Worn running shoes

Time to Intervene?

Coaches are more than someone lurking over your shoulder watching your every move.  The goal of coaching is to MAKE A DIFFERENCE in someone’s or some group’s life. To make a difference, coaches need to intervene.  The goal of any intervention is to change behavior to fulfill the coachee’s development plan (this is why agreeing up front to what you want to accomplish is a big deal). Changing behavior requires some combination of:

  1. Trying new behaviors and getting feedback,
  2. Building and trying new skills,
  3. Participating in training,
  4. Enhancing relationships with the right people
  5. Seeking out mentors to grow the whole person, and
  6. Accepting input from stakeholders on goals and behaviors.

Assuming a coach is empowered and the time is right to intervene, deciding on the type of intervention is the final step before acting. By definition, all interventions require the coach to interact intimately with those they are coaching and the coachee to cede some level of autonomy to the coach.  A coachee that cedes too much autonomy will potentially end up dependent or codependent (neither are generally in the coaching agreement). When a coach swings into action he/she needs to sort through the four basic types of interventions to select the right option.

Option One:
Ignoring occurs when a coach looks the other way.  Ignoring any behavior lets the coachee interpret the environmental feedback to behavior using their own bias.  Ignoring is intervention through the use of negative space. I ignored my standard poodle’s interaction with the cats that lived in my garage.  Jax, the poodle, learned that cats were not very fun. The interactions were low risk and delivered feedback that was hard to ignore. Ignoring behaviors allows a coach not to seem like a nag. Ignoring makes sense when the action and consequence of the actions are low risk but hard to misinterpret.

Option Two:
Nudging draws attention to an action or behavior without being overly overt. Nudging is a favorite of agile coaches because it provides guidance in a manner that lets the coachee provide most of the energy in the intervention.  Occasionally my poodle likes to fly around the yard, running with great abandon. Occasionally the yard is also populated by children. In this case, I sometimes have to step in front of the children in the yard to provide a visual nudge to the dog so he will decide to veer around the children rather than trying to leap over them. The nudge involves more energy than just ignoring the dog (note he has never run into the kids even without the nudge – I just worry) from the coach and from the coachee. In the business world, nudges can include a raised eyebrow, a wink, or a question that changes the subject.  A nudge allows the coach to quietly interact with the coachee in a manner that allows them to take a breath and change direction without making it apparent to outsiders that they are being coached.

Option Three:
Pushing is a more direct application of force to change the coachee’s behavior.  The need to push a coachee should be rare. I recently sat in a meeting where a manager told a team, “I am not telling you to do the work a certain way but I sure would.”  The message was clear and while the team could have ignored the implied direction it would have taken a significant amount of energy and will. A few years ago I was coaching an individual who had the propensity to tell people everything he knew, every time he was asked a question. Early in the relationship, we had to agree that we would do several low-risk presentations and I would provide advice through an earphone.  When he ran on (and on and on) I would move from nudge (clearing my throat) to a push (I would say “wrap it up”). Tape review and practice answering questions followed so that he could identify the clues in the audience that they were losing attention.

Option Four:
Shoving is the most direct and energetic form of intervention and should be reserved for extreme situations.  My dog likes to play with other animals, including the skunks that occasionally visit my yard. I have tackled Jax twice to stop him from trying to get the skunks to play with him. Early in my career, I witnessed a sales manager lock a drunk salesperson in his office to stop him from yelling at a customer that canceled an order — definitely a shove in all senses of the word.  Coaches should VERY rarely find themselves in a scenario where they have to actually or metaphorically tackle their client but they need to have the option. The act of shoving changes the power balance in the coaching relationship and can cause the coachee to become subservient to the coach. Note – in my opinion, if a coach believes that this type of scenario is possible they need to help a coachee head off the situation before push comes to shove. Small changes (nudges) early are more effective than waiting and hoping the coachee will learn by experience.

Many coaches jump from observing to action at the drop of the hat.  Siraj Sirauddin of Temenos+Agility suggested that coaches pause before acting in a response to Coaching: Six Modes of Operation last week.  Anthony Mersino of Vitality Chicago, stated that coaches often act too quickly.  Action is needed to shape change. But before you act, think.  In the end, remember that not acting is a soft form of intervention. All interventions should be done with your eyes open.