the balance they need to be a solid coach.
Ultimately, the best coaching relationships are balanced. As a coach, you do not want to dominate your protégé. Rather, you should work toward being accessible and ready to listen and assist when called upon.
YAEL BACHARACH is the co-founder and Director of training at the Bacharach Leadership Group, an organization which specializes in leadership development programs with an emphasis on micro-skills: change, execution, negotiation and coaching.