The most common question I hear from managers just starting to shift from manager to coach is, “How do I recognize where it is they need and could benefit from the coaching most?”
Actually, covering the specifics of what you can coach someone on, from a tactical perspective, is the easy part. It’s uncovering the who or the often very elusive and limiting thinking or outlook they have which is ultimately showing up in their actions and behavior that is the tricky part. Demonstrating this ability is a true testament of a gifted, exceptional coach, and I’m going to share with you how to develop it on your own.
Regardless of the topic, skill, problem, or mindset you’ve identified as a possible focal point in your coaching, there is one model that’s always applicable in every coaching scenario. It also happens to be the very thing each coaching opportunity has in common: The Gap. The Gap is the space that exists between where the client or coachee is today and where they want or need to be.
The Gap is the space that exists between the following:
- What people know (current knowledge, philosophies, assumptions, stories, outlooks, beliefs, etc.) and what they don’t know or don’t realize is possible
- What people need to do: the activity that supports their goals yet they are still not doing
- The resources and skills they have and the ones they don’t
Imagine a bridge for a moment. Picture yourself standing on one side of the bridge. You focus your vision on the other side of the bridge, which is the location you want to get to. Think about what you need to do to get to the other side. Consider the resources needed to arrive at your desired destination in the shortest amount of time and with the least amount of risk or error. Reaching the other side is your goal or your destination. What might you need to fill in this gap, this void that exists between you and your goal? What is needed?
You need a car if you want to get to your destination as fast as possible. You need fuel as the resource needed to get your car moving. You need a clear path that would help you arrive at your destination with the least amount of delays, obstructions, diversions, and wrong turns. Identifying these resources (which we did through the use of inquiry, just like when you’re coaching) provides definition, structure, and an executable strategy, which collectively evolved into an actionable and comprehensive solution to this situation.
Rather than assume what you think your staff already knows, start determining what they need to know in order to fill in this gap and ensure clear communication. You’ll increase your awareness and become more sensitized to what the other person needs to learn and what opportunities there are for coaching.
Instead of sharing what you perceive to be the solution to a problem before understanding the person’s specific needs, recognize The Gap in every coaching conversation or situation with your staff. It will help you become more aware of how important it is to invest the time to uncover their specific concerns, requests, or needs that exists in the space we now refer to as The Gap. For example, if you want to learn how to play golf and you’re going to take the game seriously, one of the first things you’re going to do is find a great teacher or enroll in a golf training class. You find someone who can show you the mechanics of the game, teach you the game, and help you develop your own swing. Since you’ve never done this before, you need to be shown how to do it. More than just being shown the basics and fundamentals, you want to be shown the very best way to do it, and you want to be taught by a champion. This is the training aspect to learning the game and the time to identify and develop the best practices for playing.
Now some time has passed and you’ve learned the basics. You are out on the golf course playing consistently. You’ve taken what you learned from the golf teacher and are doing your best to apply it. However, you notice you’re only getting so far. While your score has improved since you’ve started playing, you’ve capped out and can’t seem to shoot better than a 90, the score you’ve been shooting constantly.
Since you are ready to take your game to the next level, you now go and find yourself a great golf coach. Distinct from what a teacher does, your coach is going to find out what and where you want to improve. Your coach is going to uncover where you want to be in terms of how well you want to play the game. What do you ultimately want to shoot? That’s the measurable end result or destination we’re going to use as our gauge for winning. To get a good sense of where you are now, your golf coach is going to watch you swing a club and even play a few holes. That’s the barometer to measure and identify where you are today.
What this coach has just done is identify your Gap, that is, where you are now in comparison to where you want to be (a golfer who shoots in the high 70s.) A teacher is going to show you how to do something; something you’ve never done before or tried before in a consistent manner. A teacher or trainer is going to provide you with a foundation, a process, a benchmark of best practices to give you a starting point in relation to where you would begin on your path of development.
A coach, however, is going to show you how to do what you are doing even better. First, the coach would need to see how you swing a club. Then the benefits of coaching are recognized and apparent when the coach watches from the sidelines seeing the things that you as the player cannot and gently tweaks and refines your game and approach to the point where you’ve made it your own.
Coaching is the discipline managers use to leverage all of your salespeople’s individual strengths and talents, to keep them on top of their game, and to recognize their fullest potential today, rather than being seduced by what could be tomorrow.
Keith Rosen is an executive sales coach, speaker, and best-selling author of many books, including Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions. He was named one of the five most respected and influential executive coaches in the country by Inc. magazine and Fast Company. He can be contacted at 516-771-1444, email@example.com, or his Web site.