As a leader, you can unlock the potential of your team using Coaching Conversations
A recent survey by Gallup found that only 21% of employees strongly agree that their performance is
managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. Developing a coach’s mindset, approach, and
culture is essential to organizational success. Without it, productivity declines, morale decreases, and
performance is mediocre.
What is a Coaching Mindset?
The coaching mindset is key to:
- Unlocking the potential of your team
- Boosting engagement and morale
- Creating less stress for you and your team.
Have you ever had a coach or a mentor in your life that had a greater belief in you and your abilities
than you had in yourself, and then went out of their way to encourage, to support, and to challenge you
to achieve more than you even thought possible? Perhaps you are thinking of a parent, or maybe it was a
teacher or a manager? Now, think about that person for a moment. And recall how that felt, and - even
more importantly - recall what you may have done differently as a result of that person's influence in
Here’s the challenge: If I were to ask the people who work for you to do the same thing, would they be
naming you as that significant coach in their life?
Steve Farber has been working with companies and with leaders around the world for 30 years. In his book
“Greater than Yourself” he observes something remarkable: the greatest leaders, the greatest coaches,
the greatest managers, strive to make others greater than themselves. This creates a bit of a paradox:
the greatest leaders become the greatest leaders by making others greater than themselves.
The coaching mindset is to make others greater than yourself. Let's talk about how we can do that.
There are two things to keep in mind during any coaching conversation:
- The first is what we call the coaching conversation roadmap. This is
a framework for the dialogue that you're going to have with the person that you're coaching.
- The second is the language that you use, the words that you use, to
truly make an impact in the conversation. We need to be intentional about our word choices as
coaches. Our role is to be objective and practice using open-ended questions and active listening to
truly understand where the other person is coming from.
Coaching Conversation Roadmap
Always start with a coaching mindset. Your intention is to lift the person up, not beat them down. Use
the coaching conversation roadmap and be mindful of your language choices to ensure that your
conversation has the impact you are looking for.
In the example below, Sam is a project manager and Jules is Sam’s supervisor. Jules has learned that the
Fisher project, which Sam is managing, is behind by three months, over budget by 10% and tensions are
jeopardizing their company’s relationship with the client. Individuals on the project team have shared
that Sam is difficult to work with and they don’t understand what Sam expects from them.
1. Set the expectations of the conversation.
First of all, set the stage. Try using some language like: “Today we're here to talk about XYZ”. And then
next establish trust and support with this person by telling them that you value them, and that you're
there to help them be successful. Now of course you don't want to make this up, it has to be genuine and
sincere and simply identifies the things that they're doing well.
JULES: Hi Sam. The purpose of today's meeting is to talk about your performance and go over the
Anything else you want to cover?
Well, before we get into Fisher I want to tell you: you did a great job on the Donaghue project last
quarter, the client loved it and we really appreciate it. You're a really valuable member of this
2. Ask for information from their side and identify the coaching goal.
You want to clearly identify the challenge which will then become the target of the coaching the goal of
the coaching. Try asking a question like: “Tell me how it's going with XYZ”, and let them respond.
JULES: So tell me how you think Fisher is going.
JULES: Let's talk about it. How are you measuring the success of the project?
SAM: I'm measuring my success by my key performance indicators, phase completion and the budget, but
have been starting to get off track.
3. While they respond, practice being objective, hearing what they're saying and actively listening to
You can do that by asking questions to uncover any additional challenges questions like: “What obstacles
are you running into?” “What's been preventing your success?” and by listening openly to their
Remember to be mindful of your own judgments about what you think went wrong, and let them tell you what
THEY think is going wrong. And then finally, do your best to understand their motivations. By asking
questions like, for example: “Why is accomplishing this important to you?” When you understand their
motivation, you can use this to build their capability later on in the coaching conversation.
JULES: What happened to cause things to get off track?
SAM: Well, people stopped listening to me, and we weren't getting things done on time and now we're
JULES: So let's review, where are you with the project now?
SAM: I've completed the first two phases of the project but the last two phases of the project have
JULES: What do you think's preventing you to get those last two phases completed?
SAM: It hasn't been easy getting everyone on the same page. No one seems to be willing to commit to this
project and that lack of commitment has been quite frustrating.
JULES: It can be frustrating. And it's hard to manage people towards a goal. I know it's difficult.
But this is
your primary responsibility right now and I know this is a really important project for the
organization. Tell me why it's important to you?
SAM: Well, it is my responsibility, and I want to succeed and do well in this company. I want to grow my
4. Brainstorm to help them find solutions to accomplish their coaching goal.
Start out by defining what success looks like; you also need to understand what success looks like for
them. Ask a question like, simply, “What does success look like for you? Or, “How will you know when
And then you want to understand what they've tried so far what's worked, what hasn't. You can ask: “What
have you tried so far?” Or, “What's been working for you, what hasn't worked for you?”
Then, together, you'll consider and identify alternate approaches to help them think of new things that
they could try to meet their goal. You can ask a question like: “What's another way to look at the
problem?” or “What would be another approach to take?”
JULES: I'm glad to hear you're committed to being successful and I want you to be successful too. For
success in this project means that it’s completed as quickly as possible, ideally, within 30 days,
no more than over 5% over budget. So, what does success look like for you?
SAM: Success would be doing a good job, and getting back on track with the project. I know that I could
good job, and I want to show you that by doing whatever it takes to complete the project within the next
JULES: Great. What did you done so far to motivate the team?
SAM: Well I've been sending emails with deadlines, but that doesn't seem to be getting anyone's
They're not recognizing the urgency in my emails. I don't think people care about this project.
JULES: From that perspective I can see how be difficult to manage people to get the job done. But can
another way to approach it? What's another way to look at it?
SAM: Hmm, Maybe the team needs an overall project plan. I was sending individual assignments with
but they probably need a big picture walkthrough. Lesson learned! Once a month, face to face meetings
with them to explain the overall project plan. That way everyone knows what's expected of them so we
could hit our targets.
5. Mirror, or reflect back, what you're hearing from them.
Now is the time to use the closed ended yes/ no questions. Say something like: “So, what I'm hearing you
say is… .is that correct?” or “…am I hearing that right?”
JULES: So what you're saying is a face to face meeting, improving communication, is going to unite
and ensure that everybody's on the same page?
SAM: Yes, I could try that approach. It would be a more effective way to revisit the expectations and
everyone involved in the project. The monthly face to face meetings would be great for my next project,
but for the next 30 days I will schedule these weekly. As a team we need to find some efficiencies to
rein in the budget and timeline.
6. Confirm the next steps.
You’ll want to create a verbal and written agreement on goals and next actions. So you'll ask questions
like: “What will it take to help you get this done?”, “What are you specifically going to do next?” and
“By when will you have this accomplished?”
JULES: That sounds like a great approach. Can you commit to having face to face meetings with the
team to ensure
we're going to be finished in 30 days, and no more than 5% over budget? What will it take to help
get this done?
SAM: Hmm, the next 30 days will be challenging and the budget reductions will take some creative
yes, once we have our collective plan, I think it's possible. I'd like you to be at the first meeting to
show your support for the team and kick off the importance of regrouping to maintain focus for the
client and future projects.
JULES: Sure, I can do that. What specifically you're going to do next?
SAM: I'll set up a meeting schedule to start this week. I will share the project timeline and complete
one-on-ones the following week. I want to make myself a resource in case the team has any questions,
then I'll reach out to the client, and explain the revisited timeline.
JULES: When will you have this accomplished?
SAM: I'll schedule the team meeting for Thursday and set up one-on-ones for the following week, I will
the project plan and budget Friday, and I'll call the client Monday morning to discuss the status of the
JULES: Sounds like a great plan. So the goal is to ensure the project is completed within the next 30
more than 5% over budget. Let me know how I can help you in the next 30 days. I want you to be
SAM: Thanks. I won't let you down.
Remember that the mindset, the intent, the foundation of this coaching conversation roadmap is the
“Greater than Yourself” approach. What makes your coaching powerful is your burning desire to see this
person succeed, the coaching conversation roadmap, and the language choices that you make in all of your