In his short, wonderful book, Helping, Edgar Schein presents us, whether we are a professional coach or a manager playing a coaching role, with three ways to respond to a request for coaching/mentoring help (or, for that matter, advice with a problem on the job).
- an expert resource who provides information or steps in and solves the problem,
- more like a doctor who prescribes a solution for the client to follow,
- or a process consultant who works to get the client to come up with a solution.
The first two approaches are similar and I find they all too frequently represent the default response of managers when asked for help from their employees. Often it is for advice around a technical problem relating to work (e.g. how to go about solving a large machine’s breakdown). More often than not the more experienced boss has a good answer. The problem is that responses #1 & 2 build dependency on the boss and leave the employee feeling “one down,” lower in status to the manager. This mostly happens at a subconscious level. The lectured employee doesn’t consciously think, “Oh what a show off. I feel stupid having him give me the answer.”
When I am coaching a client, I have to be continuously mindful of the temptation to switch too soon from a process consultant role to just telling my client what to do. And when I push my advice or solution, unless my client is truly stuck, I receive back a shot of resentment and resistance from him (her).
My unwelcome advice makes her feel a tad inferior. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t like that feeling. Not a good mindset for your employee to be in if your goal is to help her learn and grow in knowledge, skill, and self-reliance.