Articles // February 16,2021

Coaching Crucial Conversations: Coaching at the interfaces that matter

By Venkataraman Subramanyan

The chain is only as strong as its weakest link – in Executive Coaching, I have realized that the weakest link is in the 4 interfaces that every “Leader as a Coach” needs to navigate:

⦁ Coaching to crucial conversations with their team members/peers/managers
⦁ Coaching their team as a group, to achieve better outcomes in team meetings
⦁ Coaching their clients and partners to unleash more value in the conversation
⦁ Coaching in Leadership settings that showcases gravitas and ability to manage up

Each of these interfaces provides a plethora of observations that helps the “Leader Coach” to “up their game”. In observing hundreds of such interactions over the past many years, I have distilled some basics that I hope would benefit many of you, as you aspire to become better leaders and coaches.

1. Every powerful meeting is 3 parts preparation, 1-part execution: It still amazes me how many leaders “wing” their meetings. If only they had the humility and the discipline to set aside some time for preparation, their coaching engagements could have had a multiplier impact. Simple anticipation and preparation around the other persons’ mindsets, beliefs, assumptions and their realities would go a long way in conducting the conversation better, in addition to guiding them to discover more within the coaching conversation.

2. The importance of sequencing SQ, EQ, IQ and XQ: If we understand how the human brain works, it then becomes easier for us to coach.

Safety Quotient, SQ – At the base of our brain lies the amygdala, also called the “survival brain” or the “reptilian brain”. This part of the brain has only 4 responses: fight, flight, freeze or flock. Understanding these responses is key for every “leader coach” to establish a “container of safety” within which their team could have an open and honest conversation. Without this SQ, the team only engages in superficial conversations that addresses only the visible portion of the proverbial iceberg.

Emotional Quotient, EQ – Just above the survival brain lies the limbic brain, which is the seat of emotions. For two people to have a meaningful conversation, the other person needs to feel understood, which is the root of empathy (EQ). The Leader Coach needs to proactively establish and demonstrate empathy within the conversation genuinely. This empathy goes a long way in building trust within the conversation and avoids “artificial harmony” in team settings

Intellectual Quotient (IQ) – Once safety and empathy is established, your role as a coach is to elicit the intellectual horsepower of your coachee. IQ is a two-way street with the coach demonstrating their IQ through the quality of their questions that allows the coachee to “stretch” their thinking. The best questions allow the coachee to discover their own solutions.

Execution Quotient (XQ) – The ability to maximize value within a time limit. XQ comes with preparation and experience – the ability of the “leader Coach” to demonstrate XQ is showcased when the coachee/customer/partner acknowledges that their time spent has been the best time spent in the last one month.

3. See with your eyes, hear with your ears, sense with your intuition: Our intuition tells the thinking mind what to do next – in Coaching, intuition plays a very important role to assess what truly is going on. It is not uncommon to see leaders “blunder on” in the conversation without really observing or reacting to the cues from the other person. This is especially true in customer/partner environments when the “leader Coach” is driven by their own agendas rather than that of the customer/partner. Building that curiosity to observe micro-expressions, and creating the space to react appropriately, has the potential to maximize a meaningful, powerful interaction

4. Building and leveraging some creative tension within the conversation: Future leaders walk towards fear, uncertainty and ambiguity. In order to get the best out of coaching conversations, “leader Coaches” need to build that element of tension in the conversation. This tension is created by the coach walking the coachee into their unknown, or by the conscious creation of conflict in the conversation to spur newer, better ways of thinking. Leveraging frameworks to “stretch” people’s thinking also creates tension. Creative tension is a Coach’s ally – it is their ability to create that “zone of discomfort” that creates the environment to achieve more in the coaching conversation.

5. Measuring the value of the Coach through the other party’s reactions and actions: I often reiterate to my coachees: “It is not about you and your smartness; it is all about them discovering and acting on their greatness”. The Leader Coach needs to stop measuring themselves through their actions but start measuring themselves through the reactions and actions taken by the Coachee. This is so applicable in sales as well – what actions did the customer take at the end of the call. It is the acknowledgements and the actions at the end of every meeting that showcases the value in the coaching conversation.

Leadership is a journey, and Coaching is the leaders’ engine to drive and sustain change. The pointers above are simplified, synthesized and sequenced from experience and I hope that you would put them to good use.

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