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My clients come to me to help them develop a coaching approach to the conversations their leaders have. I teach them the skills and mindset for coaching and advise leadership teams on how to create a coaching culture in their organization.

There is no doubt that bringing a coaching approach into an organization can be a powerful way to build the capacity of people to deliver and release discretionary energy, passion, creativity and engagement in the process. No doubt!

The reality though is it is hard and takes time. Leaders in most organizations are leaders for reasons that don’t necessarily make them good coaches. They are achievers, fixers, problem solvers and givers of the right answers. When I teach coaching for the first time to a group of leaders, I tell them there are three rules in coaching.

Rule #1: The coachee does the work…
Rule #2: The coachee does the work, and… (you guessed it)
Rule #3: The coachee does the work.

Everyone laughs and then immediately I see the color run from their faces as they realize what I’ve just said. “The coachee does the work” means you put the ball in their people’s hands and they dribble it, pass it and shoot it or at least decide how best to do those tasks.

I’ve now asked a group of people who’ve made careers of not only dribbling, passing and shooting the ball but the ball is their baby. They love the ball. All they do is think about the ball and how to win with the ball in their hands. You get the point.

Shifting to a coaching approach is far more than teaching a few skills and a memorable process. It is a fundamental shift in how the leader thinks and shows up to work.

HR professionals everywhere are challenged to help leaders shift to a coaching approach on top of selling their bosses and senior leadership teams on making the investment to do so.

I’m not abandoning the idea of coaching in organizations. I believe deeply in the power of leaders bringing it into their leadership and absolutely LOVE teaching it. What I’m abandoning is the idea that coaching is where you start.

For now, just for a little while, forget about a coaching culture. Instead, start with a culture of listening.

I make it a practice to include a listening exercise in every leadership program I deliver. At the end of the exercise, where I have asked participants to pair up and simply listen to their partner in three different ways, I ask the leaders, “What would life at this company be like if everyone listened and was deeply listened to?” The insights are always eye opening.

“People would feel valued.”

“We’d get a lot more done.”

“There would be less misunderstanding and disagreement.”

“Meetings would be shorter.”

I’m betting all those would be a good thing in your organization too. The results of experiencing these are obvious.

Instead of diving into the deep end of coaching, dip your organization’s toes in building a culture of listening. Just like getting in the pool though, even putting your toes and feet in the shallow end, getting your people to simply listen more can be a shock to the system. Remember, they are doers who are working in environments that are fast paced and results oriented. The one way they know to get everything done is often by NOT listening.

The mantra of your listening culture will be “Say a little less and listen a little more.” They don’t need to remember a coaching model or the right question to ask at the right moment. The most complex phrase or question they need to remember is “Say more about that” and “What else?”

Say a little less and listen a little more. It’s that simple and that hard.

In my next post, I’ll go a little deeper in the pool and share some experiences on where to start and how to sell your new culture of listening to your people and the leadership team who may have to sign a few checks to make it happen.

If you can’t wait for the next post, drop me an email with your questions or schedule a time for us to talk.

Jeff HarmonJeff Harmon is the president of Brilliance Within Coaching & Consulting which specializes in developing servant leaders while helping them translate their strategies into actionable plans that drive business results. Jeff is the author of “The Anatomy of a Principled Leader.” Jeff has been developing leaders for nearly 20 years and has led the execution of over 100,000 hours of business strategy for information technology, financial services and non-profit organizations.

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