The Coaching Mindset


The leader I was listening to was agitated. He indicated that he had just finished “coaching” a direct report about a change this staff member needed to make in his behavior. Our meeting included a recap of the conversation that went something like this:

Me: “So how did the conversation with Brian go?”

Leader: “Brian is a good manager; one of the best. But something has been amiss with him lately; he’s distant much of the time, and he often appears negative. So I coached him by letting him know that he needed to become more amiable, and he needed to do it now. I told him his behavior is inexcusable and it’s impacting the entire team in a negative way. I was very clear that he’d better apologize to the team and change his behavior to one that was more focused and positive.”

What’s wrong with this situation is that this leader wasn’t actually coaching; the conversation was one-way (the leader’s way or the highway!). More importantly, this leader hadn’t adopted a coaching mindset; the foundation for a good coaching conversation and for informing the words and tone that are used. It is – hands down – the most difficult part of learning to coach others well.

A coaching mindset would have helped this leader to listen more, choose his words intentionally, ask more questions, and speak in a tone of voice that would assist Brian in seeing his own behavior and the effect it’s having. Better yet, Brian may find his own solutions to dealing with his behavior.

The coaching mindset is a way of being (that’s the hard part). I believe this mindset is there for almost every leader to tap into, should they choose.

Some of the elements of a coaching mindset might include:

Equality: When you see yourself as equal to (not above) those you coach, you set the conversation up for safety and a deeper conversation. The person being coached will be more willing to dig deeper and to reveal what’s important to them. Wally Bock wrote a great piece on this concept, called “What the World Needs Soon“.

Curiosity: Take on a beginner’s mind when it comes to coaching. Let go of your preconceived assumptions about the person you’re coaching and what you think the solutions should be. What makes you curious about this person and what they believe? Ask big, open-ended questions to help them figure it out. Be curious with them, help them to explore and discover some answers.

Respect: Respect for the ideas and beliefs of the individual you are coaching, even when they are different from yours, allows them to explore their own mindset and possible solutions.
They’ll like their solutions better than yours, and be more motivated to implement them.

Neutrality: The struggle to avoid judging others will always be there for most of us. When you feel yourself judging, gently push it away and replace the judgment with listening for understanding. This helps to keep the conversation open for the person you are coaching.

These things are not so easy! The “act” of coaching isn’t so hard. The mindset for coaching is more difficult for most of us. What would you add to this list?

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

2 comments on “The Coaching Mindset

  1. Mary Jo,

    What I have found is there is confusion around being a coach vs being a mentor. A coach directs the conversation so the coachee can self reflect, explore options, and come to their own solution. When they create their own solution, they have true ownership.

    Often what holds back managers from being good coaches is the underlying belief that their job is solve problems by providing solutions rather than the belief that their role is to develop those around them so that their employees grow , remain engaged and thus more productive.


  2. Nicely put, Beth – thanks for adding your thoughts. I would further add that leaders should play both roles (and others as well) – and that there is discernment to be made about when to play the appropriate role.

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