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#18 What’s Coaching About

by Steven Cerri on November 20, 2006

What’s A Coach To Do?

”Getting down to business”

Good evening!

I had some thoughts this weekend around this topic:

“What is it that a really good coach should do for you if you want to become a technical manager?”

Approach #1:

The first coaching approach requires that the coach think of their role as that of psychologist, and indeed some coaches are psychologists. They want to dig into your childhood, into your pains, and they believe somehow that having this reflection will assist you in being a manager. They believe that something in your childhood is “making” you do the things that are keeping your from being a good manager. The reality is, who knows? Digging into past positive or negative memories and experiences only brings them into the present. And if they are negative memories, then they become current negative memories. That whole approach seems ill-suited to management training to me. I don’t find it very useful and it often turns into psycho-babble that just makes a person “relive the stuff” that is no longer useful. Transitioning from technical professional to manager is not about psycho-analysis. It’s the present and the future that are most important. I know some people think that the “past informs the present and the future”. But it doesn’t have to. That’s the key. So leave the past in the past.

Approach #1 = Strike One!

Approach #2:

A second approach requires that coaches think of their job as one of imparting project management and human resources information so that you can develop a schedule, generate a budget, and perform performance reviews without offending anyone and getting the company sued. This they think is the fundamental role of technical management.

I think it’s true enough that, as a technical manager, you will have to know how to develop schedules and budgets, and perform performance reviews without offending people. However, these capabilities rely on other abilities that must come first. There are plenty of managers who can develop schedules and budgets, avoid performance reviews because they don’t like them, and still aren’t considered good managers. You may have worked for some of them. So being trained in these abilities won’t make you a good manager.

Approach #2 = Strike Two!

Approach #3:

The third approach requires that coaches think of their job as “holding a space” for you so that you can come up with your own answers. The belief here is that, left to your own devices, you have all the information and knowledge you need to succeed on your own. You only need someone “beside you” telling you “you can do it”.

The theory here is that you know what you need to know in order to succeed. You just “don’t have access to it…yet”. This one just amazes me. If you haven’t been trained as a brain surgeon, how can you be expected to be a brain surgeon? You can’t. If you haven’t been trained as a commercial pilot, should we all feel comfortable with you at the controls of your commercial jet on your first commercial flight? Of course not. This is the reason you want a coach who has been in your industry, your career, you shoes.

Sometimes you’ll even get coaches who will give you little quips and phrases that don’t have anything to do with reality or the reality of your business. Sometimes you’ll be told that in order to be relaxed in front of a group, or in order to be relaxed in an important and tense meeting, or in order to feel less intimated around certain people, you should imagine them without any clothes on. This is supposed to remove any sense of intimidation or inferiority. Sorry, I don’t think that solves anything about your ability to conduct business with powerful people or in intimidating situations. It only gets you good at imagining your colleagues naked. You see transitioning from technical professional to manager requires a fundamental shift in one’s behaviors. It won’t happen with a few little tricks here or there. If you need evidence for what I’m saying just look around. How many really good managers have you worked for? How long has it taken good managers to get good? The answers to these questions are all around us. This is work. This is a new career.

Approach #3 = Strike Three!

So now that you know what I don’t think good coaching is, next Monday I’ll discuss what I think good coaching is and how it can powerfully provide you with tools to be successful as a technical manager. Until then…

Be well

Steven Cerri

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