What the Books Don’t Tell You about Being a Coach

Over the last 5 years, I have read a lot of books, articles, and blogs about lean.  At first, I read about tools and concepts.  Then I started reading about the people and management side of lean.  Now I read about determining my own strengths and weaknesses and how to become a better coach.

Books on the subject of coaching talk about how as mentor it is best to coach the mentee to a process.  That way way the mentee starts to learn the process and takes ownership for the solution because it is something they designed.  Teach the mentee to fish, so to speak.

After reading several books and articles, it finally dawned on me that all of this material had an underlying assumption to them.  The person receiving the coaching or mentoring has developed some basic skills.  In the case of the fishing metaphor, the person knows what a fishing rod is and what casting a line is.  In the lean world, the mentee knows what 5S, visual management, or kanban is.  They may not know the purpose of the tool or when is the appropriate time to use the tool, but they have some concept of what it is.

The mentor is there to help this person understand the purpose and time to use the tool by coaching to a process and not giving the solution.

What the books don’t tell you is that you need to be a teacher too.  A teacher is someone who can educate about the tool and concept.  Teaching adds tools to the toolbox, so a mentor can help the mentee use that tool.  It does no good to coach someone on making a problem visual if they have not heard of or know about visual management.  You have to step back and teach them about visual management and then coach them through a situation that uses visual management.

There are several ways to teach.  One is in the classroom.  Give training on what something is so people are exposed to it.  Another way is during a project or problem solving.  Teach a new tool or concept as it is being applied so the mentee learns about the tool and can see it in action.

Sometimes I think we assume that people know what we are talking about as coaches and that is dangerous.  If you are coaching someone and it looks as if they are not understanding or making progress, take a step back and ask yourself if they need to be taught something first and then coached.

Posted on January 21, 2011, in Customer Focus, Development, People, Tools and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. HI Matt,

    Nice reflection on leadership! Good points on teaching. As I was reading the post, it hit me – most organizations don’t consciously and overtly encourage and value teaching. I think many folks believe that if they teach, that just slows them down…

    • Jamie Flinchbaugh came and talked to the group that I work for and emphasized the difference between teaching and coaching. That had stuck with me for a while, but it didn’t sink in fully until I was reading some more stuff on coaching. Light bulbs finally went off that coaching can only be done after the teaching has been done. Everything came together for me.

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