An hour a day?

If you had a free hour a day at work, what would you do with it?

Most leaders I know are feeling under pressure. They work long hours. They start early in the morning and leave the office late, and then take work home. Because they feel under pressure they project this feeling on to their team members and believe that the team is under the same pressure. And sometimes they are, but my experience is that quite often this is an illusion. Team members are often under less pressure than their leaders, and also quite often team members are part of the reason why leaders find themselves under such pressure.

Do any of the following statements resonate with you?

Team members regularly ask you how to do things that are part of their normal job role.

  • Team members expect you to deal with even the smallest of complaints, making no attempt to resolve the situation first
  • Team members ask questions when they already know the answer.
  • Team members not willing to make a decision.
  • Team members coming to you for answers when there is a clear set of procedures and guidelines that they could refer to instead.

How many hours of your day are taken up with dealing with this type of behaviour?

These team members are a drain on a leader’s time and energy. My experience is that where a whole team, or even just one individual in the team, demonstrates some or all of these traits then the team is not performing to its full potential. And the leader having to spend time responding to these (unnecessary) interruptions, is also not performing to their full potential.

In a team, the leader’s behaviour determines the culture of the team. If you always respond to requests listed above in a particular way, eg by providing the answer, then you are endorsing the behaviour and reinforcing the habit. If you want to see a change in behaviour in your team, then you need to change your behaviour. You need to respond in a way that encourages and endorses behaviours that you would like them to demonstrate. And you need to do this consistently. Inconsistency sends mixed messages to your team and only causes more confusion.

The good news is that the behaviours listed above can be often be remedied in just a few short weeks. Demands on your time reduce and a by-product is that productivity, efficiency and service levels often rise as a result. To effect the change you need to invest some time and effort in the short term. (I know – that’s not what you wanted to hear, you want an immediate fix, but it doesn’t work that way!) Be prepared for it to take longer to handle requests at the outset until your team learn and embed the new behaviours.

Before I move onto how you handle the behaviours, here are my findings about some of the common reasons why teams or individuals demonstrate these behaviours.

  • Simply and genuinely – they do not know the answer.
  • They know the answer but they are not confident in their knowledge.
  • They don’t know where to look for the answer.
  • They don’t realise that they are allowed to make the decision – the previous leader had often insisted that all decisions were referred to them.
  • They are not clear about the boundaries of their decision making, what they can decide for themselves and what needs to be referred so they refer everything.
  • Historically decisions have not been supported by their leader so it feels risky to make decisions now.
  • The behaviour has become habitual. They are in the habit of asking and the leader is in the habit of providing the answer so the habit continues.

The approach to take when faced with these types of requests is for you to facilitate their thinking. You need to stop providing them with the answers and help them to work out the answers for themselves. This is predominantly the outcome of coaching so using a coaching style is perfect for handling these types of conversation. Using a coaching style will realise a number of benefits. It will:

  • Help the team member to realise that they do have the required knowledge, or understand where to find it.
  • Builds the individual’s confidence in their knowledge and in their ability to make decisions.
  • Makes it clear that the team member is authorised to make the decision.
  • Increase the likelihood of the team member making more and better decisions in future.

When using coaching as a style of working with the team member you have a variety of choices open to you, which are your Modes of Presence (Iliffe-Wood 2014) in the coaching relationship. Before thinking about your Mode of Presence you need to determine what exactly you want to facilitate in the team member. This is determined by the Level of Awareness (Iliffe-Wood 2014) the team member has about the answer to the question being asked. Sometimes this will be obvious to you, other times you may need to determine their Level of Awareness through your questioning.

The four Levels of Awareness are:

Level 1:   The person either knows the answer, or can access the answer to the question given the time and space to think about it.

Level 2:   The team member is not sure of the options but is capable of working these out and making the decision

Level 3:   The team member knows some of the options but not all of those available to them

Level 4:   The team member does not know the answer.

Four Modes of Coaching Presence

Once you have determined their Level of Awareness you can choose your Mode of Presence. The simplest way of describing the four modes in this short article is to use a metaphor.

In this metaphor you (the coaching leader) are the passenger in a car, with your team member who is the driver. You both know the destination, or at least the approximate destination that you want to end up in.

  • Invisible Coach Mode: You trust the driver and enjoy the ride. You don’t mind how you get to the destination. It’s entirely up to the driver. But you are very interested in what the driver is doing, which way they are going, how they are deciding which way to go.
  • Emergent Coach Mode: Now you offer the driver a new map. Perhaps their existing map is an A-Z of the local area and the new one is an ordnance survey map of a bigger region. There is more information on the new map that can help them to determine which way they want to travel.
  • Evident Coach Mode: Now you are taking a more active role in helping the driver to choose how to get to the destination. You are highlighting different routes on the map, pointing out places of interest, and talking about what you experienced when you visited similar places. The driver still decides where he wants to go, and which route to take, but he is a bit more knowledgeable now and can make more informed choices.
  • Visible Coach Mode: You are now reading the map and giving the driver directions. You are quite insistent that the driver follows the route that you are suggesting, however the driver has control of the car and ultimately he decides which way to take it.

You move between the four modes during the conversation, although you will often start with Invisible Coach mode.

Facilitating at Level One Awareness

If you believe that the team member has level one awareness you use Invisible Coach mode. This involves providing an attentive space and time for the team member to think through the answer to the question. You start by inviting them to tell you what they think the answer might be, or what their options might be, or asking what did they do last time? The important factor here is your listening and paying close attention. It is your focussed attention that will help them to think through the answers. You will encourage them to continue to think it through by reflecting their words back to them, or asking simple questions like ‘Is there anything else?’ or ‘what happens next?’ Once they have worked out the answer then confirm this to them and assert their ability to make this decision again in the future, without reference to you.

Facilitating at Level Two Awareness

With level two awareness the answer may not be quite so straightforward, but the person you are working with is capable and experienced and with the right facilitation will be able to work it out. Often they are only looking at the situation from one perspective and other solutions will appear if they can be helped to see the situation from other perspectives. Often Emergent Coach mode is appropriate to facilitate this awareness. In this mode you use tools and techniques that help the person to see the situation from different angles. So for example you might ask them to look at the question as if they are a fly on the wall, or use a fishbone analysis, or a consequences matrix, or a SWOT analysis or any one of the myriad tools that are available that encourage the person to look at the question in a different way. In this mode you are guiding them through using the tool or technique so that they work out the answer for themselves. You are also providing them with new resources to be able to look at future problems without the need to refer to you in future.

Facilitating at Level Three awareness

Through using Invisible Coach and Emergent Coach modes you realise that you might know something that the other person doesn’t and that may inform the answer they are looking for. You are not providing the answer but you might share with them some information that might help or inform their thinking. For example, you might be aware that someone in another team is working on something related to the question, or there is some new research about the topic, or you might have some specific knowledge that if shared would help the person’s understanding. In Evident Coach mode you share aspects of yourself. This might include sharing a story of a similar experience that you had, and what you did in that scenario. You are not telling them what to do, but you share the story with a view to opening up other options.

Facilitating at Level Four awareness

Finally in level four awareness the person genuinely does not know the answer. And then it is appropriate to move into Visible Coach mode which may involve you providing them with an answer. Before you do that find out what exactly is it that they don’t know. Often individuals are aware of certain elements of the answer and it’s just the gaps that need to be filled in. When they say that they don’t know, you use Visible coach mode to steer their thinking. Try asking them ‘What do you know about the solution? Which bit is it that you don’t know? You direct them to think about the question in a particular way, or perhaps point out aspects for them to consider.

As I mentioned earlier, this process will take time, and here’s the reason. The brain is wired to respond to situations in ways that it is already used to. Human beings are creatures of habit when it comes to how our brain works. This kind of change is a rewiring of the brain’s way of operating. So first of all, it will take time for you to get into the habit of responding to your team differently. Secondly when you start to respond differently to your team members, this will be uncomfortable for them because it is contrary to their brain’s wiring. To start off with they may not respond exactly as you would like them to. They may not enjoy the change to start off with (although some may welcome it). In fact they may try to force you back into your old behaviours so that they don’t have to change. This is completely normal. You need to be prepared for this and persevere with your plan. It can be helpful to talk to your team beforehand. Explain what you are trying to do, why, and what behaviours you are looking for them to demonstrate. Most people I have worked with have welcomed the idea and then it became a joint effort to make the changes.

In summary

  • Be clear about the type of culture you would like to encourage in your team.
  • Adopt behaviours that endorse, support and encourage members to adopt the culture you want.
  • A coaching style brings additional benefits that can increase the performance of the team.
  • Pay attention to your team member’s Level of Awareness.
  • Use the Four Modes of Presence to adapt your behaviour according to the individual’s Level of Awareness.
  • Encourage the team to work with you in making the planned changes.
  • Decide what you will do with the free hours you gain by not having to consistently deal with the behaviours listed.


Coaching Presence. building consciousness and awareness into coaching interventions, M Iliffe-Wood, Kogan Page (2014).

Article first published by Kogan Page in February 2014

This entry was posted on April 20, 2016

Back to Resources list
Registered Address: 62-64 Market Street, Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire, LE65 1AN
Company Number: 08609179