My Best Coaching Lesson Ever

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Raise your right hand. Now, pat the top of your head with your hand. Now, put your hand on your right ear. Now touch your nose. Now touch your chin. Now put your hand down.

Were you able to easily comply with my instructions? When I do this exercise in a seminar, I find I usually get 100 percent compliance! Everyone in the group is able to follow my directions. And then I ask the key question: Why were you able to comply with my directions?

After a few moments, participants begin to share their answers: “Because you were clear with your directions.” “Because we know the difference between our right and left hand.” “Because we all know what a hand, ear, nose and chin are.” And of course, all those are right answers.

The point that I make is that to be effective in coaching people, we have to start with some common language and definitions. I then ask these questions:

  • What is the definition of “good” customer service?
  • What does it mean to put in a “good” day of work?
  • What does being “on time” really mean?
  • Does everyone in your organization share the same language and definition around these important concepts?

Unfortunately, the answer to that last question is no. Because people were raised differently, have different values, and have unique life experiences, each of us has our own definition around those concepts. For example, some people believe that to be “on time,” they need to arrive at least 15 minutes early. Others believe that 8:00 means 8:00. And still others believe that 8:00 means that as long as I get there by 8:15, I will be okay.

The most important lesson I’ve learned about coaching is that the coach (manager, parent, teacher, etc.) needs to be clear about what his/her standards are. What does “good” look like? What does being “on time” really mean? What is the definition of an acceptable day’s work?

When you have an employee who is not performing up to the standards, the first question to ask yourself is: “Have I shared with him/her what the standards are – have I defined what “good” looks like?” This idea has become my most important learning in coaching people. Until we define what “good” looks like, it is impossible for people to know if they are operating according to our standards. As we teach in our Coaching with Confidence program, “If you don’t have a goal, you are not coaching, you are meddling!” Good coaches clearly define the vision, values, goals and standards of the project first, in order to coach effectively.

So here are my Ten Best Coaching Tips, based on my experiences with people:

  1. Identify the vision, values, goals and standards of the project. Let people know what “good” looks like.
  2. Recognize good performance. “When you see it, say it!”

“Joe, I’ve noticed you’ve been at your desk taking calls by 8 a.m. every day this week – thanks, and keep up the good work.”)

  1. Confront poor performance. Remember that “what I allow, I teach!”

“Joe, I noticed that you came in 15 minutes late yesterday. Remember, I need you here at 8 a.m. every day, ready to take calls. Is there any problem with you being able to meet that standard?”

  1. Coach for values as well as results. How you do it is as important as what you do!
  2. Be specific in describing behaviors and/or words. What did you see or hear?
  3. Become a confidant to others. Help them discover their own best solutions, because “people don’t argue with their own data!”
  4. Motivate people in the direction you/they want to go, rather than away from what you/they want. “What I really want is …,” or “What do you really want?”
  5. Help people recognize the impact of their behavior. “When you do this, the result is…!”
  6. Use consequence statements for managing very difficult behavior. “When you do this, this will be the result!”
  7. Remember the difference between managing and coaching. Managing is about “getting things done,” while coaching is about “growing people while getting things done”!

Take the following survey by answering yes or no to these questions. If your answer to two or more questions is “no,” please call us for some help on turning your managers into effective coaches.


                                                            Coaching Survey

1.Our managers know the difference between coaching and managing.

2. Our coaches/managers know how to confront poor performance.

3. We do a good job of recognizing excellent performance – we know how to acknowledge it correctly.

4. Our coaches/managers have a plan to effectively facilitate and resolve conflict between employees.

5. We understand the five key roles of coaches and how to carry them out.

About the author: Rich Meiss has played a key role in the Human Resource profession since 1972, holding executive positions with Personal Dynamics Institute, Carlson Learning Company and now The Bob Pike Group. Rich presents many of the BPG public courses and does in-house seminars as well including Coaching with Confidence. To get more information or to schedule an in-house program, call BPG at 1-800-383-9210 or email us at

Copyright Meiss Education Institute, 2003. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.



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