You don't have to be a boss to know how to coach; anyone can do it. But it's a skill that managers are wise to master. There's a great business case to be made for coaching, because its goals are:

  • To get staffers to take responsibility for their own growth, with you as a partner
  • To come up with their own ideas and solutions, which they inevitably prefer
  • To eliminate the need for supervisors or others to fix their work
There's another advantage: You can't coach without getting to know someone. In coaching, even the quickest kind, you talk, listen and learn about the other person. Next thing you know you're building a connection that leads to trust.

No matter what we teach at Poynter, whether it is craft skills or management responsibilities, coaching plays a role. Roy Peter Clark and Don Fry wrote the book on it: "Coaching Writers." Chip Scanlan's article "The Coaching Way," on this Web site, is a terrific resource. I've written about coaching before as well, for improving writing and for managing staff performance.

For a session at the recent Poynter Sommerskole in Denmark, I developed a mnemonic device for managers who want to remember the five key steps in coaching.

I used the acronym QUEST. Here it is:
Question: "What do you like about this story?" "What is your goal?" "How can I help you?"

Understand: "I'm hearing you say..." "It appears to me that..."

Explore: "Let's take a look..." "What are you assuming..."

Suggest: "What if…?" "Is it possible that…?" "How would you feel about..."

Trust: Turn the responsibility/work back to the other person.

Notice that the key to coaching is at the front end. It means taking time to ask about a piece of writing before you eyeball it. If you're coaching someone about a performance issue or a decision they're grappling with, it means listening as they lay out the scenario as they see it, without immediately jumping in with your preferred solution. This is not easy if you are impatient by nature or think people will think less of you if you don't have an instant answer. But trust me, it works.

And if you don't trust me, trust Poynter's Paul Pohlman. He's written about coaching, too, specifically noting the skills needed for success. I lured him out in front of my SuperVision camera to talk about it:

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So, why not try the coaching QUEST: question, understand, explore, suggest, trust.