From Fix-It approach to Leader as a Coach approach

Once upon a time, I began my career by developing my expertise within a specific domain. Doing my job well meant having the right answers. Once I proved myself that way, I managed to rise up the corporate ladder and move into a leadership role. And I had to ensure that all my team members had those same answers.

I remember many one to one meetings where my team members shared a challenge they were facing. How did I approach it?

  • as soon as I identified the problem, I jumped straight to fix it.

  • giving advice based on my own experience – I made assumptions that what they experienced and what they felt was the same to my experience

  • suggesting solutions – before understanding the real problem I started offering solutions. Many times it felt like a ping pong game.

There were times I had so much on my plate, but I didn’t delegate. My motto was: "If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.”

Reviewing someone else’s work, providing feedback and asking them to make adjustments takes time. To speed it up, I thought it was better if I "just do it myself".

When I was promoted into a leadership role, I battled the imposter syndrome. Whenever someone approached me with a challenge, that negative self-talk kicked in and I started thinking: "I need to solve this problem for them now. If I don’t, they will think I am not a good leader.” As a result I often overworked myself solving team member’s problems.

The wake up call came when we did 360 feedback survey and my team members scored me low on engagement and supporting their professional and personal growth.

My 'Aha' moment

My ‘Aha’ moment arrived when I was attending a coaching training. One of the modules covered how we coach someone from our own map of the world and that the map is not the territory. It is simply a way we choose to interpret a certain set of information.

I grew up with a believe that there is a right and a wrong, a black and a white. And then when I met other people, people from other backgrounds, cultures, people with different believes and opinions, my view of what is right and wrong was challenged. Suddenly there were different shades of grey (in case you are thinking of a certain book here, this is not that kind of a post 😉). We all have different maps of reality. These maps are made up of our experiences, values, what we have learned, beliefs and many more things.

With help of this training and powerful questioning, I have increased my self-awareness and got to know my map of the world better. I realized that by adopting fix-it approach, I was expecting everyone in my team to follow my map of the world and as a results I denied them opportunities for growth. This was an eye opener for me. I needed to put my map aside and spend time understand their map of the world

The alternative - Leader as a Coach

Here are my 10 tips to move from Fix-It approach to Leader as a Coach approach:

  1. Face up to it – recognize and acknowledge your behavior, your fix-it mindset and the impact it has on the team in order to change it.

  2. Express your intention – inform your team about your learning and intentions to try a different approach, so they are not surprised when suddenly your approach changes.

  3. Listen to learn and understand – think of yourself as a sounding board, rather than a Magic-8 ball. Step away from providing answers, be more curious. Move towards offering your team members independence and trust that they will come up with a solution.

  4. Think questions, not solutions – ask questions that lead the employee toward solving their own problems, instead of giving them your solution. Open-ended questions will increase engagement and your team members will be able to brainstorm their own solutions.

  5. Get comfortable with silence – it is hard, but suppress any urges to chime in. Even if there is uncomfortable silence. Silence can be a really good thing and it allows your team members to think and work out what to do. You will be amazed what they come up with when you sit through the uncomfortable silence.

  6. When asked a question, ask a question back – when your team members come to you with a specific question for example: “How should I solve this problem?” This is your opportunity to ask them “ How do you think this can be solved?” This creates a great learning opportunity for them and many times they will come up with better solutions that you would have given them.

  7. Pause – when you feel the need to give an advice or a solution, pause for a second. Instead of formulating an advice, formulate a question or ask for their input and opinion.

  8. Commit to continuous learning – show interest in the team members growth and success. Ask questions about their aspirations and how they see their role evolving in the company. Some of them may not have the answers yet, but these questions will encourage them to think about their future.

  9. Make time to reflect – reflect and analyses how you did on a daily basis. Have you had any teaching moments? Did you learn something new? Did anything surprise you? Were there any challenges that you faced and what are the ways to improve them?

  10. Be patient – be patient with yourself and ask for support from your team. You won’t always get it right. Practice and ask your team for feedback, that will help you hone your coaching skills.

Benefits of Leader as a Coach Approach

Moving away from Fix-it to a Leader as a Coach approach helped to bring out the best in me and in my team members.

  • Increased creativity and innovation - the questions we ask generated plenty of new ideas and lead us to explore new and more effective ways of doing things

  • Increased confidence - all team members believed in themselves more as they realized that they have all the answers and solutions and can achieve success

  • Increased trust - by being so open and vulnerable, I allowed the team members to be open and vulnerable too. They appreciated the fact that we are all human and we all make mistakes and that is okay, as long as we learn from them.

  • Independence - instead of always seeking guidance and consulting me, they were able to solve challenges on their own. And when help was needed, they used the coaching approach to come up with solutions together as a team

  • Ownership - the team took ownership of their solutions they came up with, which increased accountability across the team.

  • Increased engagement and satisfaction - adapting Leader as a Coach approach was a huge step toward strengthening the relationships between me and the team members, which resulted in more engagement, as everyone felt valued and took pride in their work.

It takes practice to not jump in and fix things but to coach. Stop fixing and start leading and coaching. You will empower your team members to reach new heights, appreciate them for what they have to offer and create opportunities for them to grow.

I wish you all the best on your leadership journey!

- Mirka