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Give ‘Em Some Space (For Possibilities)

A significant dimension of leadership is coaching… engaging in conversations that help others make the leap from where they are to where they want (or need) to be. Whether the focus is on correcting a performance problem, expanding capacity, improving relationships, or developing within one’s career, coaching is a powerful tool for supporting others as they grow, achieve, and realize their full potential.

Whether you’ve bspaceeen formally trained or have simply picked it up by watching others, you’ve likely learned about the ‘mechanics’ of coaching…. and that questions are the tools of the trade.  Effective coaches construct a conversation (or, more likely, a series of conversations) around insightful questions that help the other person reflect deeply, make important connections, and activate their own internal motivation to move forward.

The most successful coaches use these questions to drive higher levels of ownership and accountability.  They act as guides and facilitators, always deflecting responsibility for the answers and action back to the coachee.  They also act from a spirit of curiosity, offering a framework or structure but always allowing the conversation to evolve organically. And they are hyper-vigilant for cues that might indicate an idea or reservation… or another nook or cranny to be explored.

But there’s one other thing that best-in-class coaches do that frequently goes unnoticed to the casual observer. It’s an invisible but perhaps the most invaluable contribution a coach can make: Exceptional coaches hold the space for possibilities.

Let’s face it… change is hard. Depending upon your coaching focus, you may be supporting people in making significant adjustments to their approaches, relationships, working style, and behavioral habits. This doesn’t come naturally to everyone and for many the automatic response becomes, “I can’t do this!”

As a coach, you have the experience, perspective, and (perhaps most importantly) the objectivity required to recognize, highlight, explore, and throw a life-line to the opportunities for success. You can help override negative thinking, fear, immobilization, and other limiting emotions that get in the way of people making changes they really want in their lives.

Holding the space for possibilities means:

  • Helping people figure out even small steps that move them forward and toward their unique and self-determined definitions of success. Small victories generate confidence – in one’s self and in the fact that change is actually possible.
  • Reminding people of their intentions. Even the best goals and action plans can be obscured by the blur of day-to-day priorities and challenges that pile up on employees. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and let the ‘urgent’ overtake the ‘important’. But a coach can gently jog someone’s memory and quickly help them return to the path of possibility.
  • Participating in problem solving.  Perhaps it’s one of Murphy’s lesser-known laws… but it seems that the surest way to find a roadblock is to generate a plan. Problems and challenges are an eternal feature of the landscape of change.  And for someone who’s struggling to find the energy required to overcome the inertia of staying put, these problems can make change look like an impossibility. But a coach can anticipate these challenges and respond quickly when they emerge to help the employee see beyond the roadblock and imagine solutions, opportunities, and possibilities that might otherwise have been overlooked.

The questions, curiosity, and all of the mechanics of coaching are important… but what’s happening between the words is also critical.  In today’s hyper-busy world, it’s challenging to stay focused, keep one’s eye on the goal, and maintain momentum toward it. Holding the space for possibilities is virtually invisible; yet it reframes reality for others, helping them imagine and envision ways to make the changes they’ve set out for themselves.

What about you?  What do you do as a coach that holds the space for possibilities for others?

Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

This post originally appeared at LeadChange Group.

6 comments on “Give ‘Em Some Space (For Possibilities)

  1. Lisa on

    Lovely article Julie, and absolutely where my heart is with coaching, allowing the silences, the painful head scratching moments, the ‘I don’t know’…….. which after time release the ‘aha’ moments – some more easily than others.

  2. Peter Moore on

    Congratulations Julie – a complete training program in one blog!
    In the context of your last post, “Symbolic leadership,” these coaching actions/attitudes/commitments are a key need of people, in part or whole, from all those in “leadership” roles. And primarily, coaching’s sacrificial aspect, that of one’s time sacrificed. (“Leadership demands time” – Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.) In that perspective your post highlights coaching’s importance as a one-on-one as well as a company-wide bonding factor.
    Hats off to all you coaches, in your essential roles equal to any others in your company’s leadership!

    • Julie Winkle Giulioni on

      So great to hear from you, Peter. It’s been a while. I am so impressed by your ability to weave together different threads the way you have here. And thank you for raising the issue of time. We know that it’s among a leader’s scarcest of resources. Yet, it’s the intelligent invest of that time in people that propels individuals and organizations forward. Thanks for being part of this conversation, Peter!

  3. Sarah Lee on

    Thank you for all the pointers in this article! I’m new with managing a team, and these coaching tips are so useful. This article reminds me on how I would love to be coached by my leader, and I’m encouraged and informed to do the same for my team.


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