Leader as a Coach – Falling into The Advice Trap

The ability to motivate and develop others is a highly sought-after quality in leadership and management positions. This has come with a shift in people’s perception and beliefs of the role of managers and leaders in organisations, no longer are they seen to simply command, control and correct. 

We are currently experiencing a workforce that has never been seen before. Our new reality is diverse, rapid and disrupted, and not everyone has been able to adapt with ease. Organisation leaders and managers are moving away from traditional command and control practices and taking on a more supportive and guiding role.  

Here at TalentCode HR, we adopt the 70:20:10 model for development and learning. The model suggests that 70% of learning happens on the job, 20% happens through coaching and feedback from others and 10% comes from formal learning.

With coaching and experience having a significant impact on learning and development, it comes as no surprise that a coaching approach to leadership is becoming increasingly popular.  

The term ‘leader as a coach’ has become increasingly popular, but what does that actually mean? Coaching in organisations aims to challenge and motivate employees by allowing them to be curious, and question and empower them to make decisions themselves and take responsibility. The leader or coach’s role is to observe, support and help their employees explore their ideas. Coaching drives a high-performance culture through empowerment, collaboration and engagement and provides a sense of direction and purpose for both the coach and coachee. 

One of the challenges many leaders encounter when taking on the role of a coach is the advice trap. The advice trap occurs when coaches listen to employees’ problems and issues and fall into the trap of looking for potential solutions and fixes. This can be unconscious and extremely challenging for a leader to purposefully avoid. Providing advice and fixing problems is something we are all guilty of when training and developing others but does this mean we avoid it altogether? Providing advice is good and important but it is about timing, the timing needs to be right so that we don’t get in the way of people working it out for themselves. 

In coaching, every behavioural choice we make has prizes, what’s in it for you, and punishment, what’s the downside of this. Such as the time you’d save by doing it yourself and making sure it’s done the way you want it. The punishment for this could be the workload you are adding to your plate, or it might be missing out on alternative and possibly better points of view.

When you fall into the advice trap, not only are you doing your own job, but you’re also doing other people’s jobs for them as well. It also tends to create a cycle as the more you give advice, the more people will come to you for advice. You no longer have the time and space for the work that makes a difference. You will become overwhelmed, bottlenecked and exhausted, while those around you become disengaged and limited.   

In order to get out of the advice trap, you’ve got to tame your three Advice Monsters: 

Advice Monster 1: Tell It (giving the answers) 

The Tell It Advice Monster is based on the fact that as a leader you should have all the answers. That’s why you were hired and that’s how you add value to the organisation. If you don’t have all the answers then you aren’t a good leader and you have failed at your key role purpose. 

The prize of being the person with all the answers gives your ego a boost and makes you feel like the smartest person in the room. We tend to create a cognitive bias and become overly critical of others’ ideas and perspectives and people look to you for the answers. The downside of this is that it creates a bottleneck and will leave you drained. This leads to giving ineffective advice, we think our advice is good but is it actually as good as we think? The best thing we can do is teach others to think for themselves and invite diverse perspectives. 

Advice Monster 2: Save It (rescuing others)

The Save It Advice Monster tends to be less obvious. It’s based on the idea that your job as a leader is to hold it all together, make sure no one fails or makes mistakes and take responsibility for everyone, every situation, and every outcome. When in doubt, take it on yourself.

The prizes of this may be the feeling it gives you to rescue others, it might make you feel honourable and generous and that you’ve made a difference. However, this disempowers those around you by not allowing them to learn from their mistakes, take responsibility for their actions or persevere. When we do not allow others to struggle, they don’t build their resilience muscle. As such, we are creating helpless, delicate and susceptible employees who will look to you for saving at every bump in the road. 

Advice Monster 3: Control It (not letting go)

This third and final trap can often be the most difficult. It is the inability to let go of control. It’s based on maintaining control of every aspect from start to finish and the fear of releasing control or even delegating to others will invite chaos.

Control It gives you a sense of power and security, as you feel safe with the decisions being up to you. I’m sure at one point in time we’ve all neglected to give the reigns to someone else out of fear of the result. By doing this, you disempower those around you. You limit your ability to be agile and adapt if things don’t go to plan. The best learning happens in the grey, not the black and white. 

Identifying which of the advice monsters derail you the most often can help you drive a behavioural change. Advice is a critical part of coaching, but we need to acknowledge that our first reflexive response to questions or problems might not be the most effective in coaching situations. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed as the problem-solver in your organisation or if you want to empower your employees or need some tips around avoiding the advice traps. The team at TalentCode HR are always here to assist you. Feel free to call our team on 1300 559 585 for a discussion.