George Russell

Erik Thompson

A coach’s job is to foster one-to-one relationships that challenge people to rise to higher levels of competence and responsibility. This article will discuss three key characteristics of an effective coach:

  1. An effective coach asks challenging questions that help people expand their scope of responsibilities.
  2. An effective coach is highly connected to the person being coached.
  3. An effective coach challenges others with penetrating insights.

Benefits of Coaching

Most business and organizational leaders understand the value of coaching. But, too often, coaching is narrowly viewed as supportive or educational rather than as a vehicle for delivering accountability and driving performance. The idea, for example, that coaching is a way to challenge a young sales rep to grow into someone who brings in new clients is not well understood. Coaching is commonly tepid and sparse, making brief appearances during reviews that are predictable, if not superficial.

Many of you may have been in your job for a long time, others many be new to management and leadership. Still others, as a result of consolidation, may be in a similar position but with new members of a larger team. If you are new to your current role, you will need to connect to your new team quickly, and they with you, in order to develop a strong working relationship. Consider how to implement a program to help your managers and leaders become better coaches. The immediate goal is to improve communication and develop an understanding of each other to enhance the decision-making process. When done correctly, this approach helps create a culture of accelerated professional growth where leaders challenge their top people in regularly scheduled coaching sessions that are frank and yield tangible results.

The notion that coaching wastes time is patently false. Coaching, in fact, is a productivity accelerator. Effective coaching grows responsible employees and frees up the coach to perform higher-order duties, such as developing new business. “I don’t have time to coach” is usually a cover for “I don’t know how.” The leader who allows this roadblock to stop the truck is choosing comfort over progress.

Organizational leaders should determine which of their tasks bring the most value to the business and draft a “stop doing” list, which includes responsibilities that will be transferred via coaching. The road to a stagnant organization is paved with the phrase “It’s easier if I just do it myself.”

Coaching Skill 1: Coaching Questions

Author’s Note: People and their development are the most important part of your business. In the first 3 years, under the banner, “Planning for Profits,” the focus of this column was on numbers — the metrics, KPIs, ratios and processes that the best dealers achieve. The focus changed during the next 3 years to “Technology for Profit,” which presented various leading edge technologies used in farm equipment dealerships. (For a listing of all previous articles, see the March 2015 issue of Farm Equipment magazine).

As I enter my seventh year of writing for Farm Equipment, the people part of the farm equipment business will now take precedence and the column will now appear under the new banner of “People & Profits.” The switch in focus ties together the subjects previously emphasized here and recognizes that all aspects of operating a successful, profitable farm equipment dealership are clearly centered on people and performance. With this switch in emphasis, I will be joined by Erik Thompson ( who is founder of Thompson Leadership Development Inc., in Burlington, Vt., a national executive coaching firm that helps top leaders develop their teams by developing their people. His company, like Currie Management Consultants, is a member of the newly formed Machinery Advisors Consortium. George Russell can be reached at

One of the most important elements of a strong coaching relationship is not giving people answers. Exceptional coaching is more focused on teaching people how to think rather than telling them what to think.

Here is a quote from a real manager whose organization uses Coaching Questions. (We’ll call this person “Dave Manager” as he is a department manager.) “You don’t realize how good some professionals are until you get into a conversation where you’re discussing weaknesses and deficiencies. To be able to walk into your boss’s office and expose your fears and problems can go against what you’ve been trained to do, but it can lead to an incredible depth of learning and understanding. But with exceptional coaching, when you come in with a problem, you better have some solutions to offer.”

The “answer guy,” who knows the business from top to bottom, and spends his days dispensing wisdom from a well of technical expertise, is the antithesis of a coach. No one has to do any thinking in his presence. He complains that people are too dependent on him for answers, without seeing that he keeps it that way. He suffers from the “I know” syndrome.

The best cure for the “I know” syndrome is to practice the art of “coaching questions.” Coaching questions purposely make people think. For example, when asked how to respond to a demanding email from an important client, a coach might ask, “What do you think is the best way to handle this?” The question is not rhetorical, nor is it a pop quiz with one right answer. The coach is genuinely interested in the other’s thinking. Such questions send an important accountability signal: You own this problem.

Dave Manager explains, “I can have direct and candid conversations with my boss and I’m not worrying about his motivation when we’re having a ‘coaching’ conversation. He puts new challenges in front of me to consider, but he doesn’t make the decision for me. That is my job. I’m also encouraged to offer new ideas to improve the business. It is all about trust.”

Here are some other examples of coaching questions:

  • “Are you interested in carrying the ball on something new?”
  • “Do you believe you have a sufficient grasp of the business challenge in this situation?”
  • “How would you evaluate your options?”
  • “Is there a better way to do this that we haven’t considered?”

Next month, we’ll continue this article with Part 2 that will cover connecting and challenging. As a preview, here is the summary of the next article.

  • Coaching grows responsible team members, freeing leaders to perform higher order tasks.
  • Effective coaching drives performance by strengthening accountability.
  • A strong coach avoids perpetually giving answers.
  • An effective coach has a person-to-person connection.
  • A strong coach should be skillfully challenging.