Shop talk on "intricately managed miracles" and early-stage subculture edited by four professionals in the throes of growing and funding early-to-mid stage tech companies.  For bios and other goodness click here.

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Being "Coachable" and Coaching

The other day, a very talented NYC-based entrepreneur asked me if I could grab lunch with him.  He’s the CEO of a company whose user growth is the quintessential “hockey stick” ramp.  Needless to say, I was happy to catch-up.  At lunch, it turned out he wanted to discuss some ideas he had around his business model before his board meeting the next day.  As we chatted, I remembered a 2x2 I had learned in my brief stint as a consultant:

The basic premise is that everyone goes through four stages of learning.  First, a person starts in stage 1, the “enthusiastic beginner.”  We’ve all been there….  It’s the “you don’t know what you don’t know” stage.  I remember the first term sheet I ever drafted; I thought it was a piece of cake.  It probably took me 30 minutes to complete a draft.  Then I got redline back from the Partner with whom I was working.  Clearly, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing! 

This moment of realization is when a person progresses to stage 2.  Stage 2 is the “struggling learner.”  You suck, and you realize it.  This is obviously the toughest stage.  But gradually, you push through, learn, and move to stage 3, the “cautious contributor.”   Here, you’re able to contribute, but you’re still tentative and unsure.  You’re highly competent, but you don’t realize it yet.  Some positive feedback later, and you start to realize your own competence and you become a “peak performer.”

Some people start in Stage 1 and never leave.  I think this is what is meant when people say that someone is not “coachable.”  The person never lets themself have that moment of humility and self reflection when they realize their own lack of competence. 

My lunch date on the other hand was clearly a cautious contributor and well on his way to being a peak performer.  All the ideas he had around the business model were great; he just wasn’t yet completely confident in his own business model savvy.  Suffice to say, I emailed the CEO after his board meeting and asked how the meeting went.  “Great!” was the response.  Sounds like someone made it to stage 4.

I find that realizing what stage I’m in of this learning process helps me understand what I need, especially when I feel myself going from stage 1 to 2.  But you can also use the framework to help coach someone through each stage.  To do so, here are my crib notes:

Stage 1:  If you’re managing an enthusiastic beginner, assign the person specific tasks and give them direct feedback on their work outputs.  Give them positive encouragement, but don’t hold their hand too much.  Remember:  they need to realize they need help. 

Stage 2:  This stage is when your ability as a coach shines the most.  This stage is all about giving feedback and direction.  They’re open to learning so take advantage of it. Give them clear direction on how to complete the task, let them do it, then give them feedback.  Rinse, recycle, repeat.  On to stage 3.

Stage 3:  Positive encouragement and support is what this stage is all about.  They’re almost there.

Stage 4: Your reward of being a great coach:  time to delegate!

If this framework resonates, read more about it here: http://store.situational.com/products/Situational-Leader-Book.html

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