The Power of Coaching

coach-crosswordI’m not very good at giving clear directions. People I teach in SGR classes sometimes mark this as a 3 out of 5—average.  I often suspect that they are just being generous. I know it’s an area that I need to improve.  However, the other day I was teaching a class, and my “average” (or less than average) ability to give directions ended up teaching a fantastic lesson about the power of coaching.

We were discussing the difficulty that humans have in walking in a straight line when they are blindfolded (with or without too much wine!) Starting as far back as the 1920s, researchers have conducted numerous studies which illustrate that basically, we cannot do it. We cannot walk in a straight line for any significant distance (30 feet or more). We wander off track and start to go in circles.

So in our class, the curriculum called for us to go somewhere and experience it for ourselves. The students weren’t blindfolded. They were just told to close their eyes and walk in a straight line to a point that we agreed upon—about 30 feet away. But here’s where my challenge in giving directions reared its ugly head.

I told everyone, “Choose a partner and make sure you take care of your partner.” I intended the partner just to be there as a safety net. The students interpreted it as, “Don’t let your partner wander to the left or to the right.” As a result, the partner walked along next to the person and gave “course correction” guidance every few steps. “Go back to your right.” “You are headed too much to the left.” “That’s it. Keep going.”

That really wasn’t the role that I had planned for the partner to play, but once it started, I couldn’t really stop them. (Note to self: “Mike, you have to get better at giving clear directions.”)

But, that’s when I started seeing it. With the help of the partner, now turned coach, people were able to stay on track much, much better than what usually happens. Some wandered a little bit, but not nearly as much as they would have; and several were able to walk in a straight line. AHA Moment: The Power of Coaching!

If you are a supervisor, I know you don’t have time to hold people’s hands and walk by them every step of the way. However, here’s my question:  If it’s the difference between people wandering around in circles and making steady progress toward the goal, wouldn’t it be worth it to invest a little more time in coaching them “real time” rather than waiting until the annual evaluation to criticize them for going in circles?

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

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