The Blurred Lines of Coaching Conversations

During my executive coaching certification, it was challenging to step into the role of coach and let go of roles that felt more comfortable. All people managers are coaches, whether or not they complete a certification. It is tricky to navigate the blurred lines between coaching and other supporting roles, or between professional and personal issues.

A coach is a different persona.  In your last 1:1 meeting, who did most of the talking?  Did your direct report talk 80% of the time?  If not, then you were likely playing one or more of these roles:

Teacher: provides instruction and shows you how to do things.

Mentor: shares their experience, providing guidance, wisdom and advice.

Consultant: offers specific expertise and often does the work for you.

Manager: ensures things are on track, focusing on tactical issues and execution.

All of these supporting personas are important, and all have elements of coaching.  To be an effective coach, we need to fight the urge to advise or rescue.  Putting these other personas aside and truly stepping into coach allows you to be present, ask powerful questions and provide observations.  In question-based coaching conversations people have the necessary space to explore topics, expand their awareness and consider new ways of being, thinking and working.  

We coach the whole person.  Roles aside, it is challenging for executive coaches and leaders to know where to draw lines between personal and professional topics.  While virtually all coaches are hired to address business issues, a Harvard Business Review study found that 76% of coaches also assisted executives with personal issues as well.  This makes sense to me, both as a coach and a leader.  While most of my coaching relationships start with professional issues, I believe in coaching the whole person.  Personal issues can become very relevant.  It is important to start with these blockers if they undermine a person’s performance.

Step into your coach persona.  I encourage you to try a true coach persona in your next 1:1. Maybe you focus on how the person is doing, explore their future plans or check in on their professional development.  Asking questions from a place of curiosity, giving them space to think and letting them do 80% of the talking is a departure from the way most leaders conduct 1:1s.  Park the tactical and be open to exploring personal issues.  See if you notice a different outcome from the conversation.  You’ll know where to draw the lines.

(originally posted at

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