Coach Me Subtly

drivingI was in England to assist with a training session for hotel reservation department managers. The night before my presentation, I dozed off with the television in my room on a 24-hour news station. My dreams were influenced by my subconscious mind, which heard the same stories repeated all night long, and when I awoke, I was certain that the UK government had announced that it would accede to a European Union demand that the country immediately start driving on the right side of the road to conform to the practice followed by the rest of the continent.

Can you imagine what would happen had this been true? The nation’s drivers would need to swap lanes overnight. Street signs and markings would be misleading. Pedestrians, trained to look right for oncoming traffic would be gravely imperiled. The carnage resulting from the ensuing chaos would be unimaginable.

It was only a dream, of course, but it represents what we ask people to do when we provide training, then expect them to change the way they do things overnight. When it doesn’t happen, or when change comes too slowly, we begin looking for something to blame for the perceived failure. We ignore the fact that training rarely brings rapid and radical course changes. It’s all about creating behavioral change, and changing behavior takes time, patience, and reinforcement.

Behavioral change requires coaching. In my view, subtle coaching is highly effective. Rather than dictating rules or repeating training, a subtle coach guides team members to think, to question, and to be motivated to accept and embrace their own behavioral change.

coaching-1In short, a coach LEADS:

  • Listens. Banish your own ideas of why the team member has fallen short. Ask what they feel they do well – and where they need improvement. They know, and it’s probably the same areas that you’ve identified. Allowing your team member suggest the answers, though, puts them in a more receptive place. Ask simply follow-up questions like “Why?” and “How do you feel about that?” These questions help them to think critically.
  • Educates. Once a team member identifies an issue, provide tips on how to change that are drawn from the training and that have been proven to work. Then ask for buy-in: “Does that make sense to you?”    
  • Assesses. Track the team member’s progress regularly. Look for improvements following the coaching session, and be vigilant for slippage as old habits reassert themselves. Assessment is a continuous process, and will provide excellent insight into whether the team member will ultimately make the needed change or not.    
  • Develops. Encourage your team to share their successes and to discuss what they’ve learned. A quick meeting energizes a team, refreshes training points, and generates top-of-mind enthusiasm for change.
  • Supports. Make team members aware that you’re following their progress. Praise success, and provide additional short coaching sessions to answer questions and provide guidance.

The adage that “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” is true of training as well. Under duress, we can make immediate changes, but long-lasting change comes from within. Ingrained habits, procedures and behaviors take time to change – and great coaches take the time to lead, subtly, until the horse realizes that it was thirsty all along.


Scott H. Lewis is managing director for Ukraine and the CIS for Signature Europe. A former journalist and public relations counselor, he has provided crisis, public speaking and presentation training to senior executives across Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. He is the author of “60 Seconds to ‘Wow!’,” a book on presentation skills. An American, he has lived in Kyiv, Ukraine for 16 years

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