"Slow Down" Strategies for the "Drive Ahead" Coach
Immunity to Change co-author Robert Kegan offers a driving metaphor for the change process:
"Most of us have one foot on the gas and the other on the brakes when it comes to change. Our work with clients requires us to uncover both forces before substantive change can occur."
When coaches speed ahead with advice and answers, they bypass the coachee's own discovery process about what motivates them to move ahead, and what mires them in their current muck. Without this awareness, no solution has staying power.
In the last coachNote I shared what tempts me to zoom ahead, leaving coachees in a cloud of fumes and dust. Pastor Jeff Meyer weighed in with what many leaders report as their challenge to "Leading from Behind." When one is expected, in that role, to cast the vision, manage to the mission, set the pace and provide direction, giving answers becomes an auto-pilot reaction. Jeff notes that:
"What lights up my dashboard is when someone asks me a question that taps into my 'experience/expertise' or calls for my opinion. When someone comes right out and asks for advice, I jump into answer mode, instead of slowing down my tendencies to listen to what might be underneath the question."
Following is my "slow down" strategy--a simple three-step downshift which quickly repositions me to lead from behind:
I interrupt myself. I own it, and I call myself out, saying something like this: "I notice I am telling too many stories (or selling you on a course of action, or sharing things to get a 'high five' from you, etc.) and I am out ahead of us."
I focus on the coachee's perspective. Check-in questions like these allow the coachee to smoothly accelerate into the lead:
"What is happening for you right now? What were you thinking as I rattled on with suggestions?"
"Did you notice any emotional reaction to my riff? What were you feeling as I told my tale?"
"Let's reset ourselves. What is the question you wish I would ask--the one which you've been answering to yourself as I've been rambling?"
And this one's for you, Jeff...
"I answered your question, but what do you think of my response? How would you implement that idea in your own life? Was there a question or a concern behind the question you asked?"
And then, of course, I get quiet and listen for their response. Giving my full attention to them silences any negative trash talk I might indulge in about being a bad coach.
Before they answer, a coachee will often assure me that my out-in-front support, selling, or story-telling was great, helpful, most appreciated. My ego enjoys these gracious comments, but the coach in me patiently waits for the coachee to reply to the questions I posed. Those answers will tell a deeper truth, and within that truth, insights and solutions will begin to reveal themselves. "Leading from Behind" yields to that truth, which transports the coachee to the fast lane of change.