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When is the Best Time to Coach?

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in Remarkable Leadership with Kevin Eikenberry

Have you ever heard the old quotation, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”? It has a Zen-like quality to it, and inside those few words is the answer to the question posed in my title. 

The best time to coach is when the student is ready. At that moment of readiness we are most open to new ideas, most aware of our shortfalls, and most desirous of improvement. This is the coachable moment.

The quotation implies that the teacher will appear. I’m suggesting you take a more proactive approach – make sure you appear.

If the coachable moment is such a valuable time, it is worth a few minutes to understand it so we as leaders and coaches can be most effective in helping others learn and grow. That few minutes is now.

What is the Coachable Moment?

Hint – it isn’t likely on the day of the annual performance review.

We have all experienced this moment. It is a moment after a disappointment or defeat. It is after we have fallen off the bike for the fifth time and our elbows and knees are sore. It is when we feel like we have tried everything and haven’t improved.

In short, it is when we ourselves recognize we have a need and we don’t know how to solve it ourselves – or we want it so badly. For one or more of these reasons, we are truly open to new ideas.

We have all been there and when we are there, we are ready for coaching – we are seeking it out. Wouldn’t that be a great time to coach someone?

How Do I Recognize It?

Here are some ways to recognize this magical learning moment in others:

  1. Be aware. To recognize the moment in others, we first need to understand what it feels like. Take a minute to think of times when you have been there as a student/learner. Remember how it feels to you.
  2. Be watching. If you don’t look for these moments, you won’t notice them.
  3. Be present. If you are around your folks and in tune with them, you won’t miss these moments.

In other words, pay attention to your folks, both what they are saying and what they aren’t saying. If you are doing these things, you will see these moments.

How Do I Use It?

When this magical moment arrives, you want to be ready. While people want insight and assistance, the most powerful learning always comes with the “A-ha!” or the personal discovery. Knowing that gives you the chance to make your coaching in the moment even more powerful. Make it your goal to aid in the personal discovery by:

  • Asking more questions.
  • Helping them reflect on what is happening, what hasn’t worked, and why they want to improve.
  • Providing your insights when asked (in this coachable moment you will be asked) – but not until after you yourself have asked questions to help them reflect.

Then, once new ideas and insights have been found, help them build a plan to implement what they learned.

This process could take three minutes or 30 minutes. It is basic coaching on steroids, because of the openness of the person being coached.

If you want to be a more effective and impactful coach, understand, look for and use the coachable moment – it is the ultimate way to leverage learning for improvement.

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