Coaching Simplified: The Only Three Gaps You’ll Uncover and How to Coach Them

If there’s one thing managers have mastered, it’s the ability to over-engineer even the simplest processes that would more efficiently attain results, in less time and without redundancies or complications. Coaching included. If you’ve ever struggled with how to move the coaching conversation forward after uncovering the Gap or coaching moment in a way that would empower someone rather than telling them what to do, this coaching strategy will save you time and improve your coaching, sanity and life as a manager – forever.

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Coaching Simplified: The Only Three Gaps You’ll Ever Uncover – And How to Coach Them

You learn a thing or two after clocking thousands of hours coaching people from all over the world. In the spirit of continually simplifying the coaching process, I’m happy to reveal that there are only three general responses you’ll hear during the last step in my revised, L.E.A.D.S. Coaching Framework, or at the end of an effective coaching conversation. Quickly pinpointing the root cause or gap as to where each coachee is at the end of the coaching conversation will help you coach more efficiently, effectively, and make it a collaboration, rather than an interrogation.

Keep in mind, there are countless topics to coach on, which is why every conversation is a coaching conversation as long as you’re speaking leadership and leveraging the language of coaching.

However, the coaching strategy or methodology that I’m focusing on here are will enable you to quickly assess which of the three gaps you’ll encounter when coaching so that you can guide the conversation to a successful conclusion and next step.

Here’s the scenario. One of your direct reports approaches you for help. After understanding their objectives, challenge and gathering the facts, you ask the objectively self-reflective, solution-oriented question to start moving the conversation towards the breakthrough they will have from your coaching.

“So, what’s your opinion on how to move forward and achieve the results you want?”

The Moment of Truth

At this point, you are going to hear three general responses. The good news is, they can never respond with, “I don’t know” because you’re asking for their opinion, not a solution. While many people would be reluctant to share an answer, strategy or solution, because they could be right or wrong, opinions are never right or wrong. They’re just an opinion, and everyone has one around any subject matter (food, career, travel, entertainment, customer service, sports, selling, leadership and so on). That’s why logically, it certainly will never make sense for someone to say, “Sorry, I don’t have an opinion.”

Finally, keep in mind, I’m not referring to the specificity of their solution. Right now, simply focus on the 50-foot view of the quality and detail of their solution or opinion to assess how comprehensive and well-defined it is, and if it contains the right elements. After doing so, then you can determine where to do a deeper dive around what to do and how to do it to ensure a successful outcome.

Once the coachee shares their opinion on how to achieve their objective, most managers have no idea where to take the conversation next. “Do I keep asking questions until our heads explode from question overload which only succeeded in sidetracking the conversation to nowhere, or do I just tell them what they need to do?”

With this unique and innovative approach to coaching, you’ll quickly be able to uncover the next and final step to move the conversation to its successful conclusion, so the coachee can leave the conversation with a well-defined solution or approach they feel confident in, because they helped create it. And what people create, they own, and are accountable for.

Becoming Sales Chef – Baking the Perfect Solution

Let’s use the analogy of baking a delicious cake. You need the right ingredients to create a delicious outcome! When they share their opinion and point of view, here are the three levels of critical and strategic thinking, from the most effective to the least, that you will unmask. Now, you can recognize the gaps in their approach or solution and what level of coaching and support is needed to bring the conversation and a comprehensive solution to its completion.

1. Fully Baked – They Got it!

The coachee provides a fully developed solution and/or demonstrates a high level of self-awareness. They recognized their own gap and filled it! The coachee provides an observation, insight, shift in thinking or a strategy that can work. Maybe it’s aligned with what you had in your mind, or shockingly, a different insight or solution that you didn’t think of but could work! As such, there’s no need to fill in the gap or dissect the coachee’s solution. Have them run with it! Next, the coachee implements the plan and reports back to you at a designated time to follow up and keep the momentum going.


2. Partially Baked – Missing a Few Ingredients – But They Have Some Good Ones!

The coachee provides a partial solution and/or an average degree of self-awareness. They recognized part of the gap, but there were still some holes in either their solution or thinking. In other words, they were missing a few ingredients to create the most effective solution or a positive shift in their attitude or thinking. This is your opportunity go deeper and seek to understand their point of view through questions to best understand their thought process, what they are aware of and what they are missing. As you walk through their process or solution, you recognized there’s still a gap in what they’ve shared. This would be the appropriate time for you to share your observations and advice that will fill in the gaps they may have missed.


3. That’s Not Baking – They have no ingredients, or the wrong ingredients, and are probably missing the oven.

The coachee provides no effective solution. You know for a fact that the solution or approach the coachee provided is inaccurate, would be ineffective, extremely risky, resource prohibitive, achieve a low success rate, and/or the coachee has a very low degree of self-awareness. They did not recognize the gap in their thinking, skill, knowledge, attitude, or strategy.

I’ve Uncovered the Gap Size – Now What?

Once you’ve identified that the coachee’s strategy falls into the number two or three category above, this would be the appropriate time to walk through their solution or line of thinking, and share your observations or advice that would fill in any remaining gaps as you move from one step to the next.

Danger! Avoid this coaching conundrum! Be mindful of never making anyone wrong, which can show up in the comments you make. Here’s an example.

“Are you serious? After doing this for five years, you really think this would work? I’d expect more from you at this point. You should know this would never work.

Congratulations! You’ve just shattered, trust, confidence and their openness to coaching, all in just one comment.

Instead, if you find yourself in situations two and three above, manage your emotional state to create a better outcome using the following strategy.

Shift from an Interrogation to a Collaboration

First, keep your coaching hat on. It’s time to walk through their solution together, so they can self-assess every step in their approach.

You can position this in a positive way that would move the conversation forward to completion, while still having them own the outcome:

“Thanks for sharing your opinion, I really appreciate it. Let’s walk through your strategy and ideas to see how this could play out and, if needed, refine it together to ensure it will achieve the results you want.”

Then, get permission before sharing your observations, advice, experiences, or subject matter expertise, in a way they would be open to hearing. Ensure they understand your intention is to coach them be their best, rather than simply forcing your ideas or agenda upon them. Here’s what that can sound like.

“Can I share some observations that would enable you to achieve the results you want and make you even more successful?”

Make it a Collaboration, Not an Interrogation

Notice what this approach accomplishes. If you want people to be open, trusting, coachable, and collaborative, drilling people with closed-ended questions just makes them feel like they’re being interrogated instead of engaging in a collaborative conversation.

As you walk through the conversation together, you’ll notice the gaps to fill in that were missed. This can include the chronological steps in their strategy, best practices or skills to refine, develop, or reinforce, assumptions to address or limited thinking that needs to be challenged.

Finally, don’t just focus on the problem. Remember to coach the win and what they are doing well! Acknowledge and reinforce the things they did or said that will work, or if they demonstrated positive signs of critical questioning and thinking.

Now, the coach and the coachee can leave that conversation feeling confident they have a solid course of action and strategy to win big. Notice how the coachee’s response dramatically changes when the manager shifts from being the directive, Chief Problem solver to a true leader who engages and communicates like an exemplary, collaborative coach.