So, how do I actually coach?

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The ARROW sequence
The ARROW sequence

There is an abundance of advice on my site and elsewhere that establishes the personal skills necessary to become an effective coaching manager. It might be useful to examine how these interpersonal skills can be applied within a simple and practical framework.

Coaching is typically a one to one activity, and managers usually coach their juniors, although they might also coach whole teams, peer groups and even themselves. Managers are seen as good potential coaches because of their experience and expertise. However, just as in sport, it is not necessary for the coach to have better technical skills than the learner. In fact, it can be a serious disadvantage. What is essential is a range of interpersonal skills including good listening, questioning and feedback skills, and the ability to encourage people to think for themselves. The manager also needs an understanding of different learning and personality styles, the ability to build rapport, and self-awareness.

Many of you will be familiar with the widely used GROW model as a means of channelling these sorts of skills and qualities into an effective coaching session. Although I’m going to outline a slightly amended sequence later, no serious treatment of the subject of coaching can ignore GROW so…

The framework provides a simple four-step structure for a coaching session. During the first step of the session (Goal), coach and coachee agree on a specific topic and objective for the discussion. During the second step (Reality), both coach and coachee invite self-assessment and offer specific examples to illustrate their points. They then move into the third step (Options) where suggestions are offered and choices made. And finally (Will), the coach and coachee commit to action, define a timeframe for their objectives and identify how to overcome possible obstacles.

For my book Coaching at Work (John Wiley & Sons 2006) I replaced GROW with ARROW – with Aims instead of Goals and a Reflection stage after Reality – because I sensed many coaches were using GROW on auto-pilot and I wanted to be sure my readers would think about the model. These days I use both ARROW and GROW depending on what my client prefers. However, either of these models – or any of the many others are simply mnemonics, they are not cure alls, and neither are they the be all and end all of coaching The use of GROW or ARROW without the context of raising awareness, generating responsibility and building trust has little value and coaching in this way may cause more problems than it solves. All coaching frameworks must be used in context. Indeed, in research carried out by the Industrial Society the key components of coaching training programmes were cited as active listening (80%), questioning (75%), providing actionable feedback (72%) and facilitating (63%).

It is also worth stressing that the context in which the coaching takes place is all important too. Management writer Christopher Orpen suggested that coaching managers should:

  • Coach on a regular, not annual basis
  • Recognise how their own management might be affecting the situation
  • Provide alternative examples when coaching
  • Focus on behaviours, not attributes; and
  • Use positive reinforcement wherever possible
Matt Somers

Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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