One of the biggest challenges that I faced when I began coaching leaders was to be able to sit in silence and let them work things through for themselves. I am a very direct person and for most of my career I have been the go to person for fast and easy solutions. Coaching isn’t about fast and it sure isn’t easy!
When you work with leaders who are used to either having solutions handed to them or are used to having all the answers and have found themselves profoundly “stuck”, you must have patience, faith and a willingness to sit in absolute silence. When I first began coaching I had none of these things! The urge to jump in and offer solutions was almost overwhelming.
Then I had a breakthrough of my own. What if I was wrong? I was so full of answers but how did I know that any of them were the right answers? How liberating coaching became to me in that moment! I wasn’t expected to have the answers and it was actually the wrong thing to do to even try to give anyone an answer. The problem is theirs to solve, I was just there to dust off the path and help open doors.
For many leaders transitioning from a Consulting relationship to a Coaching relationship can be difficult and frustrating. I remember my first experience with receiving coaching as a business leader. My coach didn’t do a great job of explaining her role as a coach and I found her incessant questioning to be annoying. There were long, horrible instances of silence and I remember the feelings of confusion and irritation that the silence brought me. What was I supposed to be doing during this silence? What was she getting at with the vague questions? It honesty felt like torture.
Leadership Coaching clients can be tremendously different than Life Coaching clients. In Life Coaching, most clients don’t expect you to have all the answers. Think about it, who is expecting you to walk into a room with the answer to the BIG question, “what is the meaning of life?”. But many business leaders are looking for just that, the answers to their burning business questions about achieving their business goals, growing and developing as leaders and developing their teams. As a coach, my role is not to walk in and hand out answers.
Before my breakthrough I was confused. What could I, as a Coach rather than a Consultant, provide to leaders? What is the actual “coaching expertise”? For me personally, the number one thing that I can provide is empathy. I have been in their spot. I have been on the receiving end of the awkward silence. The second thing that I can offer is a better coaching experience than the one that I had. Setting expectations up front and establishing the ground rules of the coaching relationship, the roles and responsibilities of a client and a coach, goes a long way towards having a more positive experience. When people know what is expected of them, they are able to perform much better.
I also learned that with business leaders, you need to identify what specifically they are trying to get out of coaching immediately. What are the business expectations that they want help with? What development are they trying to obtain? Where can their shift occur? When you get them to hone in on what they really want, what they are trying to achieve from coaching, your coaching skillset will kick in and you will know what to do from there. Coaching can provide measurable business impact in so many ways. Getting leaders to understand and overcome their limiting beliefs alone can help change someone’s perspective in such a way that they are able to overcome the obstacles standing in the way of them achieving their business goals.
Every coach has excellent tools that can be used with goal setting, time management and such. They are there as a guide and can help you but YOU are the key to getting the information out of the leader. When the answers come from them, it is much more powerful than being given an answer. Those incessant questions that I found so annoying are thought provoking when asked the right way and at the right time. They can help develop critical thinking skills, emotional intelligence and awareness. The awkward silence is not awkward at all when you know that your well-timed question is causing the leader that you are coaching to develop and grow, right there during that conversation. Coaching leaders isn’t fast, and it isn’t easy but you can make it profoundly impactful, especially if you use your silence wisely.