A significant dimension of leadership is coaching… engaging in conversations that help others make the leap from where they are to where they want (or need) to be. Whether the focus is on correcting a performance problem, expanding capacity, improving relationships, or developing within one’s career, coaching is a powerful tool for supporting others as they grow, achieve, and realize their full potential.
Whether you’ve been formally trained or have simply picked it up by watching others, you’ve likely learned about the ‘mechanics’ of coaching…. and that questions are the tools of the trade. Effective coaches construct a conversation (or, more likely, a series of conversations) around insightful questions that help the other person reflect deeply, make important connections, and activate their own internal motivation to move forward.
The most successful coaches use these questions to drive higher levels of ownership and accountability. They act as guides and facilitators, always deflecting responsibility for the answers and action back to the coachee. They also act from a spirit of curiosity, offering a framework or structure but always allowing the conversation to evolve organically. And they are hyper-vigilant for cues that might indicate an idea or reservation… or another nook or cranny to be explored.
But there’s one other thing that best-in-class coaches do that frequently goes unnoticed to the casual observer. It’s an invisible but perhaps the most invaluable contribution a coach can make: Exceptional coaches hold the space for possibilities.
Let’s face it… change is hard. Depending upon your coaching focus, you may be supporting people in making significant adjustments to their approaches, relationships, working style, and behavioral habits. This doesn’t come naturally to everyone and for many the automatic response becomes, “I can’t do this!”
As a coach, you have the experience, perspective, and (perhaps most importantly) the objectivity required to recognize, highlight, explore, and throw a life-line to the opportunities for success. You can help override negative thinking, fear, immobilization, and other limiting emotions that get in the way of people making changes they really want in their lives.
Holding the space for possibilities means:
- Helping people figure out even small steps that move them forward and toward their unique and self-determined definitions of success. Small victories generate confidence – in one’s self and in the fact that change is actually possible.
- Reminding people of their intentions. Even the best goals and action plans can be obscured by the blur of day-to-day priorities and challenges that pile up on employees. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and let the ‘urgent’ overtake the ‘important’. But a coach can gently jog someone’s memory and quickly help them return to the path of possibility.
- Participating in problem solving. Perhaps it’s one of Murphy’s lesser-known laws… but it seems that the surest way to find a roadblock is to generate a plan. Problems and challenges are an eternal feature of the landscape of change. And for someone who’s struggling to find the energy required to overcome the inertia of staying put, these problems can make change look like an impossibility. But a coach can anticipate these challenges and respond quickly when they emerge to help the employee see beyond the roadblock and imagine solutions, opportunities, and possibilities that might otherwise have been overlooked.
The questions, curiosity, and all of the mechanics of coaching are important… but what’s happening between the words is also critical. In today’s hyper-busy world, it’s challenging to stay focused, keep one’s eye on the goal, and maintain momentum toward it. Holding the space for possibilities is virtually invisible; yet it reframes reality for others, helping them imagine and envision ways to make the changes they’ve set out for themselves.
What about you? What do you do as a coach that holds the space for possibilities for others?