Coaching – Growing the Relationship

Lisa Arcemont, Instructor

“Our traditional organizations are designed to provide for the first three levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs: food, shelter and belonging…The ferment in management will continue until organizations begin to address the higher order needs: self-respect and self-actualization.” ~  Bill O’Brien in Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline

Leaders actively seek ways to provide greater decision-making authority and responsibility for their employees by developing capable, self-confident teams. This is achieved by having the faith to let other people lead. Acting as coaches, they help others learn how to use their skills and talents, as well as learn from their experience (Goldsmith, Lyons and Freas, 2000). In developing the coaching relationship, leaders make the lasting difference. After all, it really is about the relationship. Not convinced….answer these statements:

  • Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
  • Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer prize.
  • List five teachers who had the greatest influence on you.
  • Name six people who have made you feel appreciated or special.

Which ones were easier to answer? I’m guessing but I would say probably the last two. The people who make a difference in our lives are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones who care. This is why the coaching relationship between leader and protégé is so very crucial in organizations today (Kouzes and Posner, 2002).

Coaching is a comprehensive way of linking employees to each other in your organization. The coaching relationship can inspire protégés to greater achievement partially because of the quality of the relationship with their coach. Because of the uniqueness of the coaching relationship, the person being coached is better motivated to accomplish goals for the good of the organization. Therefore, a key advantage of coaching is that it generates new possibilities for action and facilitates breakthroughs in performance (Dubrin, 2009). These breakthroughs can only occur through continual communication throughout the process between the coach and the protégé.

It is a good idea for coaches to begin the coaching process with the point that the conversation is not a witch hunt and that you are not looking for someone to blame. Instead, the goal is to find structural solutions to issues. Blame would only shift the focus away from the issue that really needs to be dealt with. Setting the right atmosphere and using a non-judgmental style are also key in coaching conversations. Whether their office or yours, informal venue in the lounge or a more formal meeting arrangement at the board room table, a coach needs to give careful thought to the setting for a conversation (Stanfield, 2000).

In most cases, coaching conversations can be a tool for raising the level of responsibility of the protégé as well as the person coaching. First and foremost, asking the right questions is the most important tool in developing the relationship. The coach needs to let the questions do the work and emphasize the objective cause of a problem and what need to be done to fix it (Stanfield, 2000). With some employees, the mere chance to talk about their situation clarifies it enough for them to be able to move ahead and address the issue.

A sample coaching conversation could include some of the following:


I remember you told me the other day that you were going to work with XYZ team on a joint project. I am very interested in how it went. Do you mind talking about it?


  • What is the problem you are dealing with?
  • What is your role?
  • What skills are you using and how much time does it take to accomplish?
  • What’s the mood with the group about the project?
  • Why might that be?
  • Where is the breakthrough needed?
  • What will enable the project to move forward?
  • How might you help them?
  • What other things could you try?
  • What resources do you think you’ll need?
  • What will you need to do next?
  • How can I help?


This is a very interesting issue you are dealing with. If there is any way I can help out, please let me know. I wonder if you might find it helpful to talk to (name) to assist you (Stanfield, 2000).

For most conversations, pick only applicable questions. You certainly wouldn’t want a protégé to think the conversation was an inquisition or interrogation. It is also important to first say why you are holding the conversation so that they don’t think you are prying into their work or setting them up for a layoff. The right questions and conversations may also make the employee willing to talk about what they do openly and comfortably. It takes considerable courage to decide to initiate these conversations, but in the long run, the payoff will be rewarding and valuable for the protégé and also the person coaching (Stanfield, 2000).

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