Fumes and Dust:
The Legacy of the "Drive Ahead" Coach
Pamela McLean, CEO of the Hudson Institute of Coaching, stated in a recent newsletter that "change does not happen when the coach simply offers the best solutions to the client, because this approach circumvents the process of uncovering obstacles that keep the client mired in old behaviors and habits."
I cannot count the times I have defaulted to what Dr. McLean describes as "the seductive quick-fix approach -- an approach that likely feels good in the moment, but reaps little benefit for the client." When a coachee seeks your solutions, they are collecting data, not committing to implement your ideas. It is so easy to interpret their gratitude for your wise counsel as a "slam-dunk" coaching moment. It rarely is.
"Leading from Behind" is the single most effective way to uncover the obstacles that keep a person stuck. Of the panoply of coaching tools and practices, it is more difficult than most to master. Many people transitioning to coaching as a career come from other helping professions, where they were rewarded for knowing and telling. It's a two-sided learning edge--you have to unhook from both the problem-solving behaviors, and the underlying beliefs about the power of your solutions.
Less a skill than a way of being, "Leading from Behind" requires a constant awareness of your position in the coaching process. I liken it to the metaphor of driving a car. Good drivers constantly monitor their speed and maintain a safe distance from the car in front. Presence, curiosity, patience and respect for the driver/coachee in front helps me monitor and maintain my "Lead from Behind" position.
When I am tailgating my coachee, or have zoomed out ahead, a warning signal on my coach dashboard lights up. It's good to notice when it first emits a low glow; at that point I can quickly and quietly ease off the gas without the coachee feeling the downshift. At other times, it has to flash like a strobe light before I react and hit the brakes. Following are three indicators that I am about to leave a coachee in fumes and dust:
1. My Ego is Revved Up
When I am receiving too many words of affirmation from a coachee, it triggers in me a need to earn that praise. It takes me out of the conversation, and into my mental archives. What else do I know about this issue that could be helpful? Who do I know that might know? Do I have other resources to share? I race ahead, driven by this question: "How can I preserve my status as wise wonder woman in my coachee's eyes, and keep that esteem engine stoked?"
2. I Shift into Sales Overdrive
When I am invested in a coachee choosing a particular path forward, I subtly persuade the coachee to take the "high" road--which is code for "my road." I wax poetic about the logic, creativity, and leadership they will exhibit when they make this bold move. I downplay the obstacles, and gracefully counter objections. I race ahead, driven by this question: "If they reject what I have decided is right for them, they are essentially rejecting me and my values...what can I say to prevent that from happening?"
3. My Storytelling goes on Autopilot
When a coachee's issue or goal is close to my heart, one which I have personally wrestled to the ground, I am flooded with memories. Convincing myself that my story will forge a deeper connection between us, and produce an "a-ha" moment for them, I give in to telling my tales. I race ahead, driven by this question: "Which of my many triumphs over adversity will be meaningful and inspirational to this person, which will, in turn, inspire me and give meaning to my life?"
No matter what tempts me to drive ahead, the result is the same. I am distracted from the story the coachee is trying to tell me, the story for which they are attempting to write a fresh and different new chapter. What lights up on your coach dashboard to distract you? How do you recognize when your ego is in the driver's seat, and accelerating past your coachee? I'd love to include your challenges to "Leading from Behind" in the next coachNote, in which I'll also share my favorite "slow down" strategies.