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How to be a coach for your team?

Today we’re going to talk about a topic I really like, which is the leader-coach type.

Why coach? Because in agility, we often tend to talk about a servant leader. However, in my opinion, the concept and skills of a coach can be very valuable to develop as a leader.

Why develop coaching skills? The first thing is that it allows you to help your team become autonomous by creating the necessary framework for it. This framework creates the required safety for teams to be autonomous and enables them to discover and develop their own resources. The leader-coach approach can also challenge the status quo that may persist in certain teams, helping them perform better and create more value. Are you ready? Let’s go!

Utilizing Silence

The first tool I’m going to share to embody the leader-coach stance is simply to create more silence.

Why? To listen to teams and what individuals have to say. It’s crucial in this context to take the time to listen, especially to understand what people have to say, rather than rushing to respond.

We want to adopt a posture of curiosity, acknowledging that we don’t know the person, their culture, or their upbringing (even if we share the same culture deep down). We don’t know how they were raised or what their past experiences are. We should approach this with genuine curiosity, without judging the person, as they act based on their own experiences. Our goal is to truly understand the other person. And to do that, we need to create an atmosphere of active listening.

One useful tool to develop this is the “three-second rule.” It means waiting for three seconds before speaking yourself. You wait until the person has finished speaking, and then you count to three. Only then, if the person hasn’t resumed speaking themselves, you can share your thoughts or perhaps ask a question.

Creating Space

The second tool is about creating space. We discussed this in another video, and what we want is to foster trust.

We also want to create moments of connection, which can be informal or even formal. The idea is to get to know the other person better and establish a connection with them. This can involve icebreakers at the beginning of a meeting to learn more about the person. It can also happen during one-on-one meetings, where you can ask introductory questions about how things are going and how they feel. It’s important to learn about others, not just on a professional level, but also their passions and interests.

We also want to be intentional and set an example in this approach. We should truly embody the role model of creating that space. As mentioned earlier, we need to remove any judgment from our interactions, as our aim is to get to know the person and create an environment where they don’t feel judged or rejected. This allows us to establish trust.

Another lever is granting the right to make mistakes: allowing teams to make mistakes, with the condition – and this is still a requirement – that the team learns from those mistakes and does something about them in the context of continuous improvement. Allowing these mistakes and deepening the connection with others helps us create that environment of trust. As leader-coaches, we want to eliminate any judgment we may have toward others. We truly want to engage in active listening, set an example, and connect with others. Our focus should be on individuals and their interactions, rather than processes and tools.

Asking Open-Ended Questions

The last tool to be a leader-coach is to ask open-ended questions. This is where we truly adopt the coach’s mindset, and I’ll draw inspiration from a book called “The Coaching Habit” by Michael Bungay Stanier. The book provides several questions, and while I won’t mention all, there are several that I find interesting to explore.

The first question is to ask team members what’s really on their mind when they come to you with a specific problem. It’s about understanding the true nature of the problem. You can also ask questions like “What’s the real challenge, here, for you?” Often, people come with an initial intention and provide certain information, but we want to dig deeper into the problem. It’s similar to the “5 Whys” technique used in problem-solving. The goal is to uncover the underlying problem, going beyond the surface and what the person initially presents.

The second question revolves around you as a leader and what you can bring to the team. This aligns with the servant leader mindset. The question is, “How can I help you?” Asking this question allows your team members to express their expectations and be more specific about what they need from you as a leader, and how you can concretely assist them.

A third question, which is similar, is “What do you need from me to move forward?” It has a slight nuance compared to the first question but still prompts the person to reflect on what they expect from you as a leader and how they envision your assistance in relation to their goals and activities. These two questions aim to encourage more precise and intentional articulation of the team’s needs. It’s interesting because, as we strive to empower the teams, it challenges them to be more intentional about their requests rather than remaining vague. Through these questions, we prompt them to be more specific and to have thought in advance about the kind of help they expect from us. And it’s a type of assistance that should suit them better.

In essence, this is about being in a coaching relationship, where we expect others to express their needs and what will truly serve them, based on their perspective rather than ours.

Finally, I want to share one last provocative question: “And what else?” Often, people come with a problem to solve, and we engage in a discussion, trying to find solutions. However, to delve deeper, it can be beneficial to ask, “What else?” This question allows us to uncover the real reasons why the person has come to us when we aim to empower individuals.

What’s interesting is that it challenges them to tap into their own resources. If we stay on the surface, we may overlook certain possibilities that could have been considered. So, “What else?” helps us go further in the relationship and questioning, to dig deeper and likely find better and more innovative solutions to address the problems.

These are the three tools I wanted to share with you today regarding the leader-coach stance.

As always, nothing beats practice! Ask yourself which of these tools you’d like to try. Is it simply asking a small question? Is it adding those three seconds of silence? Or is it about creating space, trust, and active listening for your team?

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