The Coach’s Playbook

At its core, coaching is a fusion of questions that open doors, deep listening, and keen observation used to help people find their own answers. It’s based on the belief that the best way forward lies within us, and that learning is more powerful and sticky when we figure things out for ourselves. And, we really don’t like to be told what to do… even when we ask to be told what to do. Just hang out with any two-year-old.

Two ears, one mouth 

To kindle self-generated learning, coaching programs teach some form of the GROW model. The teller and fixer in you are banished. Your listener, asker, and observer start running the show. The Berkeley Executive Coaching Program (BECI) teaches the T-GROW model:  

Topic: What’s most important to work on?
Goal: What does success look like?
Reality: Where are you now? What’s the context?
Options + obstacles: What can you do to get there? What’s in the way?
Way forward: What actions will you commit to? By when?

Imagine someone at work stops in, and asks you for some quick help:

What’s up?  

So much! I have a presentation on Friday I’m stressing about and it’s important. My project team seems to be imploding, and I’m having trouble with finance again. They’re all over me for numbers.

OK, that’s a lot. Let’s see if I’ve got this right: you have a presentation on Friday you’re worried about, your project team is imploding, and finance is after you for numbers. Did I get that right?

Ya, except I guess the project team isn’t really imploding. A couple of them aren’t talking to each other and it’s causing problems. There’s a lot of heat.  

OK, what’s most important right now? 

Hmm. Good question. I guess my presentation is most pressing.

OK, let’s focus on that. If you crush the presentation, what will have happened?

Um, I’ll have a clear set of slides for the project I’m proposing, I’ll be able to answer any questions, and I’ll get the green light to get started.

Sounds pretty straightforward. What’s in the way? 

I’m really jammed and don’t have any time. The decision makers have different perspectives and I’m not sure how to address them. I’m doing this alone and feel like I need some help.

OK, what could you do?

I think I can block a couple of hours out on my calendar in next few days if I reschedule some meetings to next week.

What else can you do?

I need to put a financial model together, and come to think of it, it would probably be a good idea to team up with someone from engineering to get their perspective. That would really help.


Surjit is always willing to help, and he’s super smart and knows the people I’ll be presenting to.   

OK, so, you’re going to move some things around on your calendar, block out time, and reach out to Surjit? 


When? What are you going to do right now? 

I’m already in my calendar moving things around, and I’m going to send an email to Surjit right after. 

Thanks! This really helped!

Try this at home

Vish and I met in the BECI program a few years ago and clicked. We coach each other regularly, and before we get down to work each session, we catch up. He recently shared a story about his son that captures the real magic of coaching.

Twelve-year-old Chetan was training for the Los Angeles Fire Department Junior Lifeguard Program. To join, he had to complete 4 lengths of a pool (100 meters) in 1 minute 40 seconds. With just two weeks to go and after months of a prep program, he was 13 seconds from passing, and not improving. Vish didn’t know much about swimming, but he knew a thing or two about coaching. He took Chetan to the pool and followed the coach’s playbook: "What time do you want to hit? How are you going to get there? What do you need to work on? What are three things that you want to focus on right now?" Chetan thought and picked three things: 1. Breathing more consistently on both sides, 2. Cupping his hands better, and 3. Looking down at the bottom of the pool. He wanted to break 1 minute 45 seconds. Within just 10 minutes, he hit 1 minute 40 seconds. Vish asked him what went well, what didn’t, and provided a few of his own observations. Chetan added on a better way to turn. After some practice, he clocked 1 min 30 seconds! He repeated his time the next day and went on to pass the test at 1 minute 34 seconds. 

He’s now starting his Junior Lifeguard Program.

Sunday Morning Reflection

If you feel telling and fixing coming on in a conversation, try to ask a question instead, and listen.
Above all, as Bill and Dave from Designing Your Life say, “Don’t ‘should’ on anyone.” Try to go a whole day without using that word! Even, and maybe especially, if it’s self-directed.

Sunday Morning: 114