Your ability to develop a high performance team lies in your ability to recognize the space between coaching and delegating.
When managers coach, everyone benefits – you, your team and your company. It’s especially helpful when people are taking on new responsibilities or are stuck. Your efforts are appreciated and it’s gratifying.
But there comes a time when a shift in the coaching relationship needs to occur – where you let go of actively advising them, and they take the lead. It’s what I call the bicycle moment.
Do you remember learning to ride a bike? Most of us had someone big running next to us, holding onto the fender, supporting us while we peddled. And at some point they let go. If you were like most of us, you continued for awhile and then fell. Where was the big person? Still there, watching from behind. They came to where you were sitting on the ground, praised your accomplishment and encouraged you to get back on the bike. Did they put the training wheels back on? Probably not.
This is the moment of shifting from dependence to independence. And as a manager, you must move into the space between coaching and delegating. You no longer actively coach, but you’re still there. It’s not time to delegate yet. You continue to watch – but from a distance.
This is the space between coaching and delegating. And it’s a critical point – it is the moment of empowerment. As a leader, if you don’t support their making that shift, your people will remain dependent on you.
How do you know it’s time for the bicycle moment? Ask these four questions:
- Do they have the skills and knowledge they need?
- Have they demonstrated their ability to do this in other settings or similar ways?
- Do they want to do it?
- Do they have the resources they need to do the job?
This is the most difficult transition because it means a huge shift in your role. You don’t actually stop coaching, but you change what coaching looks like.
When there is a problem, instead of telling them what you think, you keep your opinion to yourself and ask them questions like:
“What do you think?”
“What did you learn?”
“Where can you get help?”
Instead of advising, your time is spent listening and reflecting. You focus on helping them find their own answers, even if those answers are different from what you would do.
The goal is not to keep people dependent but to give them wings. And your gratification will now come, not from being the wise advisor, but from watching your team soar.
Excellent post…Coaching towards “The bicycle moment”, equates to coaching for success. And that is a powerful aspect of Leadership.
Indeed, that is the point of coaching – to get to the bicycle moment, and as you point out, makes your leadership powerful.
The ‘bicycle’ reference is a great visual… It really merges well with my often-used bicycle reference. My message: “You can’t TEACH anyone to ride a bike” – just like I believe no one can ever teach anyone anything, they have to LEARN it! (And learning to me is never the ‘facts’ but what I refer to as ‘Effective Learning’).
To me at least that’s what you’re saying: First you coach (help them to planning and learning to do), then you mentor / monitor (expect them to make decisions with you monitoring and available to mentor), and finally you delegate (facilitate accepting new efforts to lead / address while expecting to be kept informed and approached for consultation).
Great post as usual!!!
After watching how young children learn to walk and talk, I’ve also wondered if we ever really teach anything. I’ve come to believe our role as teachers is to assist and provide what is needed in the moment, but learning is driven by the learner. A kind of radical view when you really think about it.
Not radical at all in my thinking!!!
Many thanks to you Jesse for your nice-advising and teaching post. That’s what I called unconditional given knowledge. I really do enjoy reading and learning from your post. Thanks again, RH
How nice to hear that, RH. Makes the effort worthwhile.
Jesse you are right, of course, but it is a blow to the ego when those who work for you prove to be so much more competent than you are that they virtually take over. My strategy has been to start something new knowing that my shelf-life as leader is only about six years. Then I circle back years later so see what they have accomplished. Jeff
It can be a blow to the ego, helps get it out of the center of your universe and experience humility and gratitude. And it can be challenging to bite your tongue during this period. Appreciate your suggestion to focus your energies on something new. Thanks for your insights, Jeff.
The image of your Bicycle Moment is powerful and keeps on giving. Thank you!
Eastern thought and neuroscience have led me to realize that fully learning and sustaining something new is supported by embodying (i.e., being in action, so to speak) and practicing the new thing. It’s a way to make something new into a habit.
What’s more, many of our triggered or reactivated unconscious behaviors and attitudes were formed that way.
Your comments make me realize that this is not just a leadership issue but that as individuals we need to be willing to embrace the bicycle moment. Thanks for deepening the conversation, Lowell.
I find little difference between the principles of leading a team and leading oneself.
And while I have your attention, you are a gracious and generous host, Jesse.
Indeed, a good reminder. And thanks for your kind words, Lowell.
Love the bicycle moment analogy! Great points Jesse!
Great to hear that. Thanks, Chery.
Thanks Jesse. You are always at the leading end of conversations that are relevant and necessary. As one comment earlier suggested, it is as much of an ego issue as anything. Knowing when to let go and begin to learn from those that have exceeded our competence is an important piece of a relationship. one never goes out of the relationship. We also need to remember that delegating is by task and goal. Not an entire jobs. However it certainly can become that. But isn’t to time for promotional opportunity by then?
Great insights and especially appreciate your reminder that delegating should be driven by task, not job. You might enjoy my post about how to delegate effectively. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Garry!
Thanks Jesse for sharing the “Bicycle moment”.
Its a perfect analogy to use in coaching, for the uncomfortable space when they have to handle it independently for the first few times. And as coaches, we have to be comfortable to let them try, fall, get up, try again.
It can be quite an uncomfortable space and requires a good dose of trust.
A bicycle moment.I never thought of that metaphor and it is perfect. Here’s the other piece to that metaphor: even tho one is watching from a distance, the truth is you sometimes crash with that new bicycle. Remember how Mom (or Dad) ran back, helped you get up, encouraged you, and then helped you get back “on track”. I think that’s the other critical piece. Also– what if the 2 wheeler is now a unicycle? The task has really changed- harder, higher, and more dangerous. And it might be that the coach-turned-delegator has NO IDEA how to ride a unicycle. That’s another growth stage for everyone. Time to let go and find the next coach.
You raise an interesting question, Eileen. Is is necessary for a leader to an expert at riding unicycles provide coaching?
I agree–the bike is a great visual. I have learned letting go too soon or too late can have negative even disastrous consequences. The wise leader knows when to empower and when to hold back.
Completely agree, Paul. The answers to the 4 questions are the key for determining when to let go.
Really appreciate this blog post and the comments so far.
So, since we don’t teach people, how do we effectively help them learn?
I think it’s by offering what they need and not doing for them what they can do for themselves.
Early on, people need direction and information, later after they have developed some competence, they need encouragement and a sounding board. Often what they need is access to resources or clarity on vision and the big picture. I think the best way to find out what they need is to ask.
Thank you. I’ve got the direction and information part down, now just trying to help them become competent.
In the words of Aaron Burr to Alexander Hamilton (which actually was good advice) “Talk less. Listen more.” 🙂
Great reminder on being a mentor to new managers. Sometimes you have to “pressure test” them, to see what they can do, and how they ask for help.
Being able to ask for help is a critical success factor for all leaders. Thanks for adding to the conversation Michael!
Thanks Jesse for your thoughts and comments. The bicycle visual is very compelling. Where do folks who have the potential but are not engaged -fall on this continuum of coaching to delegation. What goes into the process for a manager to identify such people, trust them and and invest in their growth?
I think letting them take control and possibly fall, is one of the best ways to motivate and engage them. However, it’s important that they are first clear about the big picture, what they are trying to accomplish and what success looks like.