Coaching and The Art of Possibility

Much of our support at Lean East involves coaching leaders and teams as they improve their processes. But what is coaching? Here are six traits of good coaching and some examples from the book The Art of Possibility.

Lean East Coaching to prepare the participant

Six Traits of Good Coaching

1. Coaches focus on people and also drive results.

Coaching is not the same as teaching or mentoring. Teachers impart their skills and wisdom to others. Mentors share lessons based on their experience. Coaches unlock potential in the participant and help them discover their own abilities and solutions.

2. Coaches share alignment and establish trust.

The mission and goal must be agreed upon by the participant and coach. The participant and coach also need to have mutual trust for one another. Learn more about trust in this post.

3. Coaches ask open-ended questions.

Coaches need to support the participant as they walk their own path, rather than choose the path for them. Open-ended questions encourage forward progress and a good thought process while not assuming responsibility for an issue. It is like pushing a rider using training wheels; the rider needs to practice on their own until it becomes natural. The coach just supplies a few pushes and a warning if they are going to crash and get hurt.

4. Coaches listen with curiosity and empathy.

Coaches must be genuinely curious about the problem and the thought process being used by the participant. Good, open-ended questions will only get asked if the participants’ issue is well understood. There are common methods to absorb what you hear and reflect it back to the participant. These include paraphrasing the main gist of the message in your own unique way or summarizing the main important points of the issue.

5. Coaches regularly assess performance.

Clear goals for a project and a coaching relationship should be established in advance. Regular times should be established for checking in and assessing progress and the relationship. It is important for the coach to provide plenty of positive encouragement at these times along with constructive (useful and actionable) feedback. Are you radically candid?

6. Coaches set a good example and are also coachable themselves.

A good coach is always striving to improve themselves along with the people they work with. Ask for feedback on your coaching from the people and teams you work with. Get yourself your own mentor or coach, and learn from other successful coaches.

Zander: The Art of Possibility

One coach who has always impressed me is Benjamin Zander, who at age 78 is currently the musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. Zander was a top conductor for many years, where he was responsible for the overall orchestra without personally playing a single note. The video below is one of my favorite examples of coaching in action.

Zander wrote The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life (with his wife) in 2002. The book has a very positive life outlook with several great lessons including:

  • It’s all invented: Our assumptions about a problem are all in our mind. We invent our framework, thus we can choose to change it. We might as well invent a frame of possibility.
  • How fascinating! When most people make a mistake, they make a negative face and draw their body down and inward. Instead, train yourself to raise your arms and say, “How fascinating!”
  • Give an A: Begin by assuming the best about the people in your life. The Zanders write: “This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.”
  • Give way to passion: Participate wholly in your family, life, and world. Don’t focus on being the best in the world. Focus on being the best FOR the world.
  • Tell the “we” story: Instead of “us and them” or “you and me” language use “we” language.
Rule Number 6: The Zanders share a joke about two prime ministers:

Two prime ministers were sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister admonishes him: “Peter,” he says, “kindly remember Rule Number 6,” whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws. 

The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again twenty minutes later by a hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again, the intruder is greeted with the words: “Marie, please remember Rule Number 6.” Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and an apology. When the scene is repeated for a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: “My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you be willing to share with me the secret of this Rule Number 6?” “Very simple,” replies the resident prime minister. “Rule Number 6 is ‘Don’t take yourself so damn seriously.‘”  “Ah,” says his visitor, “that is a fine rule.” After a moment of pondering, he inquires, “And what, may I ask, are the other rules?” … “There aren’t any.”

Do you agree or disagree with these traits and thoughts? Remember “Rule Number 6” and then let us know in the comments below.

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