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Beginning the Exploration

Starting your initial coaching sessions is always a bit awkward since it is an unfamiliar relationship. To minimize the discomfort, request some groundwork before you begin. Ask the person you're coaching to complete a behavioral and values assessment, and review it with her. This gives you a neutral starting point, which enhances mutual trust so that both of you notice strengths and opportunities.

Use this checklist to orchestrate the first coaching session and beyond:

  1. Ask the person why she thinks coaching is useful (even if she didn't choose it). Share why you think it's important only if there is a disconnect.

  2. Use the following quadrant to ask the person to share with you how she feels. These questions should be answered in a work context, relating to behaviors, opportunities, feelings, training, etc.

    • What are some things you now have and want to keep?

    • What are some things you don't already have but want to?

    • What are some things you now have but no longer want?

    • What are some things you don't already have and don't want?

  3. Ask her to think about a time when she was really happy and engaged at work. In many cases, this will be difficult for people who have never thought this way. Be patient and give her time to think. Ask her to add to the quadrants as she thinks.

  4. Ask her to think of things at work that really frustrate her. This will probably be easier for most people because those underlying problems typically trigger the need for coaching. Ask her to add to the quadrants as she thinks of those things. From these answers, help her start a very rough list of goals, and ask her to complete the list for homework before the next session. Use the goal-setting material that follows to help her focus her goals toward balance and achievement, so you can create a "coaching agenda."

  5. Ask her to clarify how she will know that she has met the goals (measurements), and discuss what interim success would look like. Encourage her to read the goals at least once or twice a day. Ask her to pick the one goal she would like to work on first (although she may need to address a couple of prerequisites first). As she progresses, use the measurements and interim successes to help her see signs of improvement.

Remember that the priorities of her goals may change over time. She may occasionally enter a coaching session with a specific business issue. Help her relate that issue to her original goals, and work through it. You may need to set some new goals, but a truly effective coach is flexible. Often, the journey is often one step forward, two steps back. She must admit her mistakes, because this will prove to the people she works with that she is serious about improvement.

Coaching ends when she meets the goals of her coaching agenda because coaching should build self-sufficiency rather than create ongoing dependency. The question always returns to "Why did you come in here in the first place?" Was that need met? Were the goals met? Have you acquired enough skill and technique to grow independently? These are the questions both of you can apply to recognize when a coaching relationship has fulfilled its purpose.

Coaching effectiveness can be measured by looking at the 4Ss:

  1. Speak the truth

    Coaches must speak the truth to the best of their knowledge. Opinions and interpretation will not be effective in a coaching setting.

  2. Suspend judgment

    It's almost impossible to avoid interpretation, and two people can interpret the same conversation in widely different ways. A question such as "Did you get the report done?" spoken out of concern for the other's stress level, can be interpreted as "What is taking you so long?" Replace interpretation with "options" thinking, always looking for multiple interpretations. Teach the person you're coaching how to notice his or her own interpretations by modeling this behavior.

  3. Stick to facts

    Restrict and return the discussion to facts only, and avoid sharing your own personal feelings or hearsay. Although you will often discuss both the facts and the feelings of the person being coached, you must suspend judgment in order to listen effectively. This is essential for maintaining trust and openness.

  4. Self-respect

    A coach needs self-respect to have the strength to suspend judgments and feelings. Coaching is about her, not you; and successful focus on the person being coached requires a coach to be secure.

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