Solutions Focus Coaching For High Performance Leaders

In solutions focus coaching you focus your people on what they are doing right and what they can do to move one step closer to performance excellence

Note: This is an overview article. To go in more depth with your skills, and access more comprehensive questions and scaling, access the Solutions Focused Coaching training.

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Is Your Focus Holding Your Team Back?

There are many, many models of coaching that you can use. But the one that seems to be under-used, and yet is very easy to use, is the Solutions Focused Coaching Model.

Solutions focused coaching works brilliantly in the messy chaotic world of implementing change and working with people. Sure, if you have a static, predictable, tangible problem - like fixing a mechanical issue - stick with the old problem solving method - identifying what went wrong, what caused it.

But the problem-solving model doesn't work well where outcomes are unpredictable i.e when you are working with people.

Spending time on what's wrong, what caused it and who is to blame is focusing the attention in all the wrong places and means you'll end up with people who are feeling drained, paralyzed and with diminished creativity.

So let's dive straight into it!

The Steps in Solutions Focus Coaching

Step 1: Identify the problem

So a few seconds ago I said we don't want to focus on problems - and that's correct. But we have to start with the problem. No ostriches here! We do need to know what challenge we are facing, however, what we don't want to do is to immerse in it!

We need to quickly move to defining the solution – get them (the team or the individual you are working with) focused more on the direction they want to head – which moves us to Step 2...

Step 2: Describe the perfect future

Stephen Covey said "Start with the end in mind" and that is what this step is about.

This step presupposes that success is not only possible, but inevitable (and that's what every great leader is great at doing .... Getting people excited about possibilities and looking beyond today to what we are creating in the near future.)

A masterful coach is brilliant at getting people to work backward from a vision not forward from a problem - think JFK with a man on the moon in 10 years) - he was getting them focused on moving forward to the vision of being on the moon in a decade... not back from the problem of being first in space.

The easiest way to get people focused on what they do really want is to ask what is known in the Solutions Focus world as The Miracle Question: "Imagine you went to bed tonight and a miracle happened .... All the problems/issues were resolved ... What will be the first things you will see, hear, touch that let you know that a transformation has occurred?"

So think about something that is an issue for you right now .... If you woke up tomorrow, and everything you had hoped for had come true ...

"How will you know?"

What will be different when the problems have vanished?

What will you be doing?

What will you be saying?

What would other people notice that was different?

Once we've got a clear picture of where we are heading, we need to move it from pie in the sky to something tangible ... and so the next thing we do is to ask the person/people we are working with to ...

Step 3: Rate where they are now

The scale we use is from 0 – 10. Zero stands for when nothing is happening or the situation is at its worst, and 10 stands for the miracle... the end result the person has in mind.

"On a scale of 0 – 10 where would you rate us now, against the perfect future?"

Where they rate themselves is largely irrelevant, what's more important is our next step, which is discussing what caused them to rate themselves where they are ... so we turn our attention to

Step 4: Finding counters that indicate success is possible

During solutions coaching we want people to focus upon their strengths and the resources at their disposal.

How they can call upon those resources, strengths, skills, talents, behaviors etc to work around problems and challenges as they arise. If people stay focused on the problems and the uncertainties they will talk themselves into helplessness and passivity instead of resourcefulness and taking initiative.

A problem focus would have them looking at:

  • Difficulties and obstacles
  • Focusing on deficits and shortcomings
  • Finding (and generating) resistance to change among those with whom you work

Solutions focused coaching is all about looking for what is right and building upon it.

So, you'll ask questions like, "What was different about times when you did xxx really well?" Tell me about times when parts of your perfect future already happen?

Helping them to explore times when examples of when the solution has already happened (even if in parts), or when the problem is less prominent, of when they've found ways to get closer to their ideal situation.

The reality is that no problem happens all the time, so it is helpful to find those times when it doesn't happen (or is less bad), or when they get it right and learn from those times. Build upon the strengths, qualities, characteristics, skills, tools, resources etc that are already being used to help them move forward.

For example, when JFK, said put a man on the moon ... A great coach would have asked "So when have we had flight? What have we done that gets us flying higher than what is normal passenger transport? Where else have we been creative as a country... what were we doing there?"

"What gets us to that score?" (You are looking for behaviors/actions, resources, skills, know-how, expertise that that person can draw upon)

And the key with this step is to keep asking questions like this, until the person or group can't come up with any more elements of where they are already achieving some success.

The more you can get them to see that some elements of what they do provides good results and if they can build on those, the better equipped the individual will be to persevere and have confidence that they have the capability to move toward what they want.

Step 5: Identify the next small step that can be taken to move forward

The mindset that accompanies the actions to be taken following Solutions focused coaching, is that the actions should be:

  • Small and most likely to succeed
  • Can be taken tomorrow (or at least in the next day or two)
  • Seen as starting something rather than stopping
  • Moving toward something instead of away from something
  • Specific and clearly defined

For example...

What gets you to a 3?

What would the next small step up the scale look like?

What would you be seeing and doing at a 4?

What would YOU need to do to get to a 4

The key is to get them taking one small action to move forward – if you make it too big they may get discouraged. 

People are more inclined to take action on something that seems easily doable than hugely gigantic. For example, putting a man on the moon may seem daunting, but drawing up plans for a rocket ship in the next 6 months may seem achievable.

Step 6: Check progress

The first question is, "What's better?" – not if the person took action – but what is moving in the right direction.

Get them to describe the actions he or she took.

Get them thinking about what they'll do next.

So that was a quick run through the solutions focus coaching model. If you'd like to jump into more detail and get some practice fine-tuning your skills as a solutions coach, then access the ecourse High Performance Coaching.

Certainly creating a high performance organization has many more elements than coaching. However, this one small tool can easily be used by any leader, in any culture, and it does have an immediate and transforming impact on the mindset and resilience of your team and focuses them on moving forward toward your goals.

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