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When to coach and when to problem-solve

(July 24, 2023 Newsletter)

This past week I had several conversations with clients – both 1:1 and in my groups – about integrating coaching skills into their leadership and management toolkits.

Transitioning away from a command-and-control style can be jarring for both sides. It involves:

  • Giving up some amount of control

  • Really listening to the other side

  • Changing your perception of the value you bring to the relationship

  • Getting the other side to employ independent judgment

One question I get asked a lot is “How do I know when to coach and when to just solve the problem for them?”

If you’re wondering the same thing, ask yourself: What’s the goal and what’s my role?

What’s the goal:

If the question is relatively straightforward (“Where do we store X file?” “Who should I be in touch with to ____?”) then go ahead and just answer it directly.

But if your goal is to encourage the person to answer their own questions (let’s say it’s the tenth time the person is asking where files are stored), then coaching skills will come in very handy.

Coaching is also useful when a team member…

  • Has a limiting belief that’s holding them back from accomplishing a task

  • Is stuck on a problem and comes to you for advice

  • Is overreacting

  • Is in conflict with someone

  • Needs to debrief on a project

  • Is considering multiple options

What’s my role:

There are advantages to being a problem-solver or fixer. You can stay in control, demonstrate your value, and position yourself as indispensable. Plus, you probably get results (but you’re also probably stuck in the weeds, no?).

  • But if you want to develop your team’s technical, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence skills, infusing your default style with coaching skills will fast-track the process.

  • You can choose who you want to be in this interaction – and future ones like it. As my clients have heard me say, this work is about expanding your toolkit.

Last thought on this: Does coaching mean you should never give your opinion?

  • No, but you should probably go last, not first. You can always use the phrasing, “I have some thoughts, but I want to hear yours first.”

  • As Michael Bungay Stanier says, stay curious just a little longer.


The Coaching Corner

Tell them what to expect

When you start to use coaching skills, you should let the team member know you’re trying out something new. This is important so…

  • They know it’s coming.

  • They can provide you feedback about what’s working for them and what isn’t so you can improve your coaching skills as you go.

Explain to them that you’re planning on asking some more questions instead of giving them answers right away. It may take some time to get used to it, but the goal is for them to develop deeper self-awareness, critical thinking skills, and independent judgment – with your guidance.



1. "‘Manager effectiveness’ was ranked as the ‘top area of focus’ this year by the CHROs surveyed; 39% identified it as their main priority.” Read more on how and why CHROs are focusing more on management training.

  • Obviously, this topic is close to our hearts here at the Dolgin Leadership Group. If you’re looking to level up your management team in the second half of 2023, be in touch.

2. “In Defense of Middle Management” – last week’s episode of the HBR Ideacast asks us to reconsider the importance of the role.


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