Person solving a rubix cube.

Coaching Problem Solvers


One of The Aware Leader’s blog series, Leader as Coach, places an emphasis on assisting your employees to find their own answers to their own challenges, to be problem solvers. You may have thought that this is not always possible. “Sometimes I do have the answer to the problem” or “What if I am the expert?”

I agree.

The conundrum is how do you know when to coach and when to consult? Perhaps making a distinction between the two will be helpful.

Let’s use riding a bicycle as an example. As a coach you help the person understand how and why they ride a bicycle, what their goals are for riding a bicycle, you help them determine what’s holding them back, and you jog along next to them as they ride.

As a consultant you explain why one bike is superior to the next, you teach them to ride, and, if necessary, you ride the bike for them.

Coaching focuses on the “bigger picture” of what it is the employee wants or must create for themselves or the business and talks about what will keep them motivated to move forward on their dreams, goals and tasks.  Coaching focuses on developing the employees’ highest potential as well as achieving objectives and results. A coach encourages them, supports them, applauds them, and empathizes with them. Coaches help them to discover honest insights into where things are working and aren’t working. They help them tap the “wisdom within.” 

Consultants come to the partnership as an expert. They teach skills. They offer ideas and solutions. After careful discussion and analysis of what results the employee is looking to achieve, they create a strong plan of action to move the employee swiftly towards their goals.

How does one know when to play which role? Knowing our intentions and understanding the situation gives us clues on what role to play.

  1. If the employee does not display resourcefulness, then it is better to coach them to be resourceful.
  2. If you are the subject matter expert, then it is time to consult.
  3. If the employee needs to work on brainstorming, creativity or ideation, then coach.
  4. If the matter is urgent, then consult. (If every situation is urgent, then get coaching)
  5. If you are just trying to be expedient, or if you feel that you are in a fix-it mindset, then stop, breathe, and coach.
  6. If the employee is having performance problems, coach them to solutions that they will own (hint: they own the solutions they create, not the ones you give them).
  7. If the employee is new to the role, you may need to consult, especially to provide clarity on role and expectations.
  8. If the solution to a problem requires your intervention, then consult.
  9. If the employee is asking you to consult, then consult. If they always ask for consulting, then coach.
  10. If you are in doubt of what role to play, coach.

Our relationships with our employees are fluid. The reality is that we will always be hybrid coaches, or hybrid consultants. To create resourceful thinkers and problem solvers we need to understand what role we need to play at what time.

Download my free ebook, Coaching Employees to Generate Solutions – <insert Link>

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