There are so many leadership capabilities that we could tie to effective problem solving, why should we focus on coaching? What makes coaching so important? I believe this comparison will make it clear (and here’s a hint: it’s all about your purpose).
When I’m coaching a soccer game, many instances will appear where a player is in the wrong position and space. They should be wide, or high, or showing for the ball, or almost anywhere except where they are standing. One option I have is telling them where they should be. That’s efficient. It gets me the result I want quickly. And it signals my true purpose: in that moment, with that act, I am trying to win the match.
Another option is to tell them where to be, and why to be there. Now I’ve become the teacher. That must be far better, right? It certainly is, but the player knows where I want them, and why I want them there. It signals my purpose as well: helping that player know how I want them to play. The emphasis, however, is still on me. It’s my team, my playing style, and my information that I want the player to understand.
And yet another option? I ask the player “where should you be?” They then make a decision. It might be the right decision, or the wrong decision, or a good decision that’s different than the one I would make. But they’ve made a decision. Then when they come off the field, I can help them evaluate that decision, what other options might have been, and what the consequences were of those decisions. I’ve helped them learn how to think about the game. And in doing so, I also reveal my purpose: to make that player better and smarter beyond my direct engagement with them. My wish for them is that I will never see their best game, because they have learned how to learn and will continue to evolve as a player beyond my time with them. My perspective is that only in this instance was I truly a coach, because a coach is truly about the other person they are coaching, and helping them self-discover their most important lessons.
Winston Churchill said it well: “Telling is an act. Coaching is making a personal investment in that person you are coaching. It shows you are committed to their success.” That’s essential: “to their success.” A coach is invested in the other person’s, or team’s success. And therefore, their mindset, approach, and even the tools of a coach are designed to help with self-discovery. Because what a person discovers for themselves, they now own. Lean is a journey of one heart and one mind at a time. And you can only achieve true change when people own their behaviors and their capabilities to be applied when they need them in the way that they need them.
Returning to soccer, one of my favorite all-time moments of being a coach was when I was coaching a particularly young team, one that didn’t have a lot of experience or even knowledge of the game. At halftime, there were enough things wrong that I didn’t feel I could provide a useful focused summary of how to adjust. So I got them in an arm-in-arm circle and asked them, one at a time, to share one thing they were doing well and one thing they weren’t in the first half. They nailed it, down to each player. Their ability to self-evaluate was nowhere near complete, but it was started. And that’s when I knew I had truly coached the team. How will you know you’ve truly been a coach?