Becoming a Better Coach

This page is about being a better coach.  However, if you are interested in what a Lean-Agile Coach needs to know, go here.

Hi. This section has been mostly written by me, Al Shalloway, founder and CEO of Net Objectives. I'm living proof that good coaches can be made, as I used to be very bad as a coach. I even wrote a blog (on becoming a coach) about this to help others. This section includes some of my own personal lessons learned as well as recommended resources. I am a firm believer that if someone wants to serve as a coach, they can learn to be a good one. Don't be fooled into thinking it's a gift you are born with. Other coaches at Net Objectives that seem to be natural have confessed to me they weren't always as good as they are now. Since coaching often involves speaking in front of groups, I've put together a page called Becoming a better speaker.

Check out What to say when someone just doesn't get it, a short treatise on how to talk to people to create learning.

Also see the Instructor/Coach Attitude Checklist by Scott Bain. A good list of important concepts to consider before starting a course or a coaching session with any group or individual.

While Trim Tabs and Pickup Sticks was written more for how to create curriculum, it is an essential part of coaching; finding what's essential and the order to convey that in.

Our collection of resources on Coaching under Personal Development.

Basic Concepts to Know
Book Recommendations
Making Better Presentations
Course On Transition Management
Personality Profiles 
Brian Johnson's Philosopher's Notes

Basic Concepts to Know

Fundamental Attribution Error. The fundamental attribution error describes the tendency to over-value character-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors. The fundamental attribution error is most visible when people explain the behavior of others. It does not explain interpretations of one's own behavior—where situational factors are often taken into consideration. This discrepancy is called the actor–observer bias.

As a simple example, if Alice saw Bob trip over a rock and fall, Alice might consider Bob to be clumsy or careless (dispositional). If Alice later tripped over the same rock herself, she would be more likely to blame the placement of the rock (situational).

An example more relevant to our field is the continual explaining away of the failure of Scrum to the lack of commitment, motivation or discipline of the people involved.

People have different learning and behavioral styles. Check out the Myers-Briggs test and the DISC Profile. People do not think, learn or behave the same. There are patterns that are helpful to be aware of.

Explain things from the person you are talking to's perspective. We all too often explain things as if they are real and all we need to do is describe them. The truth is that our understanding of things live in how we speak about them. If someone is unfamiliar with certain concepts, they will filter what you say into their view of the world first. They will actually never hear what your intention is. You must speak from their perspective so they can build up what you mean from their own concepts.


Book Recommendations

There are many good books on coaching.

On Being a Better Coach

This list is more about fundamental attitudes that a coach will find useful. These are a few that have helped me the best.

The Power of Losing Control by Joe Caruso. The essence of this book is that people will only do what's in their best interest and what makes them right. I firmly believe this. As a coach, you have to make sure you keep this in mind or you will have little positive impact on who you are trying to help.

Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully by Gerald Weinberg. There is a big difference between consulting and coaching, but there is much in here any good coach should know.

SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. This may seem odd to have a sales book in a coaching section, but selling, properly done, is more about finding what someone needs and then showing them how they can get it. Very much the same as creating opportunities for people.


On Managing Transitions

Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William Bridges. There is a emotional and business aspect to change. Coaching is about change. Understanding both the emotional and business (rational) part of change will help you understand some of what the person you are coaching is going through.

Switch: How to Change Things when Change Is Hard by Chip Heath, Dan Heath. This is a very pragmatic book which complement the Managing Transitions book nicely. It suggests people are like riders on elephants. The rider represents the intellect, the elephant one's emotions. It describes how we must create a vision to appeal to the intellect, with an emotional attachment to it. We get people in action by providing them steps to achieve the vision.

The Heart of Change: Real Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations by John Kotter. This is not only a great book, but there are lots of very valuable resources at the book's main site.

On How People Learn

Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results by Mike Rother. I don't normally recommend books on Toyota for software developers but this is about learning and management and most of it directly applies to everybody.

One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer. This is a great book for personal use as well. It is about how to use small changes to make a big difference in behavior over time.

Making Better Presentations

Matt Brandon has created some nice presentations on Prezi which demonstrate the mindset and approach you need to create presentations that will engage and move people. What is unique about this approach is that the "slide deck" (the collection of slides) is put in its proper place - helping the audience to engage with the speaker and the content.

Check out our course on Transition Management for Lean-Agile

This half day course is intended for management and leads as they prepare to transition their organization to Lean-Agile / Kanban. It covers the essential issues in developing an effective transition plan based on frameworks of William Bridges, John Kotter, and the Heath brothers. This course is heavy on interaction and discussion focused on beginning to develop the plan. Follow-on coaching to develop the plan is also included.

Personality Profiles

People do not think in the same way. Many people are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which contrasts:

  • favorite world: Extraversion (E) / Introversion (I)
  • Information: Sensing (S) / Intuition (N)
  • Decisions: Thinking (T) / Feeling (F)
  • Structure: Judging (J) / Perceiving (P)

The software industry has a disproportionate number of INTJ's in it. This often has us believe there is not as much variety out there as there really is.

There are other personality or motivational indices as well. Kolbe is another useful one. Kolbe provides insights into a person's natural style and what they think their style should be. Kolbe evaluates one's strengths as fact finder, follow thru, quick start and implementer.

The DISC profile is another popular tool. This profile categorizes people in four styles: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness. It also shows what a person's natural style is and what they do under stress. It's a very good tool to evaluate people for certain positions.

One advantage of becoming aware of these different profiling methods is it underscores the different personalities, styles and approaches different people have. It is all too easy to forget that we are all different and that we should not act as if everyone thinks like we do or approaches problems in the same way we do.

Brian Johnson's Philosopher's Notes

Optimize Your Life with Brian Johnson - More wisdom in lelss time. I've been a fan of Brian Johnson for a long time and highly recommend his ridiculously inexpensive progra ($10/month).  He has several online classes but I tend to listen to his Philosopher's Notes - 20 minutes summaries of great books.  I've selected a few here that are particularly useful to coaches:

Miscellaneous Things of Interest

Double loop learning is the modification or rejection of a goal / approach in the light of experience.  Double loop learning recognizes that the way a problem is defined and solved can be a source of the problem. "Single-loop learning" is the repeated attempt at the same problem, with no variation of the method and without ever questioning the goal.  Check out Benjamin Mitchell's Blog for many resources on double loop learning. Here are a couple of my favorite articles: Chris Argyris: theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning and Learning in Organizations  (note the date, this stuff ain't new).

Why You Need To Fail. A brilliant, 15 minute YouTube video by Derek Sivers on why failing is essential to learning.

Prickles and Goo. An animated 2.5 minute talk by Alan Watts about the different natures of people. It's important to realize how different people react with the world. This conveys that in a very short time.

Net Objectives' folks' favorite quotes . Having a great set of quotes is more useful than you might think.

A comic break . A collection of jokes that illustrate how our communications are very ambiguous.

30 Indispensable Tips on Writing by Famous Authors. Fun and useful.


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