Notes for Coaching Correctly

I’ve gone from stumbling through coaching salespeople to having structured and effective coaching principles. I wanted to write them down for myself so that I can refine my methods over time. I thought the list of principles and their explanations might be worth sharing. I’d like to get feedback on the principles other leaders use, have a system I can share with the new leaders on my team, and maybe save some people some years of figuring things out on their own.


Create a culture where individuals take ownership of seeking out coaching.

When I tell someone they need to do coaching I feel like I can create resentment. That person will not get as much out of the time because their perception is that I am taking their time versus giving them my time. I need to make an effort to drive the amount of coaching that is happening with culture rather than with instruction. I should talk in a group setting about how it is their responsibility to seek out coaching instead of telling individuals they need coaching. Be clear about what resources are available for improvement. Create a negative perception of the kind of person that does not leverage all of their resources.

Be effective with time.

I need to focus most of my efforts on my top people. It is easy to want to help the people with the most problems, but my work will produce larger results if I focus on the top producers. This does not mean doing 1-on-1 coaching sessions with top people in a break out room. They don’t need that kind of attention. It does mean making myself available to them immediately when they need something and being available to them at all times.

Not all coaching happens in a break-out room.

Leading people doesn't happen in one hour meetings. Sometimes a structured meeting is helpful, but most behavior is developed from the continuous day-to-day interactions I have with my people. Coaching opportunities exist in every interaction. They are constantly watching me. Everything I do sets an example for them and drives the culture of the group. I need to be hyper-intentional with my behavior and explain my thought process constantly and in public.

I can't change people I can only amplify them and direct their focus.

I can never go into coaching hoping to change someone. Even if changing someone is possible it requires too much effort. Instead I should get to know them and help them be honest about what they believe about themselves. I should discover how they think and then amplify the progress they are already making. I can only help someone do something they have already decided to do.

People are different. Adapt.

As I get to know each person I need to adapt my style to match what is most helpful for them. Their learning style needs to be accommodated by my coaching style.

Believe in each member of my team before coaching them.

"They don't care about how much you know, until they know how much you care." I need to be able to tell every person I coach why they will succeed. In order to do this I have to understand how they see themselves and why they take action. I need them to know that my focus is serving them in their journey to the top.



Sit next to each other not across from each other.

My people should feel like I am talking with them not at them. Sitting across from each other creates a dynamic of defensiveness versus a dynamic of collaboration. Coaching should feel like I am collaborating with someone to make them successful.

Explain my intentions and why I have those intentions.

For the person I am coaching to feel understood they first have to understand me. I should always explain why I am doing something before I do it.

Influence over instruction.

Leading someone to come up with the answer on their own and telling them the answer are two totally different things. I am not advancing my people if all I am doing is giving instruction. I need to lead them towards independence as much as possible.

Reduce their dependence as much as possible.

The goal is to make myself obsolete. The sooner I can establish a team member’s complete independence the sooner I can move on to solving higher-level problems.

Allow for self-evaluation before ever giving feedback.

Never give someone feedback that they could have given themselves. Their self-evaluation will stick better compared to my feedback. Have them self-evaluate first and then if they feel like their evaluation is inadequate they will ask for feedback. Feedback that is asked for is always easily received.

Ask permission before giving them feedback.

If I need to give someone feedback they have not asked for I should always ask permission. Nobody ever says no to receiving feedback, but this extra step makes them more likely to adopt the suggested behavior.

Never give negative feedback without positive feedback.

This is a cliche coaching technique, but it is cliche for a reason. Even when someone tells me they want as much criticism as possible I should still present feedback in a way that reminds them they are not doing everything wrong. Most of the time creating, preserving, and amplifying their belief in themselves is more important than one piece of feedback. Everything that can be done to help them self-identify as a top performer should be done. Anything that prevents them from self-identifying as a top performer should not be done unless absolutely necessary.

Teach one thing at a time.

Make sure that the person I am coaching leaves with one takeaway that they will not forget. The curse of knowledge opens me up to the risk of over-teaching. One strong takeaway that will be implemented is better than ten takeaways that never manifest into behavior. Throughout coaching write down possible takeaways and make sure the most important piece of feedback is received.

Questions that I ask should be asked with the intention of helping them not with the intention of satisfying myself.

I should never ask questions that are designed to produce a placating response. Examples:

"What do you want out of your job?"

"What motivates you?"

"Do you like it here?"

“What can I do to help you”

“What would you like me to do more of that I’m not currently doing for you”

Questions should always lead them to helping themselves. Examples:

"How could you do this more effectively?"

"What do you think is preventing you from being the best in your peer group?"

Questions should give me insight and prompt the person to either self-evaluate or to ask for feedback. Good questions get good answers.

You're right verses that's right.

I need to try to prevent people from saying, "You are right." The goal needs to be to get them to agree with the information not to get them to agree with me. If someone says, "You are right," I can reframe what they said by saying, "Why do you think this is right?"

Saying it's helpful versus proving it's helpful.

I need to deter people from thanking me or saying "this was helpful." Results determine what is helpful and what is not. I should encourage them to finish coaching with commitment and ownership instead of thanks.


Have them plan:

I don't think planning is needed in every situation, but sometimes it can be helpful when someone is committed to changing a behavior.

I should always share my expectations for their plan ahead of time. These are the expectations for a post-coaching plan:

  1. Plans should not only list goals or outcomes, but the actions that will be taken to create those outcomes

  2. Actions must be specific, measurable, and time-bound.

  3. The correct action to take should be determined by information. That information should be gathered from credible sources, i.e. if you want to develop a strategy to accomplish something you should ask and observe the person who is already the best. You should never take unsolicited advice or advice from people that are not high performers already.

  4. Ask me to sign off on your plan/strategy when you are done.

I should always have them create their plans independent from feedback so that they have complete ownership over the plan. I should not sign-off on a plan that is inadequate. I should follow-up on whether or not the plan was followed and the objective achieved.

Keep everyone on the same page.

If multiple people are responsible for helping the same person than everyone should be on the same page. Coaches should have a system for debriefing each other and should discuss their strategy for each person together.