when do I tell and when do I coach management questions

A smart manager sent me the following question:


Question from manager

I’m struggling with it on a few fronts:

  • As a business owner, sometimes I feel like I have to demonstrate decisiveness (“this is how it’s gonna be and there’s no debate”);
  • As a coach with the goal of “winning”, I feel like I have to present the right depth of strategy/vision without overprescribing the path to get there, which provides an opening for other staff to take ownership and bring their energy to the effort (this is my preferred space);
  • I’m concerned that excessive “me telling people what to do” silences collaboration and reduces trust;
  • I’m concerned that “not telling people what to do” is interpreted by some as “being indecisive”, “having useless meetings”, etc.;
  • I have an extremely negative reaction when I’m on the receiving end of “being told what to do” ;

My response to the manager

This is a tough one — and I hate to say — It depends. 
  1. You are a smart, quick-thinking, connector who has spent much of his adult life looking for patterns and figuring shit out. 
  2. You are rather reflective and a little over-critical of yourself (which is what helps with the patterns and figuring shit out)
  3. Others see this in you — and there are some areas where they just want you to tell them what to do – so they can move (perhaps the cognitive load thing) 
  4. Currently you are dealing with a management constraint – so you are integrating the many-systems and pulling the company into something that you cannot quite articulate yet 
BEING DECISIVE – just some thoughts
  1. How much of this “telling people what to do” comes from you listening to team members and then you synthesize the info into some coherent response and action? 
  2. Be selective in what you are decisive about, and be consistent. 
  3. Some things have no time and you need to decide
  4. Some things the other person has to think and mess up 
  5. Perhaps, when being decisive say to the person – please do it this way for now, and when we (or you) have a different idea of how we can still achieve the outcome or goal let’s talk, I really need to hear some other perspective. And for now do it this way – and we will talk about some alternative options on (give them a date and time)
  6. Having some boundaries and standards are non-negotiables and are important to your organization as a whole is important (just don’t berate and yell at people) 
COACHING – just some thoughts
  1. You are listening for how the person responds and their thinking (you do this so you can better figure out where that decisive boundary is) 
  2. Coaching works when you have time, energy, and someone who is coachable
  3. Coaching works – until it doesn’t 
  4. With coaching – you can only move as fast as the person you are with. You need to be patient AND have shorter check-in and ‘what did you learn?’ discussions

I wrote this a while ago – 4 Reasons to not share your goals

And coaching question – I would ask you if we were meeting face 2 face: 
  • When you are being decisive what do you notice that is helpful or beneficial to the situation?
  • When you are coaching what do you notice that is helpful or beneficial to the situation? 
  • What is different in each of these situations? What else? What else? 
  • Where does being decisive work best for you? Where does coaching work best for you? 
  • Who notices the difference in your approach first? What do they notice? 
  • How or what will you see when you can achieve the hopes (goals) you want? 
  • Where is that already happening? How can you do more of that? 
  • What have you learned about yourself from being overly decisive? What have you learned about yourself from being overly coachy?