So, you want to be an agile coach, huh? In today’s episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast, Dan Neumann is joined by Christy Erbeck, who is going to tell you everything you need to know if you’re looking to be a coach.
In case you haven’t caught Christy on a previous episode, she is a principal transformation consultant at AgileThought and a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator. She has over 25 years of experience in domestic and international consulting, training and coaching, and working in both software development and non-product-focused environments, including manufacturing (discrete and process), distribution, and sales and marketing.
Christy and Dan discuss what a coach is; what it takes to be a coach; how to become a coach; how to know when you are a coach; the differences between a coach and a trainer; as well as some coaching anti-patterns.
Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and not completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar]
Intro [00:03]: Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought. The podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host coach and agile expert, Dan Neumann.
Dan Neumann [00:16]: Welcome to the Agile Coaches’ Corner. I’m Dan Neumann. And today I’m joined by Christy Erbeck and we’re going to be exploring the question, So you want to be a coach, huh?
Christy Erbeck [00:27]: Yes. Doesn’t that sound like a great job to be a coach?
Dan Neumann [00:32]: Well, it sounds better than Scrum Master. I did an episode a little while back with Ryan Ripley and the, uh, to tie back to that, what’s the difference between a coach and a Scrum Master? About 50 bucks an hour. That was his, uh, his tongue and cheek quote from his book. So what do you mean by coach? What is this coach thing you’re speaking of?
Christy Erbeck [00:59]: That’s a great question. And the context I’d like to provide around this question is that I have more and more recently been asked or more and more frequently been asked, Hey, I want to be a coach. Do you think I can be a coach? And they are looking at it as a hierarchy and as something that it’s not good enough to be a Scrum Master or it’s not good enough to be or do what they’re doing today. And they think that becoming an agile coach is just literally a matter of checking some boxes and then stepping into that title, stepping into that role and the conversations that ensue really get me curious about what it is that they think a coach is and, and, and then having been a coach or in the coaching profession for 20 years. I remember when I first started my coaching courses back in 2000 with Coach You and the number of hours that I went through to learn those courses, learn that material, learn the various stances, have hands on interactions with people to practice my skills, practice my powerful questioning, etc. And literally they want to check a box of five to 10 things and move right into it. And they think that they can do that. And so it’s been a really curious journey to help people understand that coaching is not just something that you can step into because you’ve been a Scrum Master or because somebody says, Hey, I’ll be a coach for you. It’s much more complex than that.
Dan Neumann [02:55]: Yeah, it is interesting, you know, as this agile thing and Scrum especially, I think in bigger organizations, they feel like they need to create a title and a position for the coaches and that you start as Scrum Master and then you quote, get promoted up to coach. And that was one of the reasons we had this conversation with Ryan that I was referring to and I encourage people to go back and listen to that. It’s but really good Scrum Masters fulfilling that role is doing coaching. They’re coaching the team, their product owner, the organization. Um, it’s, they are coaching elements to that. It’s not just the Scrum events and making sure that there’s, they’re set up somewhere.
Christy Erbeck [03:44]: And it’s a great place to start and learn whether or not coaching is a right place for you to be because there’s so much of yourself that has to be matured and developed in order to truly hold the space. Holding the space is one of the most important soft skills that a coach can have in their toolbox. And it’s not easy to develop and it takes time. And a Scrum team is a wonderful place to start. It’s very, it can be very safe for a new Scrum Master to experiment with what does that mean and how I hold the space for this team maybe very different than how I need to hold the space for another team.
Dan Neumann [04:32]: Yup. That reminds me, um, the first coaching book that I got was Lisa Adkins coaching agile teams book and what you’re yes. There you go. Christy just held it up on the video that we use to communicate here and uh, yeah, one of the things that stuck for me was she talked about a coach having seen multiple success and failure patterns. So it isn’t just I’ve Scrum Mastered a team for six months, 12 months and I’m good. It’s now you’ve uh, you’ve got to have been there for building that depth of experience and it’s going to be good things you’ve done bad things, you’ve done good things, you’ve seen bad things you’ve seen and having that library of experience to pull from.
Christy Erbeck [05:14]: Yeah. So the word that I was thinking of is self-assessment and the psychology realm, especially in the clinical world. One must go through one’s own therapy prior to being able to put anybody else on the couch because we have to be a clean vessel, we have to clear our history, our bad behaviors, our past and at least have a level of awareness of what triggers us before we can go and do clinical work with clients. And I am not a clinical psychologist and it’s still important for us as coaches to also have gone through that. Do we have a strong foundation of our strengths and weaknesses and knowing how we’re going to respond to different situations and what might trigger us in a setting. Um, have we done our own work before we are stepping out and coaching others to do their work?
Dan Neumann [06:13]: It makes me think tying that what you were saying, kind of cleaning that out back to Lisa’s comment about having a lot of success and failure patterns, it’s important not to then suppose that everybody’s going to have those same failures, the same successes, the same shortcomings. And I think that’s in line with what you’re talking about with kind of emptying that that vessel, it’s important to have them but not to inflict or suppose that other people are going to have those same experiences or the same challenges.
Christy Erbeck [06:41]: True. Another way of saying that, and I think Peter Block says it this way in flawless consulting is always having the beginner’s mind, especially when we’re walking into a new team. And it’s also important to have a beginner’s mind when we’re walking into our existing team and some event is happening or something else. That perspective of being so fully present in the moment that we are reading the room and understanding what’s happening in this present moment and not projecting based on historical experiences. Um, or bringing what we might’ve just walked out of as a very high conflict situation. Now we’re walking into another room and pulling that in with us. How do we clean ourselves up before we walk into that next space? Um, so there’s a strong combination of hard and soft skills that are required to become an agile coach or to become any kind of a coach. And you know, when I started my coaching work way back in 2000, everybody didn’t want to just be a coach. Oh, I have to be an executive coach or I have to be a, um, you know, a business coach. I don’t want to be a personal coach. And all of these labels that go in front of the word coach, we trip up, we trip over and it’s all about what do you have the skills and do you have the mindset and the ability to be a good coach, a great coach, where as a coach, we’re here to bring out the best in other people. We’re here to see what they cannot see, hold that space, and then allow them to step into that. And if they aren’t ready, that’s okay. We don’t have an anchor on the outcome that actually happens. Does that make sense?
Dan Neumann [08:41]: I think it does and I’ll try and reflect back and actually reflecting back when you were talking about holding the space, that’s another thing coaches can do is reflect back what they think they’re hearing or what, what they believe they’re saying. But you were talking about coaching as, as an act, not, you know, from uh, an executive coach or a business coach or an agile coach or whatever. But just really having a, a sense of coaching as a, as a passion and a mindset and being able to kind of really be focused in on the, the object of that coaching and hopefully somebody who’s pulling for coaching as opposed to somebody who’s being coached because you know, they need the help, which I think is one of those, it’s one of those anti-patterns. Um, not to get too far down that, but uh, was that an organization where, uh, they decided when they, whoever they is decided that this team needed help, they would send to the coach to them. And boy you want, you want to kill any interest in coaching fast, it’s sending the coach into quote fix the other team. So, um, cautionary, it’s a tough set up.
Christy Erbeck [09:46]: It is. And you know, and another anti-pattern that I’ve been seeing more and more is that a manager will be considered a coach of an employee. So that that is a complete anti-pattern and that is setting both parties up for failure because as a manager where I am responsible for your performance review and um, discipline and you know, improvements in all of those types of things. And I’m also supposed to be your coach. That’s a conflict of interest. And as we more loosely apply that term to people, we are really one diluting what a true, wonderful coach is designed to be and to deliver value to our clients. Um, and secondly, it puts the coachee in a position of compromise because now if I tell my, my coach who is also my manager, what I’m really struggling with at one point, will that be used against me because we are human to use Becky Hartman’s, you know, phrase hashtag because human something will go wrong in that relationship at some point because of that conflict.
Dan Neumann [11:06]: Yeah. They’ve got an inherent responsibility, the manager and responsibility for the organization for transparency as well. You know, so it would be inappropriate for a manager who was aware of something that could have a detrimental effect on performance to, to not elevate and make notes. It becomes impossible for that person to do the job well.
Christy Erbeck [11:29]: So what I wanted to shift our conversation to Dan, if it’s okay, is so what does it take to be a coach? If you want to be a coach, what does it take? Um, so first of all, it takes a combination of hard and soft skills. What, what are those hard skills? So some hard skills that I see are related to your ability to both think strategically and think tactically. Your ability to clearly communicate up down and across the organization. Your ability to tell the truth when the truth is the last thing that people want to hear. And then if you are coaching in a specific area like agility, you darn well better have some real world experience where you were not the coach but you were in the mix. So you were part of that Scrum team. You are using Kanban day to day either as a team or personally or or some combination. You have thought through your own personal mindset around agility. If you’re a business coach, you darn well have better run a business and have that operational experience at P & L responsibility. You understand what a balance sheet is and when you use it versus when you use a P & L. um, if you are coaching and working in Kanban, to what extent is your personal work visible so that you are again, modeling that behavior from beginning to end. So those would be some examples of hard skills. Um, in addition to, I will say you have to have had the right training. So whether you have gone through a Coach You, um, gone through some other Lisa Adkins, um, solutions IQ I think is the company that does the agile coaching Institute. Um, but you’ve done some real work and been trained and gone through classes and coursework. Um, there’s one person I know her coaching training was a hundred hours plus six days from eight in the morning till 10 at night in person and then there’s an assessment afterwards. Right? So there needs to be some real tangible, um, examples that you’ve done that hard coursework.
Christy Erbeck [13:59]: Yeah, the, there’s a, there’s a lot of skills that go into coaching and I think that’s one of the things that makes it, um, kind of interesting how much agile coaching has kind of come on to the scene lately and you know, whether it’s conflict management or whether it is, um, like I said, different approaches for, um, creating space for conversations. We had ways to talk about the tough subjects when, um, that’s kind of the last thing people want to talk about. But it’s the most important thing for them to talk about. So all those, those strategies, um, the, and the hard skills on, on the domain yeah, if you’re a technical practices coach, you better kind of know what you’re doing. Um, if you’re doing Scrum, you better understand the Scrum framework deeply, not just, um, not just, you know, three roles, three events or five, three artifacts. Yeah.
Christy Erbeck [14:52]: Right. Absolutely. And on the, um, soft skills, this, this gets fuzzy because it’s, it, there are in my mind, based on my experience, there are absolutes in what you need from a soft skills standpoint. And there’s probably a plethora beyond what I would name as far as soft skills. But some of the ones that come to my mind are first a healthy sense of self and really strong boundaries, personal boundaries, um, the ability to empathize with others and not just sympathize, but empathize to the point where you can put yourself in their shoes and imagine what they might be feeling or experiencing.
Dan Neumann [15:40]: Yeah. So just to make sure, just to make sure there’s, yeah, sympathy versus empathy. I think that’s when people can get tripped up on so sympathy like, Oh, I can see that you would feel that way. Kind of sympathize though, you know, poor Christy as opposed to empathy, which is like, I actually am feeling what you’re feeling. I’ve had much a much deeper thing than a feeling sorry for you feeling that way. It’s actually feeling the thing.
Christy Erbeck [16:06]: Right. And empathy too as Brené Brown would say is empathy means that we have come from a place of, been through, we’ve been through something like that. Sympathy is, we’ve not experienced that. So we really cannot know what that would be like. Um, and so it is more of that pity party, uh, approach to whatever extent you would feel. Um, Oh, I’m so sorry for you. Yes. I’m sorry. And I, I’ve never experienced that, so I can’t really empathize. I can’t come alongside you in that regard. Right. Um, other soft skills that I think are important, uh, are fun and playfulness. A playful spirit is really important to bring to the team and to a coaching situation. Uh, so that we know that we learn better when we’re having fun. And as a coach, I want my clients to learn and I want to be able to bring a variety of perspectives to them. So the discernment to know when it’s okay to bring this topic in a playful manner versus when no, you know, this is a serious topic for this person or for this team. I need to approach it differently. So a high level of discernment in that situation. Um, the ability to have natural curiosity in that we, I want to be curious about what my team is going through or what my client is going through, that every moment is new for them and that if I’m curious about what they’re experiencing, then I’m setting aside judgment and where they’re at is okay and I’m willing and able to meet them where they’re at. Coming from a place of curiosity.
Dan Neumann [18:07]: That’s where, you know, thinking of that, that place of curiosity, uh, especially, I don’t want to say for newer people, but it’s almost like this, this, this weird middle ground where you can fall into the trap of thinking, you know, why they’re behaving this way, or Oh they’re doing that because as opposed to maintain that curiosity. So you’ve got, you’ve started to collect a little library things and now you’re pattern matching. You’re like, Oh, they’re doing that because they’re scared of change. Well, maybe, or we could be curious about why would, why would a reasonable person behave that way? And trying to explore that with them and not jumping to the, um, I’ve got a map. Okay, I’ve got, I see this input. That means it was that, cause I see this and you know, I think it’s a trap for when you’ve got some experiences and you’re, you’re trying to solve, I think that’s a dangerous trap there.
Christy Erbeck [19:00]: It is and that sets me up as a coach for a trap of entitlement that I know more than you and it creates an imbalance in the coaching relationship that because I’m the coach does not make me better than my coachee in any way, shape or form I might have and I should have more experiences. Um, but I need to come to the relationship seeing my coachee as an equal and as a peer. Um, and this is another reason why the manager as coach does not work with the employee as coachee because hierarchically in the organization there is a differential. Right?
Dan Neumann [19:45]: Yeah. And I wanted to maybe ask you to clarify a little bit the difference between coach and teacher or trainer because there are instances, you know, in, in the agile space if somebody wants to know what the practices are of Kanban or the roles of Scrum that’s not really a coaching thing, here’s what the Scrum guide says about those. Here’s some, here’s ways that manifests itself different from coaching. So maybe you could help try the distinction between teacher and coach or teacher does know the subject. And can relate to that in a class or a workshop or a training versus versus a coaching situation.
Christy Erbeck [20:23]: So for me as a trainer, because I do a tremendous amount of training, my goal and my stance, so let’s talk about a training stance versus a coaching stance. My training stance is I am to be the expert and now that does not mean I know everything and it’s okay for me to admit that there are things in the class that I may not know, may not have an to. However, the primary stance that I’m coming to that class with is that I’m an expert in this topic. You are perhaps a novice or you have some level of experience, but I do know more than you do and I’m here to impart that knowledge in a way that you can learn and apply and grow. In a coaching stance, I’m here to help you uncover what you need to learn to become the best you. I’m not coming in and standing there or my stance is not as an expert in you. You are the expert in you. And I’m here again just to create that space to allow you to fully bloom, fully blossom into the best you possibly can be.
Dan Neumann [21:42]: And in that sense, the, the, you could be singular versus plural or singular and plural. Correct. So you, you an individual, you know, manager, leader, C-suite, whatever the case might be versus you, you the team.
Christy Erbeck [21:56]: Right. Yeah. So the, the “you” does is does not matter in personal or team. That’s correct.
Dan Neumann [22:04]: I had an interesting, I was, uh, doing a training. It was agile fundamentals. One of the things we did in AgileThought, and it was, we were talking about the Scrum framework and uh, one of the attendees said, well, when do you score the Sprint? And I looked at it, I said, it’s not a Scrum framework thing, but I’m, I’m curious now, like tell me more about this Sprint scoring thing. And it’s actually, um, we’re the very analytical group that he was part of. And they do, they go, they have a little scorecard that they use as part of their retrospective. They score the Sprint from like a dozen different facets and they, they roll it up and they look at the averages and they really get, I’m like, that’s awesome. It’s okay. It’s meeting a need. It’s part of their continuous improvement thing. Now it’s, it’s not Scrum framework, but it was like, cool, now here are some things maybe to be aware of or make sure the data’s not getting misused in some way, so let’s explore that together, but um, you know, it would be easy to just go, Oh, we don’t, we don’t score Sprints in Scrum. That’s not a thing, but pretty awesome. And so by approaching somebody with curiosity now as a trainer and as a coach, I’m like, not that’s, I see where they’re going, what the need was and the chance to explore that, that with them. So other stuff. It was super cool. I was like, Oh, I left that training having learned something, which I usually do. And that was, that was like a new nugget. I was pretty excited.
Christy Erbeck [23:26]: Well, let me clarify too, because as a trainer, it doesn’t mean that I’m not learning because I’m always learning from the class like you just shared. Um, however, my primary goal is to teach, right? The other soft skill that I, that I think is so important in the coaching realm is I’m there to be the wind beneath their wings. And wind is invisible. You can not see it, you can see the results. You cannot see the actual wind. And that means I have to release my ego and be willing to be behind the scenes so that the person I’m coaching can come forward and be front stage and be seen for the great person or the great team that they are. And, this is probably the most difficult aspect of a coaching stance because a lot of coaches have big egos. And I won’t say that I have a big ego. I do, I do like the kudos when I get them, I’ll say that. Um, and I’m most thrilled, most satisfied when I hear about the successes that my clients have and nobody knows that they had a coach. Like, it’s cool because that’s what they, that’s what they need. They need to be out front. Right? They need to be having that success. I don’t need that forward, that, that front and center attention.
Dan Neumann [25:17]: Yeah. It’s like you said, it’s a back of a kind of back of the room, but not to be confused training from the back of the room. But it is that being in the background being invisible type of type of coaching and as kind of one of those challenges with people maybe who have been facilitators or Scrum Masters going into that coaching role is, especially as they’re trying to coach another team, it’s resisting the urge to step in and take over, you know, and what we used to do, uh, at one place we would, we would kind of preview whatever that person was going to be doing then observe and then debrief afterwards so that the communication wasn’t in front of the group. You know, I’m going to fix whatever. Maybe you just did, but it was a private conversation later and an exploration. So why did, you know what was going on there? What was happening for you? Did you notice this and et cetera. There may be reasons you as a coach don’t notice for a behavior that seems unusual or curious and there may be a perfectly good reason that you just hadn’t noticed.
Christy Erbeck [26:21]: Yeah, I think sometimes my, I think clients, sometimes they need a big gust of wind. Other times they just need a gentle breeze. I’m there to help discern what it is that they need so they can soar.
Dan Neumann [26:38]: That’s very cool. And I, man, I got, that was Bette Midler wind beneath my wings. Who did that?
Christy Erbeck [26:43]: She did that back in the day.
Dan Neumann [26:45]: I got that in my head now. So we’ve got skills and soft skills. And then if that’s the Venn diagram, I’m imagining an overlapping chunk in the middle of that. Between those two.
Christy Erbeck [26:58]: Sure. The both the both the both and or that that center piece to me are strong boundaries. The ability to be objective, have that analytical skill, that analytical thinking skill combined with action, clarity and creativity.
Dan Neumann [27:17]: So Christy, we started off with how to be a coach and just kind of went through some of the hard skills and the soft skills. And some skills that fit in the intersection of those. And I think that leads to a two related questions. Like how do you know if you got there and, and how do you get there? So kind of skill building as well as like, so am I a coach now?
Christy Erbeck [27:40]: That’s a great question Dan. And so to me, continuous improvement or, or lifelong learning mindset is really important. I’m still on a learning journey and I’m still taking classes. I’m still reading, I’m still practicing or experimenting with new approaches. There are times, you know, when something goes wrong with a client and there’s not a good fit. I retro on that. What did I do? What, what, what part was I responsible for? What were they responsible for? Where did we clash in the middle. What happened? Right. So really thinking through and understanding that this is a journey. And at some point, and you’ll know, like you’ll, you’ll have a sense that hey I’ve been at this for awhile. I’ve done the, the technical skills. I’ve done some sort of formal training, I’m doing continuous improvement. I’m going to some online courses or conferences. Um, I’ve gotten feedback from people that I have said, Hey, would you mind if, if I tried some techniques out on you? I’m, I’m looking to become a coach. Whether you explicitly ask for that or you just soft pedal that out and then look to get some feedback for how you’re received is also critically important. And it will, you’ll see that it’s almost like a little butterfly flying around. You’re going to have some ups and then you’re going to circle back and go down and then go back around. But as you touch on these various aspects of hard and soft skills in your continuous learning and your introspection and the reflection and getting that feedback, there will come a point where more people are saying, Hey, will you coach me? Or I think you’d be a great coach and here’s why they have tangible observable to back up that statement of, Hey, I think you’d be a great coach. Um, does that make sense?
Dan Neumann [29:50]: I think it does. Yep. And like you were saying, the um, you know, having people who are pointing out, Oh, that was, that was helpful, that, you know, you helped me, you helped me grow that particular thing. And within organizations at times we’ve helped them set up agile communities or agile communities of practice or agile coaching communities of practice so that that can be a safe place for people to try out those skills, give each other feedback and mentor each other along the way.
Christy Erbeck [30:22]: Yes. And get a coach. If you want to be a coach, go get a coach, hire somebody. Or if you are in a relationship with where we are engaged with you or you have some coaches and consultants in your organization, seek them out and say, I want to enter into a one-on-one coaching relationship with you and get, get coaching. Get a coach.
Dan Neumann [30:49]: Very cool. Good tips. With that, let’s, let’s shift to your continuous learning. You alluded to continuous learning. You mentioned that and I’m curious if you’ve, uh, if you’ve got something specific that comes to mind that’s on your journey right now.
Christy Erbeck [31:07]: Right now I am working through a couple of books related to boundaries and I’m exploring this topic of boundaries fairly deeply. I, um, I even submitted a talk, a workshop actually to Agile2020 on boundaries. That is essentially why we say yes when we want to say no and it’s really curious and the learning that I, and the aha moments that I’m having, um, have been really great, very helpful to me, both personally and professionally. And I thought I have pretty good boundaries already and this is showing me where I need to kind of fix my gate, fix my fence and uh, and yeah, it’s pretty cool.
Dan Neumann [31:58]: Yeah, no, the, I don’t remember. I mean the book’s called boundaries, the one that I read back in the day much more about, um, kind of personal and family things, but you know, in the workplace too organizations that don’t have boundaries around work that they will pursue or take on and yeah. Saying no is a powerful thing.
Christy Erbeck [32:17]: It is. I know the part that’s work-related for me, Dan, is we have, and we see this in our client organizations as well, this real struggle around the work life balance or work life integration. Uh, how much time should we be spending doing this versus you know, even in our work places and with the clients that we’re, we work with a lot. I see this challenge of work life balance, work life integration, that that just does not exist and we are beholden to our devices, whether they’re our phones or laptops, the always on economy so to speak and how detrimental that is to our health and welfare as human beings who as again as Brené Brown talks about, we are designed for connection, love and belonging. And yet our devices create a false sense of intimacy and a false sense of connectedness, belonging, and love. And so how do we disconnect? How do we decouple this? And so I’m just geeking out on bound all things boundaries right now.
Dan Neumann [33:36]: Well maybe we’ll have to explore that one in there in a separate, in a dedicated episode. We’ll queue that one up for a, for a future release. Thank you for taking time, uh, in geeking out on coaching for a little bit with me today, and then we’ll have to geek out on boundaries some more another time.
Christy Erbeck [33:53]: Thank you, Dan. It’s been fun. As always,
Outro [33:57]: This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought the views, opinions, and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips from this episode and other episodes at agilethought.com/podcast.
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