Effective Coaches Are Not Problem Solvers

This is a guest post by Katie, a coach instructor at Creative Results Management. She facilitates the ICF-approved teleclass series Strengths-Based Coaching and was part of the research team for the study on which the training is based. Katie has an MS in Leadership Development and Coaching Psychology and an PCC from the International Coach Federation.

I’m a problem solver. That’s what got me into coaching. I wanted to help people solve their problems and experience better results. I found the best way to solve a problem was to NOT be a problem solver.

It’s common in problem solving to focus on what’s missing to solve a problem or meet a challenge. The trouble is, what’s missing isn’t there! What’s missing is a hole. It’s empty.

This is where problem solving gets stuck.

Problems with Problem Solving

  • It de-flates. Focusing on problems is draining. Problems de-energizes people.
  • It magnifies weaknesses. Focusing on what is weak or lacking can actually magnify those aspects in the client’s mind.
  • It de-values the person. Our clients also tend toward problem solving. As a result, we often take people back through questions they’ve already considered, which may indicate that we don’t think they are smart enough to have asked these questions on their own.
  • It continues the spiral. A problem-centered approach frequently takes our clients around the same block they’ve already seen. They want us to bring a fresh approach.
  • It focuses only on the here and now. This approach overlooks their life-long resources of strengths, talents, and experience.

It just takes a slight shift in focus to turn problem solving around. I shifted my focus from the problem to the person. I focused on their gifts, strengths, talents, and values. Personal resources can be built on for forward movement.[Tweet “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them. – Einstein”]

Coaching to strengths is a higher level of thinking and will likely be a new experience for our clients. This positive focus moves them away from their problem-centered techniques and provides the energy they need to advance.

4 Ways Coaching Strengths Moves Us Forward

Shifting our focus to work with strengths empowers us and empowers our clients. Focusing on strengths helps people not only solve problems but develop as people.

  1. Strengths motivate: Strengths are naturally motivating and exciting to think about. I immediately hear the difference in energy and motivation when I turn a conversation to strengths. One client said, “It was exciting to think about strengths. Now, I just want to get up and go do something!”
  2. Strengths reveal resources: Focusing on weaknesses is like trying to work with a hole, it’s empty. Shifting to strengths often opens up a whole new arena of resources and building blocks that can be used to move forward.
  3. Strengths work together: When we look at our own strengths and those of others, we can begin to see how these might be combined to create something even better.
  4. Strengths alter our view of weakness: One client was seen as “bossy.” The “volume” was turned-up so high on her strength of leadership that it was hurting others. She learned how to adjust her strength in a way that it would be welcomed.

The bottom line is that focusing on strengths can energize both you and your clients. It helps people experience living out their calling and gifting in community.

Getting Started Coaching Strengths

Coaching with strengths is easy … and fun!

Ask your coachee to tell a story about something they’ve done that made them feel energized. After they share, ask them, “What is it about that experience that you loved? What strengths were you using?”

Then together with them, consider those strengths and discover ways they can use them in another area of their life. Maybe one in which they currently feel stuck. Watch what happens to their motivation!

Question: What would focusing on strengths do to your coaching? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Strengths-Based Coaching Teleclass Series Begins Soon

Learn how to coach people’s strengths instead of problems! Katie regularly teaches a teleclass series that addresses how to coach other people’s strengths from your personal strengths. Knowing how to skillfully discover and utilize your own strengths and those of your clients will energize your coaching!

Find out More

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2 thoughts on “Effective Coaches Are Not Problem Solvers

  1. Thank you Keith and Katie. I find StrenghtsFinder to be very valuable both personally and in coaching others. It is one more way to focus on what is ahead and what is positive. Since encouragement is key to effective coaching, there is great value in helping leaders to see that “opportunities for change” (weaknesses) are typically a shadow side of their strength. Your example of the boss who needed to dial the volume down is a good depiction of this. Two advantages: 1) Those we coach might be more receptive to change, and take ownership for it if they see it as “fine-tuning their strength. 2) Understanding the “weakness” as a typical shadow side of the strength makes it less personal: “This is not a personal defect, but rather an opportunity to manage my strength to be more effective.”
    I look forward to incorporating more of this into my coaching individual leaders and their teams.