Tag Archives: coaching

10 pitfalls for coaching success

Bad coachingNot all will end well. Following are impediments for coaching I have experienced:

  1. There are no clear objectives for coaching.
  2. The coach has no mandate for coaching.
  3. There’s no designated time for coaching (coach + coachee).
  4. There’s too long time between event and coaching feedback.
  5. Coach nor coachee are measuring results (effectiveness).
  6. There’s no “walk the talk“: management is not coached themselves.
  7. There’s no support from line management.
  8. The coachee is not open for feedback.
  9. The coachee is not open for change.
  10. The coach has no empathy.
  11. The coach is using assumptions and slander instead of objective facts.


Please submit yours too!

Now let’s translate these pitfalls to positive ones and you have your checklist for coaching success!

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Act a fool at work

A jester in the middle ages

A jester in the middle ages

The first of April, or April Fools’ Day, is a yearly event where most people are wary the whole day. Jokers all over the community are trying to pull a joke on you.

In the middle ages it was common for a king to have a jester, a fool, in his counsel. Because of the hard times, it was not so strange to have a counsel full of yay-sayers. Who would dare to oppose to what the king was saying? Your head could be at stake (literally). To overcome this problem the king introduced the jester at his counsel. The fool could say or do what he want. He didn’t get any punishment for bashing on the ideas of the group or king. His job was to make all ideas ridiculous so the members of the counsel could take a look at them from another perspective.

We can link this to modern concepts in the corporate world.


An important part in coaching is giving honest feedback about facts. If you’re not able to give honest feedback to the coachee, he will not be aware of his blind spots and could make bad decisions. While in other industries like eg. sports coaching is more common, in the corporate world coaching is still considered only needed when “one’s in trouble”. Additionally, coaching is not only for the king, the CEO, applicable, but can be a useful instrument at all levels in the organisation.

Do you have a coach already? Who is giving you honest feedback and helping you discover your blind spots?

More on coaching:


If you would remove the fear element from the meeting, the counsel full of yay-sayers resembles at lot the modern principle of groupthink. When equal minded groups work together they have the tendency to agree on the same and come to the same conclusions and decisions. There’s no healthy debate nor discussions and group think might even lead to ignoring important details.

A classroom example of groupthink is the scenario which took place during the attack on Pearl Harbor. There were many early warning signals that an attack from the Japanese was pending, but because of groupthink one sought for confirmation of positive signals, that is “all is save” (more information here). Symptoms of groupthink which played a role in the attack on Pearl Harbor were, amongst others, the illusion of invulnerability, discarding information from outsiders and the illusion of unanimity.

Do you have a fool in your meetings? Or maybe you are the fool? (pun intended)


In the TED presentation “Dare to disagree“, Margaret Heffernan discusses the need of someone trying to proof your wrong. In a medical research project the scientist had one assistant whose only role was to prove the scientist wrong. The advantage of this was that your ideas get challenged and you don’t stop at might what have looked like the first success.

More on healthy conflict:

Additional reading

Archetypes, Blind Spots and Court Jesters

What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential

Overcoming groupthink

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How do you measure success as a coach?

Success kidA question where many people are defeated on is: How do you measure success as a coach?
Since we’re spending a lot of money and time on it: how can we know that it’s paying off? What is your ROI (Return-On-Investment)?

The LORE International Institute uses following definition for coaching effectiveness:

Effective coaching is coaching that creates the right behavioral changes that lead to improvement in the client’s ability to impact bottom-line business results.

Further, LORE also acknowledges:

One of the biggest challenges in measuring coaching is that tangible, behavioral change is usually linked to intangible mindsets and beliefs.

So how can we measure our coaching effectiveness?

Lagging measurements

Lagging measurements are findings. They’re history.
But they are suited to check if you did well.

Measurement indications on feeling:

  • Is the coachee satisfied with the coaching?
  • Is the quality of life of your coachee improved?

Measurement indications on behavior:

  • Can you see your coachee changing his behavior?
  • Are other people telling you your coachee has changed his behavior?

Measurement indications on results:

  • Is your coachee reaching their results?
  • Is the quality of work of your coachee improved?
  • Is the customer feedback improved?
  • Is there more benefits or waste identified?

Leading measurements

The disadvantage of lagging measurements is that they’re recorded after the facts.
Once you have the data, it’s already a fact and you can only react upon it.

Leading measurement are predictors and can be used for proactive steering for success.

  • Time spent coaching (bi-laterals, workshops, content meetings, performance meetings, …).
  • Counting the number of “thank you” and “thank your for your time” you get back after your coaching talks.
  • Progress in coaching action plan (reaching milestones on time in full).

As you can see, it’s harder to find the leading measurement for effective coaching.

Suggestions are welcome!

Additional reading

Can coaching effectiveness be measured – http://www.coachfederation.org/includes/docs/025CanCoachingEffectivenessBeMeasuredBacon.ppt

The success of coaching depends on clear objectives and rigorous measurement – http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/hro/features/1017535/the-success-coaching-depends-objectives-rigorous-measurement

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Help your coachee realize his Impossible Future

The “Impossible Future” is a concept which Robert Hartgrove describes in his book “Masterful coaching” and can be reformulated as a very ambitious goal, a big challenge.

Too often we lay stretch targets which are too easy to reach. You have to work a bit harder or a bit different to get there, but there’s nothing fundamental changed in your approach or behavior. Because of this, the stretch targets can be considered as a Predictable Future. The concept of the “Impossible Future” is used to let your coachee think about realizing more than his Predictable Future and see how coaching can get him there.

Let’s take a closer look at it.

What’s the Impossible Future?

Currently, your coachee is in the “now” state, expressed by the house in the picture. His current habits and behavior took him so far and he knows it’s working what he doing.  If we create a stretch target for him, expressed by the second house in the picture, he will have to change his behavior, his approach, etc. a bit, but probably still can reach the target.

Compare it with the Hawthorne effect: changing behavior because you’re just paying attention to it.

If we create an Impossible Future for him to realize, expressed by the castle in the picture, his current behavior and approach won’t get him there. A radical change is needed, expressed by the “new me” in the picture.

The Impossible Future

The Impossible Future

Your task as coach

Your coachee needs to be a bigger version of himself and you need to help him with it. Hartgrove describes in his book an approach that has worked for me in real life:

  1. Help the coachee imagine that he currently stands in the Impossible Future to find out what got him there.
  2. Let him describe the leader which he has to be in the Impossible Future:
    1. Which characteristics does he need?
    2. Which behavior does he need (to model)?
    3. What is the gap between him as current leader and his future me?
    4. As a coach, find out how you can get him there. What is your added value? How much of your time does your coachee need for it?

When you have your target leader(ship behavior), you can create an action plan for it: which steps are you going to take to realize that future target? Which are the intermediary milestones?

Road block: the Possible Future

If you define an Impossible Future that is not challenging enough, it will be no problem for your coachee to make a big change. He knows that it’s possible without major changes, without really leaving his comfort zone, and it will become his Predictable Future.

But what if it really seems impossible?

Ok, the target seems impossible, but let’s find out anyway to see what you need (to change) to get there.

Examples of Impossible Futures

  • Become product leader in your industry.
  • Deliver the same value to you customer with 30% fewer resources.
  • Become the top of mind brand in the finance industry.

Additional reading

Masterful Coaching by Robert Hartgrove

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Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Teacher“Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood” is one of the 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey.

I was reminded by it by a story an elementary teacher told me. She had had a difficult day at school and was pouring her heart out to me. Since I’m a professional coach and I know she hates it when (she notices) I coach her, so I made the promise to her to only listen and ask a question now and then to understand.

She started her story.

*Ring ring*
The bell goes off and all children are guided to their class room. It was a cold day and all children hang their coats on the pegs in the hallway. Next, they all enter the class. Except for three.
Three kids were standing in the hallway, looking at the window.
Teacher: “Please come inside.”
The kids are not reacting and keep staring out of the window.
Teacher: “John, Jane, Smith, please come inside now. We’re starting with calculus.”
No reaction.
Teacher: “That’s it! All three of you, come along to the teachers room”.
In the teachers room the students get a penalty and are not allowed to participate the next hour in art class.

Me: “So, you were angry because of the students not following your directions?”
Teacher: “Yes, I was.”
Me: “Why is it that big of a deal?”
Teacher: “They have to come in the class. I want to keep order and don’t lose time for teaching.”
Me: “I understand that you feel this is important. Is it the first time that this happens?”
Teacher: “No, they do it all week and they know as the problem stokers in class. Let me tell you what happened later that week.”

*Ring ring*
Two days later the same story unravels.
Our three problem stokers are looking at the window again when the rest of the kids are entering their class room.
This time, Jane says: “He look at that: they moved the big world map to the other side of the hallway.”

Me: “Wait. What does the world map has to do with this?”
Teacher: “They were watching at the map all the time, instead of entering the class room in time.”
Me: “But why are they so interested in this world map?”
Teacher: “I don’t know and I don’t care: I just want to start calculus.”
Me: “I understand that starting calculus in time is important to you. On the other hand, it looks to me that they were genuinely interested in the world map. Could it be an opportunity to give a demo in class?”
Teacher: “I never thought of that. It could be interesting for the rest too”.
Me: “It could be added value for the rest of the class, but also for the relationship you have with our three little problem stokers. As you show interest in their interests”.
Teacher: “Great idea, I will give it a try next week.”


When I heard the first version of the story, it was easier to me to give advice.

Have you tried this?
Why don’t you try this?
What are other options?
Is punishment necessary?

But in this way I would have started coaching without understanding the problem completely. We would have dived into finding solutions, instead of getting the problem right at first.

When I explicitly promised to step out of my role of coach in this case, I was not focused on asking the right questions, I was not focused in thinking along with the coachee and I was not focused to find solutions for her case (and guide her to it).

My only focus was to listen and try to understand. This made it possible to really empathize with here and make a connection.

Double lesson

I’m not sure if you noticed, but there was a lesson here for the teacher too. The same fifth principles of Steven Covey, Seek First to Understand Then to be Understood, is valid for the teacher too as she could have responded in another, more successful way to the situation.

Empathic listening

The theory (see Additional Reading) describes are four levels to true empathic listening:

  1. Repeat what the other person is saying.
  2. Rephrase the content.
  3. Reflect the feelings and emotions.
  4. Rephrase the content and reflect the feelings.

With using these steps you can build report with your coachee and establish a connection.

In the story above I didn’t use the four levels in a strict way, but I tried to rephrase and confirm emotions when appropriate.

Additional reading

The Fifth Habit in 20 slides –


The Fith Habit by Steven Covey – https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habits-habit5.php

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Is this the mirror of myself?

In the song Everybody, Martin Solveig sings:
        Is this the mirror of myself?
        Am I somebody else?
        I don’t want to be…

MirrorThis describes the effect of an efficient coach: people getting conscious about their behavior and the effect it has on others.
The job of a coach is to help grow your coachee and one of the tools in his tool box, is giving feedback

With giving feedback to your coachee, you have the opportunity (pfew, just avoided to say “power” here) to hold the mirror in front of your coachee. As a coach you can observe the behavior of your coachee, note facts, record interactions, body language, the effect is has on others, … 

When these facts are objective, you can use them (with the feedback framework) to give constructive feedback to your coachee.

Even when the coach is (much) younger than the coachee, it shouldn’t be a problem. I’ve experienced some reluctance in that situation at start: “What are you going to learn me? I almost twice as old as you!”

To quote Robert S. Kaplan:

Subordinates don’t want to offend the boss. Therefore, as you become more senior in an organization, you tend to get less feedback. Over time, you risk growing confused about your development needs and becoming isolated from criticism

But most coachees will start to appreciate your feedback when they notice it’s based on truth and can do something with it.

Let’s grow

A tool I like to use during coaching talks, it the GROW model: Goal – Reality – Options – Wrap-up.
The GROW model will set focus for observation and coaching talks.
Instead of giving all possible feedback you have recorded, you can pick your battles. 
These battles are agreed on with your coachee and can change during time.

And what about myself?

It would not be efficient if I wasn’t using this technique for growing myself.
After each workshop I ask feedback from the participants: what went well? What could go better?

Additionally, we as lean coaches started with asking feedback from our customers too about our change management skills.
Though sometimes the results are confronting, they give me the opportunity to improve myself.
Nobody’s perfect, right?

Additional reading

What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential“, by Robert S. Kaplan

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Where are you on the honeymoon curve?

A colleague of me addressed me in the hallway about the difficulties his staff association is having.
The member involvement is declining and the board is also less committed to their activities.
They were in some kind of crisis situation now and the day after our talk I found an email in my inbox with a desperate call to the members to get involved as board member.

The story sounded familiar because the staff association we’re leading is having similar problems. We also see a decline in member involvement since “the good years” and the board is also questioning itself .
And then it hit me: both staff association were started about the same time somewhere in 2009.

Change transition & acceptance


Kubler Ross curve

Kubler Ross curve

It’s all about going through a big change and dealing with acceptance.

If we apply the theory of the Kubler Ross curve, aka. the change curve, we see that over time, after a period of excitement, a period of lowered performance follows. The theory has it origins in the different phase of dealing with grievance.

The same effect is noticed in other areas:

  • Culture shock: going to a foreign country might be exhilarating at first, but after a few week the food tastes bad, your stomach is sick and you get home sick. 
  • Learning shock: at first a new training program is inspiring and interesting, but after a while you get a kick back when the first assignments need to be delivered, when you have your first set backs, …
  • Honeymoon curve: the first years of marriage are the best. It’s new, you’re committed, but after a few years it becomes common practice and less exciting.

The good news is that there’s a way back up the curve again! The typical curve for relationships takes about seven years to go from the honeymoon feeling, through the depression valley, over the getting better highway to the honeymoon feeling again.


Some tips to deal with the situation:

  • Be aware that there’s something like the change curve (or whatever it’s called in your context).
  • Accept the fact that you’re going through it. No matter what.
  • Be aware better times will be coming
  • Bite through the hard parts.
  • Celebrate small successes.
  • Adjust your approach to the phase you’re in (for example used in case of coaching change).

Additional reading

Culture shock http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_shock

Kubler Roos Change Curve http://staff.napier.ac.uk/services/hr/Documents/Kubler%2520Ross%2520Change%2520Curve.doc

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin

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Get into flow

FlowFlow is a term used for different concepts. The concept that is described here today is high performance work.

Everybody has moment when time flies by. You are working hard and for some reason, you become unaware of what is happing around you, the music you hear and the feeling of time passing by. You are working hard, you like it and things get done.

For getting into flow you need a lead time: you cannot just start right away with high performing. The lead time is estimated to be as high as 15 minutes, so switching between tasks can have a very negative effect of getting into flow and your productivity.

Here is where the problem lies in many cases at our work and even personal live. Our society is becoming more and more interconnected and next to colleagues asking questions, you now also have cell phone where people can reach you at any point in time by calling or texting. On a smart phone you even have notification for each new email, Facebook request and software update. Your email and agenda client at work (or even at home) is popping up for every new email or calendar notification.

Next to all these, you have the forums, blogs, news sites and communities you are following.

For the digital attention drawers there are some easy tips which you can apply:

  • Put your messenger offline when your dedicated to one task.
  • Disable email notifications on your email client and smart phone.
  • Disable other notifications on your smart phone (eg. Facebook, software updates, …)
  • Only enable reminders for meeting that you have to attend to. Limit the amount and time of reminders.

Team work?

But what about those colleagues that ask you questions every x minutes? You cannot ignore them because the team and team goal are important, but you also can’t devote all of your time to helping them with every question.

How to detect the problem?

First of all, keep your eyes and ears open for complaints from colleagues at the work floor. If you notice there is some frustration, you study it to estimate how big the problem is.

The DILO (Day In the Life Of) technique is a very useful activity study technique for capturing problems like these. Sit next to the employee for one day and capture all actions, requests, meetings, interrupts, … of the day. When he switches tasks add a lead time of, for example, 5 minutes to it and categorize it as non-value adding (waste). At the end of the day add up all the wastes and express it in percentage of time. When the numbers speak, you have a burning platform.

How to handle the problem?

Once you’ve got buy-in, you can start with discussing the problem. Do a root cause analysis to find the real causes of the problem: why are colleagues interrupting your work so much? Or SMARTer: “why are colleagues interrupting my work so I loose 1,5 hours each day by task switching?”.

Typical improvement actions range from coaching, peer coaching, training and mentoring for junior colleagues, product usage demonstrations by business and technical demonstrations.

In extreme cases, you can apply concepts like the cockpit and quarantine. The “cockpit principle” for example is used in the flying industry: during take off and landing the pilots need to be very focussed on achieving success and putting the plain up/down in a safe way. To ensure this the agreement is made not to speak during these critical moments with the only exception when safety is at risk.

In the Agile literature I’ve come across of some application of the cockpit principle where IT workers use flags, mascots and other indicators that they cannot be interrupt for a while, unless for really urgent problems.

But first, let’s look at the root causes before putting on your captain’s hat.

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If you combine observation with evaluation, people hear criticism

CriticismIf you’re in a coaching job or role, your task is to help your coachee discover himself and grow. There are many ways to do this, but giving feedback is the basis for all.

For giving feedback I can advise the feedback framework which is available in blog entry “A continuous flow of feedback“. The emphasis in this article was more on giving positive and/or constructive feedback, but this blog entry will focus more on how to collect and handover your feedback.

Let’s say you follow the coachee in different meetings ranging from meetings with the customer to staff meetings. If you take the role of passive observer, you will write down your observations of the meeting and your coachees behaviour. As passive observer it is also possible to focus beyond the content: body language of participants, group interaction, presentation styles, etc. If your coachee is the chairman of the meeting, he will also appreciate this feedback.

Observations with interpretations

Now, even as a coach you’re not completely neutral: during the years you have read books, gained experience and insights and grew as an employee and coach. So when you are writing down your observations, write down only the observations and avoid making interpretations. Don’t add remarks like the reason why you think it needs to be good, don’t add “good” or “bad” next to it, and so forth…

An example:

Observation: “The coachee gives orders during the meeting when topic XYZ was discussed.”
Interpretation: “Giving orders is not good (involving in the “how” of the assignment).”
Evaluation: “He should not give orders, but let people gain insights themself and coach them.”

When you’re taking this path, you will arrive at subjective evaluations. You’ve coupled an objective observation with your interpretation. When you deliver this message to the coachee, he will consider it as criticism and go into resistance. When in resistance the coachee will not listen to your observations, defend himself and the risk of emotional shutdown exists.

Tips for observations without evaluation

First of all: confirm your mandate to give feedback to the coachee and repeat why we are doing the feedback talk again (see “What to ask the person in the mirror” from Robert S. Kaplan).

  • During the meeting, write down your observations. Only observations.
  • Make your obseration SMART (Specific – Measurable – Acceptable – Realistic – Time-bound): don’t use generalizations like “always”, “never”, “often”, “sometimes”, etc. Write down what’s said or observed.
  • Discuss the observations with your coachee. Since the observations are neutral and objective, they are not open for discussion.
  • Tell your coachee how the observation made you feel: your feelings are also not open for discussion. Did he see that others felt the same? See if he can relate.
  • Focus on the result of the behaviour has on the group or meeting outcome and verify if that result was wanted.
  • Give the coachee time to process the feedback and put it in its context.
  • Look together for a possible improvement opportunity for the next meeting. Pick actions for it.

Additional reading

“Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” from Dr. Marshall Rosenberg

What to ask the person in the mirror” from Robert S. Kaplan

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