Leading from Behind vs. Telling and Selling
At the Advanced Coach Seminar in Santa Barbara two weeks ago, I organized a breakfast with three of my dearest friends and coaching colleagues. We each brought a dilemma or a goal to the table, and received fifteen minutes each of focused coaching support from each other.
As the first woman described her "coachable issue," and the three of us asked questions, I noticed that one coach had the habit of thinly disguising her opinions as questions. "Don't you think you should consider...." and "Have you thought about doing xyz?" and "When do you plan to do xyz, because you shouldn't have to deal with this, don't you agree?" and "I understand your hesitation to do xyz, but when I had a similar situation, I finally realized that...blah blah blah." She was out in front, telling and selling our friend on solving the problem in the same way that she had solved a similar problem.
The other coach asking questions came from a place of pure curiosity. "What did you do next?" "How did that work out?" "I notice that you seem resigned about xyz--is that resignation, or something else?" Whether she led from behind because she doesn't know the person being coached as well, has a very different frame of reference, or is simply a better coach, I don't know. What I do know is that her questions opened doors, and the other coach's "questions" slammed them shut.
I didn't ask many questions because I became fascinated by how the person being coached got increasingly defensive and distracted with the "Lead From Ahead" coach. When that coach finally noticed the defensiveness, her solution was to preface each question with the statement "May I ask you a question?" -- although it was clear she wasn't waiting for permission. Her need to be experienced as helpful, wise, and relevant outweighed her genuine interest in the experience, concerns, and ideas of the coachee.
The "Lead from Behind" coach worked less hard and got better results. Her ego was not driving the conversation. She stayed with the coachee as she told her current story, and asked her to describe the best possible ending to that story. Her approach communicated respect, empathy, and encouragement.
People have their own best answers. Your answers worked for you, but are seldom applicable to others. You are a different person with a different history, different strengths, different expectations, different obstacles. A coachable issue can sound universal but, in fact, plays out in a very unique way, person to person. When you lead from behind, you not only open doors to a coachee's own creative solutions, but to the self-confidence needed to act on those solutions.
Step back from knowing and step up your coaching!