The minute I walked into my manager’s office, she sensed something was up. I like to think I have a good poker face, but this time was different; I had to tell my manager I’d be moving to another team. I was devastated. I loved the team I was on and the work I was doing, and because of an unexpected need to relocate, I figured it was all over.
As I meandered through my apologies and explanation of the reasons behind my decision to leave, my manager interjected with a question that changed the course of our conversation — what’s making you feel like you have to choose?
At that moment, it was clear that I had much more than a manager; I had a coach!
Together, we worked through the issues — what was making me feel stuck; the ‘stories’ I had created about disappointing her and the team; and the decision I had made to opt for a less desirable outcome rather than asking for what I needed.
My manager guided me through thinking about my values, acknowledging the great work I was doing, and how some of my limiting beliefs have caused me to jump to my conclusion.
By the end of our conversation, there was immense clarity. I knew what I wanted — to propose a new role that leveraged my skills and was most effective if operated from a remote location. The resulting career transition was the best I had ever experienced, and I credit it to a powerful coaching conversation.
Managers are often in their role because they are great problem solvers, but if problem-solving becomes the default response, it’s easy to lose sight of the full range of possibilities that team members will come up with if given the space to do so.
When I talk to managers about coaching, I often receive a confused look. “Manager/coach, coach/manager, what’s the difference?”
I like to think of coaching as a skill in the manager’s tool belt, when it comes to managing. Coaching is transformational when deployed at the right moment, but not necessarily the tool to use in all circumstances. There are moments when a manager needs to advise, course correct, or teach. I would argue that the moments to coach come more frequently than we may initially think.
In my case, I felt stuck. It was as if a decision had already been made for me. My manager’s use of a coaching approach unlocked new possibilities that I hadn’t imagined till then. A team member feeling stuck or at a crossroads is a perfect moment to ask powerful questions and help get them thinking more expansively.
It is also beneficial to flex our coaching muscles when sharing difficult feedback. As managers, it can be daunting to share insights into something that isn’t working. We may fear defensiveness, hurting someone’s feelings, or being stonewalled. If, however, we approach a feedback conversation with the coaching skill of curiosity, we can help someone overcome their resistance. We can help them hear a message that allows them to explore what’s getting in their way of landing their work or being perceived in the way they intended.
I once had to share difficult feedback with a report that her approach to project management wasn’t working. She was investing a lot of energy, and yet, was struggling to get her team on board with her method of tracking work. As a result, deadlines were slipping. This was not a new problem, but I took a different approach this time, instead of jumping in with a list of ideas on how to course-correct.
We visualised what a successful project would look like and where everyone was aligned. Then we imagined what she would be doing and how she would feel. Next, we looked at where she was today and what subtle things she could change to shift her closer to that feeling; the changes she could make to reach her vision of success.
The next day, her aura was completely different. By shifting her focus from looking at how to deliver an effective project plan, to how to do her job in a way that was authentic to herself, her influence became infectious.
Managing with a coaching mindset is about reminding ourselves that no matter how much of an expert we are, we can never predict the right path for another. They have to find it for themselves. The beauty of coaching is that it anchors to listening and curiosity, two skills that inherently allow us to be present with people and see the best in them. The more we shift our frame from solving to asking and from telling to listening, the more accountability we see in the actions of our team members and the more connected they are to their work.
Experience coaching yourself to see how powerful coaching can help your team grow
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 50,000-plus members located in more than 145 countries and territories work towards the common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and upholding the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organizations, communities and the world through coaching.
In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi NCR, ICF Hyderabad, ICF Mumbai, and ICF Pune.
The author, Lia Garvin has almost a decade of experience working in some of the largest and most influential companies in tech, including Microsoft, Apple and Google. As a senior programme manager, Garvin leverages her leadership coaching and programme-management skills to examine the challenges holding teams back from doing their best work, and develop programmes, workshops and resources to help foster psychological safety, inclusion and effective team dynamics. As a CPCC-certified coach with an ICF ACC credential, she works with clients on how to reach their full potential by tapping into the power of reframing, and unlocking new possibilities and perspectives whenever they feel stuck.