Keep Calm And Act Like A Coach

Are you an overworked, exhausted yet highly performing leader who is on a fast track to burnout? One thing you can do right now to change this it to stop taking on others problems and trying to solve them. Instead, try becoming a good coach to your team, someone who facilitates your people becoming more intelligent and experienced problem solvers.

Sometimes leaders are seduced into thinking they need to know everything and be the solver of all problems. If this sounds like you take a minute now to ask yourself “where does that expectation comes from?” When I ask this of my leadership-coaching clients their response is one of genuine belief that their team needs and expects them to solve their problems for them. However, studies on leadership effectiveness suggest otherwise e.g. at Google the number one (of the top eight) characteristic that employees valued in their leaders was “be a good coach”. The lowest rated characteristic was “have technical skills so you can advise them”.

Here are 4 steps for changing unproductive dependencies between you and your team members and for becoming a great coach-leader who facilitates the emergence of resourceful thinking and generates action and responsibility in others.

1. Start thinking like a coach

A good coach believes that people have most of the answers within them and it’s their job to help bring them to the surface. If you are like many leaders who feel workload pressures, you’ll think it is easier, faster and less messy to just tell people what to do. Hit the pause button now and take a strategic step back.

It’s time to bust that old myth!

Be realistic and optimistic about your return on investment. Coaching, and any people development activity for that matter, is an investment that could produce an immediate return, although more likely, ROI will be realised in the months to come. The pay-off is that you become freed up to achieve more in your role and your team’s performance levels will increase.

2. Engage people in discovering solutions

Questions are a coach’s tools of trade. Try out these for helping people to enhance their problem-solving and decision-making abilities :-

• What have you done so far to resolve the issue?
• How is this similar or dissimilar to anything you’ve experienced already?
• What could you take from previous experiences and apply to resolving this issue?
• Thinking more broadly about impacts, what other perspectives would be useful to consider here?
• If it were completely up to you to make a decision, and having weighed up all the options, which one seems the best way forward?
• If that didn’t work out as the best option, to what extent could you live with that? What could you put in place to minimise any risks?

3. Set Up Strong Accountability, Risk and Support Frameworks

Agree on tasking and timeframes for coaching outcomes. A key source of executive leader stress for my clients comes from them having expectations that something will be delivered at a certain time, and having no alternative plan to fall back on when it is not. They feel backed into a corner and respond by taking over others responsibilities which doubles their stress.

A good coach builds in checkpoints for tracking progress and supporting people to achieve outcomes. They also get agreement for alternative strategies to be implemented if and when required.

Discuss any perceived gap between the stated agreements and the current reality. This is not about making people wrong, this is an exploratory conversation that identifies what is going on. The intention is to simply bring awareness to what was agreed and to discover and remove any barriers to achievement. Often it is a misinterpretation of expectations that can be easily rectified. Explore tentatively with people by saying what you’ve noticed, felt, thought or had feedback about that led you to check-in with them about progress then move on from there.

4. Acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge

It is absolutely worth repeating this 3 times!

As soon as you detect any attempt from your people to contribute to problem solving acknowledge the new behavior whether or not the outcome is successful. This highlights for them a change from the old habitual behaviors of dependence on you and reinforces their resourcefulness.

As you lead out in this way with your people you will begin to notice how they start coming to you already primed to contribute to the solution. Give yourself credit when this happens and let this mark your brilliant transition from over-responsible, stressed out leader to calm and effective coach.


Equilibrio’s executive services are engaged and retained by senior leaders and executives in Australian organisations, multi-nationals, government, and not-for-profit organisations.