top of page

Are You a Whiteboard Coach?

I have lived two lives in my professional career: I was a senior leader in the financial services industry, and for the past five-plus years, I've been an executive coach. During my leadership career, my passion was to work with my direct reports and their teams to assist them in reaching the goals of our organization.

Before my coaching sessions, I would "script the plays" on a whiteboard like I was Bill Belichick leading my team members to win the big game. I would list the questions I was going to ask, the result I was going to lead them to and the tools I was going to give them to achieve the result. Sometimes it led to victory, but often it would lead to burnout with team members because I felt they should do as I said, and I didn't give them the opportunity to bring their own thoughts and ideas.

Does this sound familiar?

When I shifted to becoming a certified coach, I learned that I was not coaching my team; rather, I was leading them to the result that I knew would lead us to victory. This meant a positive end for me, but I was leaving out the vision of all those who could have contributed important pieces that could have taken us to an entirely different level.

Whiteboard coaching does not allow your team to reach their full potential. It leaves out all the different strengths, experiences and diversity of your individual members, which could lead to greater achievements as well as collaboration that could have a long-lasting impact on the development of the group.

I am honored and humbled to have a mentor, Janet Harvey, who enlightened me on the keys of being a generative coach rather than a whiteboard coach. She passed on the steps below that I believe you can use to become the coach you've always envisioned.

1. See your team members as creative. The individuals on your team have different strengths, and if you open up space for them to be creative and think of new approaches they could take to achieve a desired result, you will be amazed by the ideas they bring that would never have entered your field of vision.

2. View your team members as capable. Yes, I know it's a shock, but they do not need you to give them step-by-step instructions on how to approach a situation. Give them support to find solutions themselves, and know that they will be able to follow through. This will give them additional ownership in the team as well as confidence in their unique abilities.

3. Understand that they are resourceful. Your team members are resourceful. Allow them to come up with solutions that can be part of the plays you script for them.

When you truly begin to approach your coaching sessions in a generative way, you are giving your team members the gift of unlocking their full potential. You are coaching the wholeness of the individual in front of you and taking away your need to draw up the plays. When your team members feel comfortable bringing their unique abilities to the table, the results are extraordinary and far more long-lasting because they are from their thoughts and design.

As a leader, you can shift the weight of having to come up with the perfect play to win the game off your shoulders. The steps listed above are not easy to implement. They take time to practice, and just like an athlete, you will fail at times. But as you become more comfortable with understanding that it doesn't have to be all about you as the leader, your team will thrive.

Before your next coaching session, I suggest that you take 15 minutes to prepare by asking yourself these questions:

1. How will I view my team members as creative? Take the time to ask your team members for their ideas on how they can contribute. This will allow them to take additional ownership as well as enhance the diversity of thought leadership on how to accomplish a goal.

2. How will I allow them to be capable? Make sure you get in the right mindset to view your team members as capable so that you are not driving them toward the end zone and so you can become comfortable allowing them to call the play that results in the game-winning touchdown. Review their strengths, and think about how they can be applied to help the team reach its goals. Being able to recognize their uniqueness is a great start, but being able to recognize and challenge them to use their strengths effectively will enhance your team members individually as well as strengthen the entire unit.

3. Knowing that they are resourceful, how will I allow them to come up with the steps to achieve a result? This is a tricky one for us problem-solvers, so make sure you are fully present when holding the coaching session with your team members. Hold back your need to tell them the steps and direct them toward the goal line. Allow them to draw up the play and think of ways to approach the situation when they are not reaching their full potential. As leaders, it's not easy to coach the whole person and let go of our own need to be problem-solvers. After all, most of us have been promoted for our ability to be successful in that area. This will take time and practice, just like athletics, but when you shift your mindset to allow yourself to truly become a generative coach, the results will be noticed as your team members strive to take ownership and collaborate to create a dynasty.

Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches.

Bryan Powell Executive Coach and Generative Wholeness Practitioner

bottom of page