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Best Ways to Be a Better Strategy Coach

Mark David
Best Ways to Be a Better Strategy Coach

Strategy coaching is an emerging practice, and experts in this area are rare gems. To help more people make their organizations more successful through strategy coaching, we have assembled a list of 5 ways you can make your business a better strategy coaching company.

Understand the difference between teaching and coaching

As a strategy coach, you have to know when you're teaching and coaching. Teaching is instructing, telling, and providing information; coaching is asking, listening, and guiding; it's a conversation. Education isn't bad—it's just something we do as part of our day-to-day jobs—but if that's all we're doing with our team members, we're not coaching them.

Coaching is about empowering the person to develop their answers and solutions. Remember: "Coaching unlocks people's potential to maximize their performance." When strategists learn how to coach effectively, they can become more empowered.

Climb the ladder of engagement

One way to get your client to contribute ideas is to ask questions. But not just any questions will do. Effective strategy coaches use the ladder of engagement, a tool for framing questions that take your client from low-level thinking about a problem (e.g., describing it) to higher levels of thought (e.g., explaining, predicting, and devising solutions).

The bottom three rungs are:

  • What is going on? Who is involved? Where do things stand now?
  • How did this happen? When did this happen? Why did this happen?
  • What might happen next? What could be done differently? What could you do differently?"

These three initial rungs build up the facts and describe the situation. The following two rungs are:

  • How can we use this information in our decision-making process?
  • How can we ensure that we don't get stuck at these lower levels of thinking in the future?"

Know when to coach and when not to coach

As a coach, you are there to support people in achieving their goals and to help them grow as professionals. You shouldn't be the person who "tells" your client what to do. Telling someone what to do is not coaching; it is giving advice. Your client should dictate the direction of where they want to go. You should be there to facilitate this process by asking questions, listening actively, and offering alternative viewpoints, which will help your client reach their goals more effectively.

A good coach tailors their approach based on the needs and learning styles of the individual. A client may need more direct coaching in one area of work than another because this person has already developed expertise in another place. Or, if your client is comfortable doing something a certain way, don't disrupt that momentum when a new method doesn't get better results than their current approach.

When your team or organization starts working with a new strategy coach like myself, I try very hard not to come in guns blazing, trying to fix everything at once (this happens often). This is because it's essential for me, as someone who doesn't know much about the business initially, to learn from everyone on my team so that I can develop an understanding of what is already working well within the company and where there are opportunities for improvement before suggesting any significant changes for our business strategy moving forward.

Coach up, down, and across

Don't forget to coach up, down, and across. As a strategy coach, you can impart your expertise to the members of your team (and vice-versa). Strategy coaches are often tempted to focus on coaching managers only. After all, these people will be primarily responsible for mentoring and developing others. However, managers don't always have the time or expertise to coach their direct reports effectively.

You can help out by taking on coaching down and across. This will ensure that everyone in your team receives good guidance, not just those with manager titles. Coaching up is also essential as it will allow you to build relationships with more senior people -- relationships that could be helpful further along in your career.

Build a culture of learning by example.

One of the best ways to be a good coach is to be a leader and role model who encourages others to be as good as you. To accomplish this, you must have a solid grasp of the skills listed below. The more proficient you are at these skills, the more equipped you'll be to teach them to others:

  • Be an active listener.
  • Be open to feedback.
  • Be a good communicator.
  • Be a good problem-solver
  • Be a good time manager.

Be a better coach in your workplace by having a skill set for coaching

When you think of coaching, what comes to mind? Do you picture a one-sided conversation where the coach imparts their knowledge to another person? If so, rest assured that you are not alone. As a former strategy consultant and now strategy coach at my company, I've realized that this idea of coaching is prevalent among people who have never been coached. The best coaches don't just teach—they listen and ask questions to help the employee uncover solutions for themselves. In other words, they engage in dialogue rather than deliver speeches.

Do you remember the last time someone asked for your advice on something? Perhaps it was a friend or family member looking for guidance about their career path or even just suggestions on how to decorate their apartment. You likely had no shortage of things to contribute in this situation—you probably have a wealth of ideas and opinions on any number of topics. However, as an effective strategy coach, it's essential to take a step back and think about how valuable your input would be if it were in response to questions rather than delivered directly as information.

Mark David
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