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Micro-coaching Part 1: The Coaching Continuum

In this first episode of a 3-part series on Micro-coaching and Accountability, Tim and Junior introduce us to The Coaching Continuum, a framework that can be used to identify coaching patterns in leaders. It runs from “Tell” on one side to “Ask” on the other. 

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Episode Show Notes

In this first episode of a 3-part series on Micro-coaching and Accountability, Tim and Junior introduce us to The Coaching Continuum, a framework that can be used to identify coaching patterns in leaders. It runs from “Tell” on one side to “Ask” on the other. 

A leader has one primary objective: To expand the capabilities of the people they lead by increasing their ownership and critical thinking skills. There are two levers that a leader can pull to do this. They can model, or they can coach. Those who rely on directive, one-sided interactions to manage their people will breed dependency and learned helplessness. Those who use inquiry-based conversation in their management will create facilitated self-discovery. Effective leaders use both ends of the spectrum. Where on the continuum do you fall?

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Episode Transcript

0:00:04.9 Junior: Welcome everyone to the LeaderFactor. Today, is an exciting day. It's the kickoff to a three-part series on Micro-Coaching and Accountability, and this is the first episode of our new format.

0:00:18.6 Tim: Yeah, I'm excited.

0:00:18.7 Junior: What do you think about it?

0:00:20.0 Tim: I like it.

0:00:20.0 Junior: Me too.

0:00:20.9 Tim: Yeah, we're here. We're face to face.

0:00:24.1 Junior: We're in the studio.

0:00:24.2 Tim: Yeah.

0:00:24.3 Junior: We got two producers over here. We have Jillian over here. We have Freddy.

0:00:29.7 Tim: Freddy.

0:00:31.2 Junior: We appreciate them being here. So I'm Junior. I'm the host of the LeaderFactor here with my co-host, Dr. Tim Clark. And we're excited to discuss three very important models across this three part series. And this new modality, this new medium that's video-centric, is going to afford us the opportunity to do some training in a style that we really haven't before. And so it's going to be visual heavy, it's going to be model heavy. And so if you are listening in an audio only format. Maybe check out one of the video formats. We'll have that up on the website and across a few different video platforms. So Micro-Coaching and Accountability, that is the title of the series. And this series has three episodes in it, the Coaching Continuum three levels of accountability and the Coaching and Accountability matrix. So if we come over here to the series overview, we'll show you these three models. Here's the coaching continuum that runs from tell to ask. That's what we're going to be talking about today. Then we have the autonomy and accountability relationship. Otherwise known as the three levels of accountability. That will be episode two. And then we have the coaching and accountability matrix, which is the combination of those two things. So the coaching continuum let's start there, Tim.

0:01:58.3 Tim: Let's do it.

0:01:58.4 Junior: So as leaders, we have two main levers. We have modeling and we have coaching. These are really the two tactical levers that we have. Right?

0:02:13.7 Tim: That's true.

0:02:14.0 Junior: Tell me about these.

0:02:15.8 Tim: Well, we do have two, coaching. Well, modeling comes first, right? Which is we have to show the way. And then there's coaching, which is guiding. So we model, and then we coach. So we show, and then we guide. And it reminds me, junior, I remember being in San Francisco once and being... I took a cable car, and the cable car operators, they have two levers in those cars, and that's all they have. And it just made me think of... This is what a leader has to work with. This is your stock and trade. You've got modeling in one hand, that's one lever. And then you've got coaching in the other. And that's really how you get your job done. That's how you do what you do.

0:03:01.5 Junior: That's really it.

0:03:04.6 Tim: It's it.

0:03:08.1 Junior: You don't have seven levers.

0:03:10.5 Tim: No.

0:03:10.3 Junior: You don't have 23.

0:03:10.4 Tim: No, you don't.

0:03:10.5 Junior: If you boil it all down, you have coaching and you have modeling. The objective as a leader is to transfer two things. And we're gonna be talking about that throughout the duration of this series. We're trying to transfer ownership and critical thinking and coaching is the method by which we do those two things. So if you think about this entire series and its objective, our objective in this series is to help leaders become more effective at transferring those two things.

0:03:42.3 Tim: That's right.

0:03:42.3 Junior: Right. That is the objective. And we hope that through these tools, through these models, the examples, the tactics, that we can get better at doing that. So let's go down to right here Larry Bossidy, the former CEO of Honeywell. Coaching is the single most important part of expanding another's capability. What do you think about this quote?

0:04:03.9 Tim: Well, it goes back to what you said Junior, which is you have to break down what it means to expand another person's capability. And if you break that down, and then you operationalize the process of doing that, you find yourself coming back to the need to transfer ownership. Well, ownership, which is accountability and then critical thinking. So you have to transfer those two things. We're transferring ownership and we're transferring critical thinking. If we don't transfer those two things, we can't expand another person's capability. So this is the essence of what coaching is all about. Am I transferring ownership and am I transferring critical thinking?

0:04:53.1 Junior: So you've worked with a lot of leaders, a lot of executives. Out of a 100, how many would you say are exceptional coaches?

0:05:02.1 Tim: Oh, it's a small percentage.

0:05:03.2 Junior: Give me a number. If you just had to throw one out.

0:05:09.4 Tim: Exceptional coaches.

0:05:10.1 Junior: Really good.

0:05:10.2 Tim: Exceptional coaches.

0:05:10.7 Junior: Like top 1%. Well, I guess that gives us our number. There's one. But that you would say pass the Dr. Clark test for coaching.

0:05:17.9 Tim: I don't think it's more than 10%. Honestly.

0:05:20.8 Junior: I think that's fair. I think that my assessment would probably be something similar. It's not a lot more than that. If it is.

0:05:28.8 Tim: No, it's not.

0:05:29.7 Junior: So what does that mean? It means there's a gap. There's a huge gap. Between reality and what we need in order to be effective.

0:05:38.2 Tim: Huge gap.

0:05:40.2 Junior: Right. So here's a part that I think is particularly interesting, expanding another's capability. This part is probably the most important piece of this quote. Expanding another's capability. So it doesn't say coaching is the single most important part of getting things done.

0:05:58.1 Tim: No.

0:06:00.3 Junior: Or the single most impart important part of being a leader, or any other number of ways you could say this, but expanding another's capability. This is others centric, it's others focused. It's outward. It's not how can I get more things done faster? Although that's part of this, but it's me helping expand the capability of another person. And it's not immediately obvious that that's best for me. I think that it should be obvious a couple of steps away, but you're trying to help other people get better.

0:06:31.8 Tim: And There's two parts to this Junior. So let's go back to what we're transferring. We've gotta transfer ownership, and we've gotta transfer critical thinking. As we build the capability of another person, they have to be able to think differently and do differently. So there's a think component, and there's a Do component. We're trying to expand both. Critical thinking means that we're expanding the person's ability to analyze, gather data, synthesize, analyze, distill out, draw conclusions, and then take a course of action. So there's the think component and there's the Do component. And the Do then connects directly with taking ownership and accountability, which we're gonna talk about. So both of those things have to be elevated in another person for them to have expanded capability.

0:07:29.0 Junior: Love it. And I would say that most leaders don't understand that to the degree that they probably should. They don't understand the intricacy of what's actually going on in expanding another person's capability. They don't understand the next level of, okay, well what is coaching? What are the objectives? What are the tools? We're using dull instruments when we're describing what coaching is. Well, it's just like telling people what to do, maybe.

0:07:58.1 Tim: Yeah. But I think that the additional liability is that we're so deeply socialized in a tell model, and we're gonna get to this. Being told what to do, being directed that we think that is synonymous with coaching. And...

0:08:16.1 Junior: Just talking.

0:08:17.3 Tim: That's where the quicksand is.

0:08:18.2 Junior: That's where the quicksand is.

0:08:21.6 Tim: It's just talking. So, we'll talk about that continuum.

0:08:25.0 Junior: Before we get there. Let's go to Google's manager behavior. So this comes from a project called Project Oxygen. Multi-year study. Google's trying to figure out what makes an effective manager. And number one, what is at the top of the list is a good coach.

0:08:40.1 Tim: Right.

0:08:44.3 Junior: Okay. What should that tell us? Something. And then if you look at these others, so, two, three, four through 10, a lot of those have to do with coaching.

0:08:53.7 Tim: They go back to coaching, don't they?

0:08:53.8 Junior: Don't they.

0:08:54.4 Tim: Yeah. They relate back to coaching.

0:08:57.1 Junior: Yeah I agree. Is a good communicator. Supports career development, has key technical skills to advise the team. So coaching finds its way into almost all 10 of these.

0:09:07.2 Tim: It's an umbrella.

0:09:08.7 Junior: Right?

0:09:09.8 Tim: Yeah.

0:09:11.2 Junior: So the point we're trying to get across here is that coaching is important, right?

0:09:15.0 Tim: It's a gateway competency to be a good manager.

0:09:21.1 Junior: It's hard to argue that coaching is not important to a leader.

0:09:24.8 Tim: You can't do it.

0:09:24.9 Junior: It's an impossible argument. So let's take that as table stakes. Let's go down to the coaching continuum. So this is a continuum that runs from tell to ask, tell on the one end is what? Tell me about this piece of the spectrum.

0:09:45.9 Tim: Telling is directing. You're talking at people, you're giving them instruction. That's not all bad. And as we said, Junior, but if you live at that end of the spectrum if that's the way you coach, if that's your pattern, then you are going to, and I'll just circle this if I can. You are going to be breeding dependency and learned helplessness. This is not where you want to live. What did we say before? The objective is to expand. Well transfer ownership, transfer critical thinking. How can you do that? If you live at the tell end of the coaching continuum? You can't. So the bias and the expectation is always to move to the right, to the ask end.

0:10:43.9 Junior: But not always.

0:10:43.9 Tim: Not always.

0:10:44.0 Junior: There are exceptions.

0:10:44.6 Tim: Yeah. What we're saying is that's the bias. There are use cases, there are times, there are situations where we need to be at the tell end. And that's the right thing to do. Such as when.

0:11:00.9 Junior: Such as when? When it's high stakes. Low margin for error. There are many instances that you can think of in which this is true. Think about healthcare. What is our risk? It's often high. Our margin for error is often low. And how much time do we have? Often, not a lot. Think about a defense scenario. Think about, I mean, any number of high stakes situations in which we don't have the luxury of sitting like this and having an inquiry-based conversation about what we might do next.

0:11:33.2 Tim: It's not exploratory.

0:11:35.5 Junior: This is not exploration.

0:11:36.6 Tim: No. I think about the industries that we work in, like healthcare, like nuclear. Like nuclear energy.

0:11:42.2 Junior: Highly regulated environments.

0:11:42.3 Tim: Highly regulated environments where as you say we've gotta get it right?

0:11:49.2 Junior: We're gonna tell.

0:11:51.4 Tim: We're gonna tell.

0:11:51.5 Junior: In a situation like that. There are times where you can squeak in a little bit of ask. And you probably should, but let's say that you are in a highly regulated environment. There's not a lot of discretion as to how we're going to execute this next thing that we have to do. We're going to say, this is the way that it needs to be done now. Go push this button, pull this lever, make this statement immediately. We don't have time to talk about it.

0:12:23.9 Tim: But what we're assuming though, is that even in those highly regulated environments, there's a time and a place where we learn, where we train, where we explore. We're in a test environment.

0:12:35.3 Junior: Yeah, absolutely.

0:12:36.1 Tim: But when we come out of the test environment and we go into an operating environment, we go live. Then that's over. And we're highly prescriptive. We have to get it right.

0:12:49.3 Junior: But then what do we do after the scenario is over, we move back to ask and we debrief.

0:12:55.9 Tim: We do.

0:12:56.0 Junior: What happened? How did that go? What do we think?

0:12:58.2 Tim: That's right.

0:12:58.3 Junior: And we start asking a whole bunch of questions about all the telling that we just did.

0:13:03.1 Junior: That's right. So we have an after action review. We have a postmortem, we take things apart, we analyze, and we're in heavy learning mode.

0:13:12.6 Tim: So we're saying the bias should be towards inquiry. That there's a time and place for telling.

0:13:19.6 Junior: That's right.

0:13:20.6 Tim: There's a time and place for advocacy. But if you live there, if you live at the tell end of the spectrum we get dependency and learn helplessness. So maybe tell me a little bit about your own experience being on the receiving end of leaders who skew toward tell.

0:13:37.3 Junior: Well, what happens is that becomes an inhibitor to development. It becomes a decelerator to your growth, to learning and developing and acquiring the skills. Well, the critical thinking skills that you need, and then the ability to execute that you need. So it gets in the way.

0:14:06.3 Junior: But have you experienced it?

0:14:06.4 Tim: Yeah.

0:14:06.6 Junior: Have people told you what to do?

0:14:09.3 Tim: Yes. Yes.

0:14:09.9 Junior: Tell me more about that.

0:14:11.6 Tim: Well, I grew up in... I'll give you a couple of examples. Locker rooms, for example, playing college football. The entire prevailing coaching model was tell. So I was on the receiving end for four years of tell, tell, tell, tell, tell. How do you expand your football IQ if you're on the receiving end, why not move to the ask end, the inquiry based end of this spectrum and transfer critical thinking to the athlete to break down a play. Figure out what needs to happen. Then I went into a heavy industrial environment, Junior, where I worked for several years. And again, the prevailing coaching model was tell, and what you wanted at the end of a conversation was you wanted the other person to nod their head indicating that they understood what they were being told, and then dispatch them. Well, how much critical thinking are we transferring? And how much ownership are we transferring? We don't even know. But for sure, it's not gonna be a lot. So you can see the limitations of this model.

0:15:30.4 Junior: How did you feel as a player when you were simply told what to do? It was all execution based, yet the game or the environment was dynamic and emergent. Did you feel like there was no fit? 'cause to me, that seems ironic. Because we're not working in a very static environment. It's dynamic, it's emergent, and yet mid play, you can't look over at the sideline and ask, Hey what should I be doing?

0:16:02.6 Tim: Well, here's the irony. You come back and say it's halftime. You're making adjustments, and we're relying a 100% on the coach to tell us what adjustments to make. That makes no sense.

0:16:13.2 Junior: No, It makes no sense.

0:16:14.0 Tim: Right? Because if I'm on the field and I can tell that the offense is cheating in its formation, I'm seeing some tendencies. Right? It's not even my job to analyze and think about adjustments. I'm not being asked to do that. So think about how we hamstring ourselves, because we're not transferring the critical thinking or the ownership. And so again, without even knowing it, without even thinking about it, I am developing more dependency and learned helplessness as a player.

0:16:55.3 Junior: Well, and then let's think more broadly about the times when the coach is not there. Right. If you're in the operating environment and there's no one there to tell, and we've bred dependency and learned helplessness, now what are we? We're actually helpless.

0:17:14.4 Tim: Yeah.

0:17:15.2 Junior: We have nowhere to go.

0:17:16.8 Tim: We don't have the capability.

0:17:17.0 Junior: No, we don't have the capability. We don't have the critical thinking. We haven't developed the autonomy. We don't have the discretion, the decision making skill. And so often managers will grab that discretion, they will harness all of it, they'll centralize it, and they'll say, this is mine. And what they don't realize is that they're I guess hamstring's a great way to put it. They're taking that away from the team, and they're crippling the team's ability to make decisions in a dynamic environment that's emergent. To me, that's ironic. But we do it all the time.

0:17:52.1 Tim: It is.

0:17:52.6 Junior: It's not to say that we don't need coaches and we don't need oversight, and we don't need administration. We need all of those things. But we need a dose of this.

0:17:58.3 Tim: Yeah. It goes back to the fundamental objective of being a manager or a leader in an organization, which is you are commissioned, you are charged to be a force multiplier. Your job is to create leverage in the organizational sense. And that goes right back to how you coach.

0:18:19.1 Junior: So I think a healthy exercise for everyone listening is to think about the best coaches, the best leaders you've ever had, and think about their coaching style. What was that like?

0:18:33.0 Tim: Well, the tell to ask ratio...

0:18:37.1 Junior: Exactly. Think about that.

0:18:40.1 Tim: Changes.

0:18:40.5 Junior: Exactly. If I think about the best leaders that I've engaged with as it relates to their coaching, or the best literal coaches I've had, it's inquiry. They're transferring that to me. They're helping me get better. They're facilitating growth for me. They're not hoarding all of the discretion, decision making, critical thinking. They're saying, I'm gonna give you a little bit of this because I would like you to get to the next level and become more effective. So over here, talking about the ask side, facilitated self discovery. What do you mean by that?

0:19:17.2 Tim: Well, you've got to grow is a process of self discovery. So you've got to come to a higher level of self-awareness. Your powers of observation have to increase. You gotta be able to figure things out on your own. People are helping you and they help you with inquiry, but ultimately you're the one that has to do it.

0:19:38.0 Junior: So how do we get better at this? If we say most leaders skew toward tell. 10 in a 100 are pretty good. What do we do.

0:19:50.4 Tim: Junior I think you gotta get practical. I worked with an executive who literally would go in to a meeting with a piece of paper and he drew a line down the middle. And on one side he wrote, tell, and on the other, he wrote ask. And he kept it in front of him on the table as a prompt, because this is behavioral. We're talking about your tell to ask ratio what you actually do. So we're going from conceptual to behavioral. What do you actually do? You've gotta be able to guide yourself and track and monitor your behavior, your tendency, your pattern, and you've gotta shift, right. The biases to move toward inquiry. And as you move throughout your career, if you're not leading more out of inquiry than advocacy. We have a problem.

0:20:53.7 Junior: Yeah. Well, the inquiry advocacy piece. So over here, inquiry. Right. And advocacy. These two... Forgive the handwriting, advocacy and inquiry to me, as I think about this, several years ago, I did this exercise, I should do this more. Several years ago, it was too long. But I went into a meeting and I came out of the meeting and asked myself, okay, what percent of time did I spend in each of these areas? That's an enlightening exercise.

0:21:40.8 Tim: It is.

0:21:40.8 Junior: I would encourage people to try that. And there have been meetings where I come out and my inquiry is 5%. And my advocacy is 95%. Now, there are times where the ratio might lean one way or another for a certain reason. But many times there's no good reason for me to be advocating as much as I am. And so I think a practical prompt like that could be useful. Put that in front of you.

0:22:08.2 Tim: It's a diagnostic. And you gotta go through it again and again. And I mess up as you know I stumble. But we have to... This is about operationalizing a pattern of behavior that is the central pattern to coaching. And coaching is one of your two levers. So that's how fundamental it is.

0:22:33.9 Junior: So we're saying ask more questions. Right. The next step from putting out the paper in front of you and noting your ratio is just ask more questions. Do more inquiry, do less advocacy. So we're going to ask questions like what happened? Why? What do you think about this? What led you to this decision? What data could we use to inform the next decision? What do you think could have gone better? What risks are you hedging against? And pull that out of people. You may be missing some information if you move right into advocacy.

0:23:12.5 Tim: That's right.

0:23:12.6 Junior: What else? Anything else that you would suggest to leaders as we kinda wrap up the conversation about this continuum?

0:23:18.5 Tim: I think it's helpful to reflect on your own experiences in your own socialization within organizations and then reflect on your tendency and maybe your personality plays into it as well. I know some strong personalities, Junior that I've worked with, that their tendency is they want to go into a meeting and commandeer the meeting. They want to take over. And for example as we all know, if you occupy positional power and you walk into the room and you speak early and you're advocating, meeting's over, meeting's over, you just preempted everything. What are people going to say? They're not gonna say anything. They're gonna disengage. So you've gotta pay attention to the way that you either maybe warm or chill the air. As you go in and interact with your colleagues and your direct reports.

0:24:26.7 Junior: So this is the coaching continuum that runs from tell to ask. As an effective leader, you should use the entire spectrum. There's a time and a place for every little node on that spectrum. But you have to let context inform. And for most of us, we need to lean away from tell, towards ask. We need to do less advocacy, do more inquiry. So that was part one of our series today. I'm excited about the next two conversations. So for everyone listening, if you liked today's episode, leave us a like a review, share with a friend. And we would love to know in the comments what you are taking away from today's conversation. We will see you in the next one. Bye-Bye.

Show Notes

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Episode Transcript

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