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Coach Managers to Solve Their Own Problems


Fri Feb 22 2019

Coach Managers to Solve Their Own Problems

Most of us are good at solving problems. Sometimes, we even think we can solve other people’s problems. We dole out advice like, “Let me lay this out for you. First, you need to. . . . ”

This sort of direction can be helpful, for instance, when someone is trying something for the first time. But for most of us, receiving unsolicited advice isn’t particularly welcome. What’s more, it’s often not helpful.


The problem is that when we give advice, the other person owns less of the solution. An article by Teri-E Belf and Michael Marx on the International Coach Federation’s website explains it well: “The other person’s brain ‘offloads’ while it’s taking in advice. The brain goes into neutral and the actual advice does not embed in the neocortex while the advice is being given. As a consequence, ownership might happen later or not happen at all.”

Another way to think of it is to imagine someone learning to drive by sitting in the backseat. That’s how our brains operate when taking in advice; we’re in the backseat. In contrast, during a coaching conversation, people are asked thought-provoking questions while a coach listens, taking note of responses, as well as emotions and body language. Only after fully listening and considering everything, does the coach share any insight. That is a robust level of involvement that puts the coachee in the driver’s seat.

Using a coaching approach rather than an advice-giving approach to develop managers enables them to solve their own problems. Coaching empowers them and allows them to learn their own lessons.

When using a coaching approach to develop managers, be sure to keep in mind specific coaching behaviors and mindsets.

Coaching Mindsets

Believe in their capability with optimistic expectations. There are few things more powerful in determining how well someone performs at work than their manger’s belief in them. As a certified coach, I believe that we are all whole, capable, and resourceful. Your belief in your manager’s capability to be successful goes a long way toward helping them achieve success.


Be curious versus judgmental. When we are curious, we are open—open to ideas, insights, connection, and possibilities. Being judgmental closes us off to all of that and makes us rigid. There will be many opportunities during a coaching conversation to pass judgement or remain curious. When faced with the choice, my invitation is to remain curious and demonstrate that curiosity by asking questions.

Look at people’s strengths as well as areas to improve. When I have delivered 360 feedback to coaching clients, almost everyone wants to focus on what they need to fix. While focusing on areas to improve is often our first inclination, it is important to bring attention to what people are doing well.

Focus on the future as opposed to the past. When we are asked about something that happened in the past that didn’t go well, our brains automatically go into defense mode. We cannot change anything that happened in the past, so focus the conversation on what will be different going forward and the lessons learned.

Coaching Behaviors

Focus on asking questions versus giving answers or advice. When people first begin using a coaching approach, one of the hardest things to do is to not give advice. Instead, if you stay in the mode of asking questions, you’ll be amazed at the insights, energy, and ownership managers will have of their own solutions. This is not to say that you’ll never give advice again. It’s about deciding whether a conversation would best serve the outcomes you and the other person want by giving advice or by using a coaching approach.

Encourage reflective thinking. Focus on learning during coaching conversations. What was learned through the action taken or not taken, or through the outcome achieved or not achieved? Learning lessons for ourselves is the most powerful way to have knowledge stick with us.


Really listen. We could spend weeks focusing on just this topic. The best place to start is to give the other person your undivided attention. Focus your attention on the conversation and the other person, staying fully present to both and listening becomes instantly easier.

Ask open-ended questions. A common question is: “Do you have ideas on how you could solve that problem?” Unfortunately, the answer to this question is either yes or no. Good coaching questions ask the other person to share their ideas, so make sure your questions are open-ended. In this instance, a better question is: “How could you solve that problem?”

Want to learn more? Join me for LearnNow: Developing the High-Performance Manager. This two-day workshop uses the ACCEL framework to teach managers the fundamentals of effective leadership, including accountability, communication, collaboration, engagement, and listening and assessing.

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