#105 - Coaching for Technical Leaders - Bob Galen

 

 

“If you want to become a better and more effective leader, then one of your core skills should be coaching skills."

Bob Galen is the President & Principal Agile Coach at RGCG and a prolific writer, blogger, and podcaster. In this episode, Bob and I discussed coaching and leadership from his latest book “Extraordinarily Badass Agile Coaching”. Bob started by explaining the concepts of agile leadership and agile coaching. He shared about the different coaching stances and why he suggests that coaching is an essential core leadership skill. Bob then went into details to describe the skills to become a good coach, such as asking powerful questions and becoming powerful listeners. Towards the end, Bob shared some tips for coaching up and coaching the middle managers, i.e. coaching the coaches.  

Listen out for:

  • Career Journey - [00:06:39]
  • Agile Leader - [00:09:17]
  • Extraordinarily Badass Agile Coaching - [00:12:35]
  • Definition of Coaching - [00:15:31]
  • Coaching as a Leadership Skill - [00:19:44]
  • Skills to Become a Good Coach - [00:24:00]
  • Powerful Questions - [00:27:59]
  • Powerful Listening - [00:33:37]
  • When to Give Solutions - [00:38:54]
  • Coaching Up - [00:43:30]
  • Coaching Middle Managers - [00:48:06]
  • 3 Tech Lead Wisdom - [00:51:47]

_____

Bob Galen’s Bio
Bob Galen is an Agile Methodologist, Practitioner & Coach based in Cary, NC. In this role, he helps guide companies and teams in their pragmatic adoption and organizational shift towards Scrum and other Agile methods and practices. He is currently President & Principal Consultant at RGCG, LLC.

Bob regularly speaks at international conferences and professional groups on topics related to software development, project management, software testing and team leadership. He is a Certified Scrum Coach (CSC), Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), and an active member of the Agile & Scrum Alliances.

He’s published 3 agile related books: Extraordinarily Badass Agile Coaching, Scrum Product Ownership, and Agile Reflections. He’s also a prolific writer, blogger, and podcaster.

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Quotes

Career Journey

  • As a leader, I’ve always been a people-oriented leader. I suppressed my ego and I realized that technical leadership isn’t about me. It’s about the teams and how am I building and encouraging and guiding teams to do kick ass products and do great work. Agile was always a toolbox or a way to facilitate that.

Agile Leader

  • One of the central things about agile leadership is it’s not an outwardly facing mindset, it’s an inwardly facing first mindset. What that means is lead yourself first. So forget leading other people. What are you doing to master yourself?

  • Are we improving our emotional intelligence? Are we improving our self-awareness? So many leaders they look at leadership as being an outward thing. I have to tell people what to do. It’s not about me. A lot of leaders don’t walk their talk. They tell people to do things, but they’re not walking their own talk.

  • A central idea in agile leadership is to be agile on the inside first. Don’t tell people to be agile. Show them what it looks like.

  • Part of a technical leader, or any leader, one of their responsibilities and one of the more powerful coaching stances they can have is how are they showing up like their role model.

  • People around you are watching you as a leader. They listen to what you say, but they watch what you do. And what you do is so much more important than what you say. If you are a great role model from the inside out, that can have a tremendous influence.

  • It doesn’t mean that the Scrum or Kanban isn’t important, but they’re much easier. To me, they’re tactical. They’re just methods. What’s much harder for people to get is the mindset of the actual leader.

Extraordinarily Badass Agile Coaching

  • Agile coaching is a profession. It’s a craft. I wanted to do something to raise the bar away from mediocrity in agile coaching. Because I think coaching makes such a difference. It can be potentially a difference maker in teams and in organizations and cultures. We shouldn’t trivialize it.

  • The badass to me is indicative of what I’m talking about raising the bar and really moving from mediocrity to high performance or excellence in agile coaching.

  • Your journey in agile coaching is never done. I would argue your journey into agile leadership is never done. If you stop and say, I am an agile leader or I am a technical leader, if you ever stop, you have just failed from my point of view. If you stop learning and growing and challenging yourself, that you’ve missed the point.

Definition of Coaching

  • There’s confusion in the industry. There’s something called professional coaching. Professional coaching is sort of like counseling. It’s asking questions. Basically, if you want to think about professional coaching, you never ever give anyone advice or you don’t tell them what to do. You help them to discover their journey.

  • There’s the notion in professional coaching of asking powerful questions so that your coaching client, whether it’s an individual or a team–you can coach a group, a Scrum team or whatever–you’re asking questions, and it’s their agenda.

  • Agile coaching is a superset of professional coaching. The model that I’ve anchored on is something called the agile coaching growth wheel. The agile coaching growth wheel has multiple stances, or multiple postures or multiple instances of like, how do you show up as a coach? Professional coaching is a subset of agile coaching.

  • So professional coaching is one posture. Mentoring is another posture. If I’m coaching people, I could mentor them. Another posture is training. I can teach them. To me, mentoring is showing and partnering with, maybe, apprenticeship. To me, pairing and apprenticeship is a mentoring stance. And then teaching is raw teaching. Going through a class or literally directing someone with knowledge. In the wheel, both of mentoring and teaching are called guided learning.

  • Another stance is facilitating workshops, facilitating meetings, being a good facilitator. That’s an art in and of itself, facilitating a meeting to a good outcome.

  • Another stance that was new to the wheel is advising. Providing advice or consulting, or let me, dare I say it, telling someone what to do. Being a bit more prescriptive.

  • The challenge with an agile coach is picking, in service to the client, in serving whoever you’re coaching, what is their agenda? But then showing up in a different stance based on what they need.

Coaching as a Leadership Skill

  • I actually think that leaders need to be agile coaches. Become more aware of coaching competencies and coaching skills, and realize that in order to be a more effective leader, you need to be a coach.

  • And it’s not a professional coach. It’s an agile coach. And what I mean by that is you’re not becoming an agile coach by your business card.

  • If you’re serving the people on your team, sometimes the right thing to do is not ask them questions. What if they don’t have the answer? What if they don’t know? What if they desperately need to be taught and you just keep asking questions? Well, how do you think you should do that? I call it death by a thousand questions.

  • If you want to become a better leader, then I think one of your core skills–not technical skills, but core skills–should be coaching skills.

  • And then the wheel is very helpful because you’ll start looking at yourself. In the middle of the wheel is something called self mastery.

  • If you want to be a better coach, it starts by: Are you coachable? Are you learning yourself? Are you a good role model?

  • How do you start that? You look at the wheel. You assess yourself. You assess your strengths. I’m sure some leaders are stronger in some stances than others. Assess your weaknesses and then start to relentlessly improve yourself.

  • If you are a technical leader, whether you like it or not, you are a coach. You’re coaching people. You’re coaching teams. You’re coaching peers, and you’re coaching the leaders in the ecosystem around you. You’re coaching just by showing up and role modeling. So you’re coaching even when you don’t know it. So take control of that and become a better coach, become curious about coaching. And I think that’ll make you a better leader.

Skills to Become a Good Coach

  • I’d say it starts with self-awareness, but then asking good open-ended questions. So now I’m coming back to professional coaching. That’s a good place to start for any technical leader. That’s a good stance to check. Because it’s not about you solving problems or it’s not about you telling people what to do, it’s about you helping them discover their way.

  • There’s an art to asking good open-ended questions or powerful questions. So study them. Become artful with asking questions.

  • The second thing is asking a powerful question is only part of it. Powerful listening is the other part. A lot of people–and I’m going to pick on technical leaders–we suck at listening. We suck at patience. Slowing down and really carefully letting your questions land, giving some folks time to think about it. Practicing silence. Silence is a wonderful friend for everyone, patience and then helping re-clarify.

  • Think in terms when you’re coaching people in coaching sessions of having an arc.

  • What’s nice about that coaching mindset is it’s about the client. Very often, at least in my experience, technical leaders they make it about the business and they make the conversation.

  • If you’ve ever had a one on one with someone–I’ve made this mistake and I still can make the mistake–when I’m under business pressure, I make it about delivery and I make it about solving problems. And that’s not a good one on one. Or I make it about identifying the person’s weaknesses or picking at them or improving them. That’s not coaching the client.

  • Start with, what is their agenda? What can you do for them? That should be your first powerful question in a one on one, in a coaching conversation. What is your problem? What is your challenge? And what can I do to help you?

  • It’s not about me as the leader. It’s about me serving the team member, or me serving the team, or me serving multiple teams.

Powerful Questions

  • One danger with powerful questions is there are so many choices. I’ve seen inexperienced coaches. They spend so much time trying to pick the perfect question because they have so many choices. And it makes the coaching very awkward because you can see the person going through the algorithm to try to pick the perfect situational question.

  • The Coaching Habit 7 questions:

    • The first question is the kick-start question. What’s on your mind? Don’t tell them what’s on your mind. What is on their mind? And then listen. Just listen to that.

    • The second one is, “And what else?”, the AWE question. So what’s on your mind? And what else? Then let that land, and that’s setting the agenda. The agenda is not coming from me. The agenda’s coming from who I’m coaching and I’m serving them. Of course, if we’re in the middle of a project, I would hope that some things on their mind are some challenges that they’re having.

    • The third question is a focus question. What’s the real challenge here for you? I think of it as the five whys. You’re trying to drill into understanding. So that’s a wonderful question to get below the surface on something.

    • The foundation question is, what do you want? Now, we’ve moved into the middle game. What would you like to see happen is a variation of that. What would help you right now? What’s the priority?

    • The lazy question is, how can I help? Now what’s happening is this is giving me permission to provide guidance. But I haven’t gone on in with my guns blazing, telling people what’s wrong and what they need to do. I’m actually asking permission as a coach.

      • As leaders, we always have, I want to help five things and they don’t pick any of my five. They pick another one. Do I guide them to one of mine or do I take theirs? And the answer is I take theirs and I put mine on the shelf for a little bit.
    • The strategic question. If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to? It’s the priority question. It’s the avoiding multitasking question or the avoiding excessive work-in-progress question.

    • The learning question. This is an end game question. What was most useful to you in this coaching session? Here’s something I want more leaders to ask: How could I have made this coaching session better for you? What could I have done better?

  • All of these questions and even the way I’ve been playing them about, I hope you see that it’s not about me. It’s rarely about me. It’s about me helping someone else, and I think that’s a key mindset. So starting with coaching and drilling in.

  • I highly recommend you read the book. It’s relatively short. Start practicing these questions in your one-on-ones. You could use these in a group setting and switch that posture from, “Hey, everyone, I’m the boss here. I know what’s going on.” Switch that posture to activating your team. And my experience is that will grow the capability of your teams and they will blow your socks off because now it’s not about you, it’s about them growing.

Powerful Listening

  • What you were talking about, I’m thinking ahead as a leader, and I know what the problems are and I have five solutions, and I’m waiting for an opportunity to tell everyone how to fix themselves. So I’m actually not listening to them. I mean, I’m sort of listening, but I’m multitasking. Maybe 20% of my CPU is listening, and 80% of my CPU is waiting to tell them what to do.

  • Someone told me that talking versus listening, that you have idle time. Even a fast talker is only taking up like 10 or 20% of your brain. Some people are really good at using the other 80% to observe, but I’m not. I have a tendency to multitask in my head.

  • So I started taking notes and I don’t need the notes, but I started using notekeeping as a way to take up that idle time. I actually take detailed notes, and what it’s doing is slowing me down so that I’m a better listener. It’s not about the notekeeping. It’s about the notekeeping to be a better listener.

  • The other thing is, I think it’s not just to think about the words, but to become an observer. Part of powerful listening is observing someone’s body language. Observing their intonation. As a listener, what they’re doing is they’re giving you extra information, and you could explore that. Powerful listening is not just listening to the words, but listening to body language, listening to intonation, also listening to the emotional field.

  • Sometimes even what’s not said. One of my most powerful listening aspects is, what if someone didn’t ask me for help? Communicate something to me without communicating. I think of it as having my antenna up. I need to be listening on all channels.

  • Another big part of it is in reflecting back, telling the person what I heard. What I’m doing is it’s not just listening on all channels, but then reflecting back and clarifying. Thinking about how do I get better communication? How do I make it safer?

  • And then pay attention. I think the key thing is it’s our job to pay attention. It’s not their job to clearly communicate to me. It’s also our job to detect it. As leaders, we need to become better receivers, is the point. Receivership is our responsibility, and it’s not just a one-way street. So we have a responsibility to become a better questioner and a better listener.

When to Give Solutions

  • There’s something called ventilation. Allowing the system to ventilate can be very helpful.

  • I used to shut that down because I’m uncomfortable with conflict. We need to get something done. As a leader, I will shut down whining and complaining.

  • What I’ve learned is not to let it go on for days, but let it go on. Allow the system to ventilate instead of trying to neutralize it. It’s not a good habit to shut those things down. Allow them to emerge.

  • I have a rule that I made up called the 95% rule. The 95% rule is out of every hundred opportunities, you get people come to you and they want your wisdom, they want your technical wisdom, your problem-solving capabilities. Out of every hundred times, you get five times to tell them what to do. Otherwise, the other 95% of the time, you have to shut up and help them solve their own problem.

  • I think the best strategy is to keep those five in your back pocket for the most crucial decisions. Like, if someone comes to you and you know that they’re making a fundamental mistake that will harm the business. Help them. Fix it.

  • The 95% rule changes based on the experience level of the team. When I used this at a company, I had really high performance teams. So I didn’t need to solve their problems. I needed to enable them to solve their own problems. If I had an inexperienced team, I would probably have the 80% or the 75% rule because I would need to be more prescriptive more often based on the maturity or the skillset of the team.

  • A lot of leaders flip it around. They have the 5% rule. They only shut up five times out of a hundred. Trust is part of this. Trust that the team or the individuals will solve their own problem. Think about it. If you’ve hired great people, if you’ve done a good job, then they are capable. They don’t need you to be telling them what to do, or it needs to be situational.

  • Think about creating your own percent rule. Where are the must haves? But a lot of leaders, in my experience, they flip it around. It’s a sense of their self worth. It’s a sense of their experience. They’re not honoring and trusting their teams and they’re not aware of it.

Coaching Up

  • There are expressions that you may have heard of called managing up. So coaching up is the equivalent of that.

  • I think downward is easy. I think it’s easier for us to coach or manage down, and it’s much more challenging for us to coach up. For me, peer-to-peer. One of my challenges is peer-to-peer coaching or peer-to-peer management.

  • As a leader, we have a responsibility to coach in 360 degrees. I think there’s risk in the direction. So some of those directions have additional risk.

  • Professional coaching stance is you’re probably going to use it more with your teams, people that report to you. I think that coaching up is much more about advisory stance, and leading stance, and how you’re showing up to them. Are you role modeling? Are you walking your own talk? That really resonates with leaders. So your stances need to shift. That’s the same thing with your peer.

  • Another part of it is being adept with what I would call crucial conversations or radical candor, having the courage. Part of radical candor and crucial conversations is having the courage. It’s your job to have these hard conversations and to become more skilled at it.

  • Another way to say it is speaking truth to power. That’s part of our job. And a lot of folks avoid that for a variety of reasons. But I think if you’re in the coaching business, or you’re in the leadership business, you have to have these conversations for your teams. If not for you and not for the organization, for the health of your teams.

Coaching Middle Managers

  • One is to show them. How am I role modeling stance? It’s part of the leadership. How am I showing up? I don’t have to say a word.

  • As a leader, everyone who reports to you, you are sending what I call culture shaping. The culture of that organization emanates from how you are showing up. If you bring some of your personal self into work, if you honor people like work life balance, guess what happens in the culture?

  • One of the best things you can do is to do that. Control how you show up and then give folks the space and remind folks of how you’re showing up, become a culture shaper. So you’re coaching by not coaching.

  • The second thing I would say is to create a safe environment so those folks can ask you for help. It’s not only two things, but role modeling and then mentoring the individuals around how you’re showing up.

3 Tech Lead Wisdom

  1. Be genuine.

    • As a technical leader, be you. Bring your whole self to work, not just your professional skills. Be you, be vulnerable. If you don’t know something, show vulnerability, say I don’t know. Ask for help from your team. One of the most powerful things as a leader you can do is ask your team to help you. It can have phenomenal results.
  2. Your one-on-ones are a powerful change tool.

    • You are a coach. So darn it. Take ownership of those events and don’t make it about the business. The one-on-one is about the person who you’re with and about growing them, and it’s their agenda.

    • Have powerful one-on-ones with powerful listening and make it about the other person and their agenda. Lean into that and see what happens organizationally. Just look and I can guarantee you that your organization will improve.

  3. Self-care.

    • I don’t know if you can be a good leader if you’re not taking care of yourself.

    • We’re not self aware or very often we ignore it. Your first customer, your first client, your first coachee, is you. And are you taking care of you? My observation is most leaders are doing a terrible job. Because they feel like their job is to take care of others.

    • It’s the oxygen mask metaphor. Before you put on the oxygen mask of other people, you have to put it on yourself. So self-care first.

Transcript

[00:01:35] Episode Introduction

Henry Suryawirawan: Hello, my friends. Welcome to the Tech Lead Journal podcast, the show where you can learn about technical leadership and excellence from my conversations with great thought leaders in the tech industry. And today is the episode number 105. If this is your first time listening to Tech Lead Journal, subscribe and follow the show on your podcast app and on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. And if you’d like to support my journey creating this podcast, subscribe as a patron at techleadjournal.dev/patron.

My guest for today’s episode is Bob Galen. Bob is the President & Principal Agile Coach at RGCG and a prolific writer, blogger, and also a podcaster. In this episode, Bob and I discussed many aspects of coaching and leadership taken from his latest book “Extraordinarily Badass Agile Coaching”. Bob started by explaining the concepts of agile leadership and agile coaching. He shared about the different primary coaching stances and why he suggests that coaching is really an essential core leadership skill. Bob then went into details to describe the skills required to become a good coach, such as asking powerful questions and becoming powerful listeners. Towards the end, Bob also shared some tips that we can use for coaching up and for coaching the middle managers, which in a way it’s like coaching the coaches.

I really enjoyed my conversation with Bob. To me, this is like a masterclass session on coaching and I learned a lot and took many practical tips on how to improve myself, especially to become a better leader. And if you also enjoy listening to this episode, please help share it with your friends and colleagues who can also benefit from listening to this episode. It is my ultimate mission to spread this podcast to more people, and I really appreciate your support in any way towards fulfilling my mission. Before we continue through the conversation, let’s hear some words from our sponsors.

[00:05:21] Introduction

Henry Suryawirawan: Hello, everyone. Welcome to another new episode of the Tech Lead Journal podcast. Today, I have with me, a guest, someone called Bob Galen. He’s actually very experienced in the agile industry. He is well known as the coach of coaches. So if you imagine a coach, this is the coach of the coaches. So it’s like master coach. So Bob has 20-plus years in the industry. He has so many certifications. He builds community, very prominent thought leaders. He also writes a number of books and he blogs a lot as well. Also, Bob is a podcaster. So his podcast is called Meta-cast. So it’s a podcast about agile. So today I think we are going to talk a lot about coaching specifically. And I’m really looking forward for this topic because I really love coaching and I aspire myself to help so many other leaders and people as well to grow much, much better in their life and their career. So, Bob, thank you so much for your time. Looking forward for this chat.

Bob Galen: Oh Henry. Thank you for inviting me. It’s a privilege to be here and I really appreciate it. So I don’t know if I’m a coach of coaches, but I try to coach quite a few people. I try to share my experience. So sometimes people trigger in the term agile coaching or coaching. To me, it’s just more mentoring and just helping people and sharing my experience. So I’m really excited to be able to do that today with your audience.

[00:06:39] Career Journey

Henry Suryawirawan: So, Bob, I always like to start by asking the guests to introduce themselves. Maybe telling about highlights or turning points in your career. Something that is interesting for the listeners to know about.

Bob Galen: Sure. So, I’m Bob Galen. I started out as a software developer. At a time before most of you were born. I’m kidding. Most of you were born. So in the early eighties. My first job out of college was in 1980 as an assembler programmer, if anyone has ever heard of the word assembler. I did that for a number of years. I worked on mainframes, actually. My first job out of school was at Sperry Univac and building IBM compatible mainframes. I’m not going to tell you every week in my journey. But fast forward, as some software developers do, I was a reasonably good software developer and architect, and people started promoting me as a leader, in a journey, became a manager after a few years, and then a director, had senior leadership roles.

In the mid-nineties to late nineties. I discovered something called Agile. The key for me was Extreme Programming at the time and Scrum. I was an early adopter of the extreme programming at Lucent at Bell Labs around 2000, 2001. But before that, in the mid-nineties, I had discovered Scrum based on the white paper that Schwaber and Sutherland had put together. At the time, I was lucky enough that I was a leader, and I pivoted into Agile. Because I had influence, because I had teams that reported to me, I could make them do Agile or encourage them to do Agile. So I would experiment. I’m a consummate experimenter. So I was experimenting with Scrum and I was experimenting with XP practices. So I’m an early adopter. That led into coaching. Not as a decision, but as a leader, I’ve always been a people-oriented leader. You know, I suppressed my ego, and I realized that technical leadership isn’t about me. It’s about the teams and how am I sort of building and encouraging and guiding teams to do kick ass products, basically, and do great work. Agile was always a toolbox or a way to facilitate that. So my style was complimented. I didn’t adopt Agile. I merged with it because Agile principles really dovetailed nicely with my leadership style. That was in the maybe late nineties or early two thousands.

Around that time, maybe around 2005, I wrote my first book. It was not an agile book. It was called “Software Endgames”. It was a traditional waterfall, how to get things out the door book. Then I started my Agile journey. My last permanent job was about 12 years ago. I formed a company early on and I did part time consulting. But I was always an in the trenches leader. Then, about 10 years ago, I decided to stop being an inside leader and more of an outside consultant, and I’ve been doing that ever since.

[00:09:17] Agile Leader

Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks for sharing your journey. It’s always exciting to talk with early adopters of certain methodologies. Things like XP, Agile, and things like that. So always there’s a lot of insights. I hope we can also dig deeper into these conversations. You mentioned something about agile leadership. I think this is something that I want to ask deeper. So what does it mean to be an agile leader?

Bob Galen: We could spend hours probably talking about that. I teach some leadership. I’m aligned with the Scrum Alliance and I do something called the Certified Agile Leadership. I teach that. I’m privileged enough to be a teacher of what they called their CAL courses, which is a leadership sequence. So from that point of view, one of the things that we try to key on, it’s not a definition, but one of the central things about agile leadership is it’s not an outwardly facing mindset, it’s an inwardly facing first mindset. What that means is lead yourself first. So forget leading other people. What are you doing to master yourself?

Let’s use emotional intelligence, Henry. Are we improving our emotional intelligence? Are we improving our self-awareness? I hope this makes sense. So think of it as an inside out job. I think so many leaders they look at leadership as being an outward thing. I have to tell people what to do. It’s not about me. A lot of leaders don’t walk their talk. They tell people to do things, but they’re not walking their own talk. So I think a central idea in agile leadership is be agile on the inside first. Don’t tell people to be agile. Show them what it looks like. A safety, for example, to experiment and to fail and to learn, Henry. Do you know what I’m saying? So are you doing that yourself? And are you role modeling outward?

I actually think part of a technical leader, or any leader, one of their responsibilities and one of the more powerful coaching stances that they can have is how are they showing up? Like their role model. I hate to tell you all, but people around you are watching you as a leader. They listen to what you say, but they watch what you do. And what you do is so much more important than what you say. So the good news there is, if you are a great role model from the inside out, that can have a tremendous influence. So that’s something we talk a lot about in the class.

Henry Suryawirawan: For those who listen, agile leader doesn’t mean you are a leader who adopts a certain agile practice or methodologies. It’s not about adopting Scrum and know inside out about Scrum and then be able to deliver. So it’s about, like Bob said, leading from the internal first, be agile internally, and then you also can lead other people from there. So it’s not from external first, but it’s actually internal.

Bob Galen: It’s funny, Henry. People come to my class and they want to hear Scrum and Kanban and XP, and they want to hear SAFe and scaling frameworks, and I hardly ever mention those things. In the second day, they’re like, “Bob, I thought you were going to teach us about Scrum leaders”. And I’m like, “I’m sorry. No. It’s that mindset thing. We’re going to explore the mindset”. It doesn’t mean that the Scrum or Kanban isn’t important, but they’re much easier. To me, they’re tactical. They’re just methods. What’s much harder for people to get, I think, is the mindset of the actual leader. And you nailed it. I’m glad you observed that. It’s not even intentional at this point. It doesn’t matter. I mean, we shouldn’t be talking about agile leaders and mentioning frameworks. It’s just not that relevant.

[00:12:35] Extraordinarily Badass Agile Coaching

Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks for straightening that up. So, Bob, you also wrote a book titled “Extraordinarily Badass Agile Coaching”. It’s recently published. So tell us more about why you wrote this book and what about the badass in the title?

Bob Galen: So I don’t know if you’ve ever written a book. But anyone who has, at least for me, a book is a lot of work. So I need energy to start a book. I need something that’s bugging me or something that I’m passionate about. I’ve been coaching and agile coaching for decades, basically. What I’ve noticed lately is the world of agile coaching, everyone’s an agile coach. If you look on LinkedIn or in social network, everyone has agile coaching in their title and it just bugs me. It’s like, what the heck? It’s like a buzzword. And so to me, agile coaching is a profession. It’s a craft. So one of the reasons I wrote the book, and I had energy around writing it, not that I’m going to solve that problem by myself, but I wanted to do something to raise the bar away from mediocrity in agile coaching. Because I think coaching makes such a difference. It can be potentially a difference maker in teams and in organizations and cultures. We shouldn’t trivialize it. So that was the genesis behind it.

Now, it’s still a lot of work. So along the way, I burned out a little bit. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’m hoping this will be finished soon”. The good news, I partnered with a few people to co-write it with me, and that was a new project for me. I had not done that before. So that was kind of cool. The badass to me is indicative of what I’m talking about raising the bar and really moving from mediocrity to like high performance or excellence in agile coaching. So to me, you’re never done being a badass. The other thing I wanted to communicate is that your journey in agile coaching is never done. I would argue your journey into agile leadership is never done. If you stop and say, I am an agile leader or I am a technical leader, if you ever stop, you have just failed from my point of view. If you stop learning and growing and challenging yourself, that you’ve missed the point, and that’s the same point to me.

Now Henry, when I vetted the title with some people, around the world, maybe 50% of the people I pinged on the title, they were like, “Oh, we really like badass in the title”. And 50% of the people were offended. They’re like, “Oh my God, do you know what badass means? That’s terrible”. So I was stuck. I was almost done with the book and I’m like, now, what do I do? Do I keep badass? You read parts of the book. I had sprinkled the word everywhere and had badassery and things like that. So I’m like, do I change it? And then I thought for at least a long weekend and I was really torn. But I said, you know what? The heart of the book is this notion of excellence. And so I kept it in the title. So I hope I don’t offend anyone with it.

Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks for sharing this fun fact story, the background why you chose the title. To me, I think badass also can mean good, right? It’s not something that is always necessarily a bad connotation.

[00:15:31] Definition of Coaching

Henry Suryawirawan: So you mentioned about agile coach. These days, so many people put that in the title. And it’s not just agile coach. It could be like personal coach, life coach, whatever trainer coach. But the first thing that I would like to clarify with you, since you have done it so many years, what is the definition of coaching, actually? So many people use the other terms like mentoring. What are the difference, actually, if there’s any? So, what is your definition of coaching?

Bob Galen: It’s a good question. One of the things I anchored on in the book. So people get confused. Another reason I wrote the book is there’s confusion in the industry. There’s something called professional coaching. There’s the International Coaching Federation and they have training and certificate and it’s a wonderful body. Professional coaching is sort of like counseling, if you want to think about that. It’s asking questions. Basically, if you want to think about professional coaching, you never ever give anyone advice or you don’t tell them what to do. You help them to discover their journey. So there’s the notion in professional coaching of asking powerful questions so that your coaching client, whether it’s an individual or a team– you can coach a group, a Scrum team or whatever– you’re asking questions, and it’s their agenda. So there are rules for professional coaching.

Agile coaching is a superset of professional coaching. The model that I’ve anchored on is something called the agile coaching growth wheel. The agile coaching growth wheel has multiple stances, or multiple postures or multiple instances of like, how do you show up as a coach? One of them is professional coaching, if that makes sense. So what I just described as professional coaching is a subset of agile coaching.

Another subset, I’m going to call them, Henry, stances or competencies. So competencies and stances, but I like the word stance because it’s like a posture. So professional coaching is one posture. You mentioned one. Mentoring is another posture. If I’m coaching people, I could mentor them. Another posture is training. I can teach them. And they’re different. To me, mentoring is showing and partnering with, maybe apprenticeship. To me, pairing and apprenticeship is a mentoring stance, if you will. And then teaching is raw teaching. Going through a class or literally directing someone with knowledge.

There’s two more stances. In the wheel, both of mentoring and teaching is called guided learning. Another stance is facilitating workshops, facilitating meetings, being a good facilitator. That’s an art in and of itself, is facilitating a meeting to a good outcome. There’s a myriad of tools, and nowadays, Miro and facilitation boards are wonderful ways you can do it virtually. So having being artful there. Another stance that was new to the wheel is advising. Providing advice, or consulting, or let me, dare I say it, telling someone what to do, Henry. You know what I mean? Like, do it this way. Being a bit more prescriptive. Can you see it?

The challenge with an agile coach is picking, in service to the client, in serving whoever you’re coaching, what is their agenda? But then showing up in a different stance based on what they need. I call it dancing in the stances, or I think of it as dancing. I’m not a dancer. Clearly, if you solve the rest of my body, I’m not a dancer. I’m not very nimble, but I’m mentally nimble. So, in my mind, it’s like dance with the client. So I may start out with what, asking them questions. I might start out in coaching stance. I hope this is helping. And then, if I determine that they need to be taught something, then I would switch to teaching stance. If I see that the class isn’t landing, I might switch to mentoring stance and show them how to do it. And then I might go back to professional coaching and ask them, how did that go? How did it land for you? And how do I make it better? So everyone, what I just did is that was agile coaching in that I switched stances, if that makes sense, in service to my client. Did that help?

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. Yeah, certainly. So obviously, I’m trying to make it less abstract. So you mentioned about coaching stances. Things like advising. Guided learnings, things like teaching, mentoring, leading also, I think, leading people show them how to do it, and facilitating. So thanks for sharing all the stances.

[00:19:44] Coaching as a Leadership Skill

Henry Suryawirawan: I have one interest when you mentioned in the beginning about professional coaching, it’s not necessarily just telling the clients, but actually asking questions so that the clients know how to solve their own problem. It’s not the coach’s agenda. So this, I think, is the probably distinguishing character between a good coach versus a normal or bad coach. Tell us more, how can leaders be more in this kind of mode? Because I think leaders have very crucial role in every team. And their role, one of it is to coach, not necessarily always to make decisions. How can a leader show in this kind of asking question mode rather than always directing?

Bob Galen: I actually think that leaders need to be agile coaches. I’ll explain what I mean by that. So one of the things, one of my biggest regrets in the book, is, oh, I have many regrets. The minute that you hit code freeze, the minute you hit freeze, and you publish a book, at least for me, I reflected, I’m like, “Oh, I made some mistakes. I wish I would’ve changed that”. So the title. We talked about the title before. It has agile coaching in the title. And it almost seems like the book, if you look at it on the surface, the book is focused to agile coaches. Henry, I’m sure you read it that way. Oh, this is a book for agile coaches and it’s a big mistake on my part.

What I wish I would’ve done somehow is communicated that this is a book of coaching skills, and I think anyone could benefit. So I’m not trying to turn leaders into agile coaches. What I’m trying to say is be aware of coaching competencies. Become more aware of coaching competencies and coaching skills, and realize that in order to be a more effective leader, you need to be a coach. Done, period. And it’s not a professional coach. It’s an agile coach. And what I mean by that is you’re not becoming an agile coach by your business card. But all of those stances I talked about, if you’re serving the people on your team, sometimes the right thing to do is not ask them questions, Henry. Does that make sense? What if they don’t have the answer? What if they don’t know? What if they desperately need to be taught and you just keep asking questions? Well, how do you think you should do that? I call it death by a thousand questions. So professional coaching is appropriate as long as it’s the right stance in the situation to serve whoever you’re coaching.

So what I want is leaders, managers, directors, senior execs, I think if you want to become a better leader, then I think one of your core skills, not technical skills, but core skills, should be coaching skills. If you look at the world in that way, then the book can be very helpful. And then the wheel is very helpful because you’ll start looking at yourself, like sometimes you have to lead. In fact, if you look at the wheel, Henry. In the middle of the wheel is something called self mastery. Doesn’t that align with what we talked about earlier that agile leadership or leadership is an inside out job? It parallels that wonderfully. So if you want to be a better coach, it starts by, are you coachable? Are you learning yourself? Are you a good role model? I think there’s a wonderful connection between coaching, not agile coaching the business card or the title, but agile coaching competencies and skills in a well-rounded way to leadership effectiveness.

So how do you start that? You look at the wheel. You assess yourself. You assess your strengths. I’m sure some leaders are stronger in some stances than others. That’s fantastic. Assess your weaknesses and then start to relentlessly improve yourself. In fact, I would say it starts at, you are a coach. So anyone who’s listening to this, and you’re a technical leader, I have some really bad news for you. Whether you like it or not, you are a coach. So suck it up, accept that. And now if you are coaching people, you’re not coaching algorithms. You’re coaching people. You’re coaching teams. You’re coaching peers, and you’re coaching the leaders at the ecosystem around you, whether you like it or not. I mean, you’re coaching it just by showing up and role modeling. So you’re coaching even when you don’t know it. So take control of that and become a better coach, become curious about coaching. And I think that’ll make you a better leader.

[00:24:00] Skills to Become a Good Coach

Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks for clarifying that. So, yes, when I saw the title of the book, I also thought that this is going to be a book about agile coaching. But when I read it, there are so many good things, the insights, how to be a good coach. You touched on about competencies and skills, and maybe this is also related to the agile growth wheel that you mentioned. What are some of the competencies and skills that us as technical leaders need to be aware of to become a good coach?

Bob Galen: Again, it comes back to the wheel. So advising. I’d say it starts with self-awareness, but then asking good open-ended questions. So now I’m coming back to professional coaching. Remember that place I was talking about? But it’s not all about that. I would say that’s a good place to start for any technical leader. That’s a good stance to check. Because it’s not about you solving problems or it’s not about you telling people what to do, it’s about you helping them discover their way.

And I think there’s an art to asking good open-ended questions or powerful questions. So study them. There’s literally, everyone, a book on Amazon entitled “Powerful Questions”. And if you ever wanted to have, like, 8,000 questions to ask, good open-ended questions. I mean, it’s got thousands of questions. I’m not suggesting you have to read all. But the point is become artful with asking questions.

The second thing I always joke in my class is asking a powerful question is only part of it, powerful listening is the other part. I find that a lot of people, and I’m going to pick on technical leaders, we suck at listening. We suck at patience. Henry, not you and not anyone listening to the podcast, but other people in the universe. And so, I think slowing down and really carefully letting your questions land, giving some folks time to think about it. Actually practicing silence. Silence is a wonderful friend for everyone, patience and then helping re-clarify. So do some studies in powerful listening.

There’s something in the book called the “Coaching Arc”. Think of it as a way of having a conversation structure. I like a chess metaphor, opening moves, middle game and end game, landing it. Think in terms when you’re coaching people in coaching sessions of having an arc. What’s nice about that coaching mindset is it’s about the client. Very often, at least in my experience, technical leaders they make it about the business and they make the conversation. So if you’ve ever had a one on one with someone, I’ve made this mistake and I still can make the mistake, when I’m under business pressure, I make it about delivery and I make it about solving problems. And that’s not a good one on one. Or I make it about identifying the person’s weaknesses or picking at them or improving them. That’s not coaching the client.

In fact, start with, what is their agenda? What can you do for them? That should be your first powerful question in a one on one, in a coaching conversation. What is your problem? What is your challenge? And what can I do to help you? Does everyone see the switch? It’s not about me as the leader. It’s about me serving the team member, or me serving the team, or me serving multiple teams. I can have a coaching conversation with a hundred people. I can have an arc with a hundred people. It’s the posture change that professional coaching sort of changes. I would say, if you all entertain that, that’s a wonderful way to start flipping your leadership model. Henry, any reactions to that?

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. I mean, so many insights. I’m just listening to what you described. I’m reflecting myself because I’m so guilty of so many things that you mentioned. So, for example, as leaders, we tend to want to solve problems, trying to improve, for example, our direct reports' weaknesses, or maybe the parts where they do not do effectively. The other thing is about listening. Sometimes, as technical leaders, when we ask the question, we already have a judgment or an answer that we are getting ready to reply back to the person. I think all this is common for many leaders out there. It’s like a bias that we have. So thanks for mentioning that. I think really, really very good techniques, right? These powerful questions and powerful listening.

[00:27:59] Powerful Questions

Henry Suryawirawan: If we can dive deeper into each of these powerful questions, what would be some of your favorite powerful questions, Bob? Maybe if you can, maybe, teach us here, what are some of the examples or maybe behaviors that we want to dig deeper by those powerful questions?

Bob Galen: So there’s a set I would recommend, I talked about in the book. “The Coaching Habit” is another book. It’s actually not a coaching book, and it’s not an agile book. It’s not a technical leadership book. It’s a generic leadership book. So it’s a nice book that supports what I was just saying. And what the author came up with, he shared one of the dangers with powerful questions, Henry, is there’s so many choices. I’ve seen inexperienced coaches. They spend so much time trying to pick the perfect question because they have so many choices. And it makes the coaching very awkward because you can see the person going through the algorithm to try to pick the perfect situational question. And the person being coaches like, “And you what? Please ask another question.” So there’re too many choices or there can be.

So he has seven, and I love the simplicity of the model. I like to identify them as to where, in a coaching arc, they might be most appropriate. So the first question is the kick-start question. What’s on your mind? Beautiful question. Everyone with me? Beautiful question. What’s on your mind? Stop. Don’t tell them what’s on your mind. What’s on their mind? And then listen. Just listen to that.

The second one is, “And what else?”, the AWE question. And what else? So what’s on your mind? And what else? Then let that land, and that’s setting the agenda. Everyone with me? So that’s an opening move question. Both of those can be nicely done in the opening moves. It’s setting the agenda. Oh, what do you think we should cover? What do you need the most help with? What would you like to cover in this conversation? As everyone sees, the agenda is not coming from me. The agenda’s coming from who I’m coaching and I’m serving them. Now, of course, if we’re in the middle of a project, I would hope that some of the things on their mind are some of the challenges that they’re having. So there you have it.

The third question is a focus question. What’s the real challenge here for you or to you? So now, there are these questions that are going a little bit deeper. I think of it as the five why’s. If you’ve ever heard of the five, ask why multiple times. You’re trying to drill into understanding. So that’s a wonderful question to get below the surface on something.

The foundation question is, what do you want? Wonderful question. Probably not opening moves. Now, we’ve moved into middle game, and you could use these wherever you want. But there’s a place in the middle game. What do you want? What would you like to see happen, is a variation of that, right? What would help you right now? What’s the priority?

The lazy question is, how can I help? If you notice, Henry, now what’s happening is this is giving me permission to then provide guidance, if you’re with me. But I haven’t gone on in with my guns blazing, telling people what’s wrong and what they need to do. I’m actually asking permission as a coach. I hope this is an opening. Right now, I’m listening. How can I help? Henry, you talked about as leaders, we always have, I want to help five things and they don’t pick any of my five. They pick another one. Do I guide them to one of mine or do I take theirs? And the answer is I take theirs and I put mine on the shelf for a little bit.

So there’s something called the strategic question. And I love this one. It’s maybe not appropriate. But if you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to? It’s the priority question. It’s the avoiding multitasking question or the avoiding excessive work in progress question. And I think it’s appropriate for all of us. So if you say yes to this redesign, what do you have to say no to? Okay. What do you have to stop doing? Let that question land.

The learning question. This is an end game question. What was most useful to you in this coaching session? Here’s something I want more leaders to ask, Henry. How could I have made this coaching session better for you? What could I have done better?

I hope everyone is sensing. All of these questions and even the way I’ve been playing them about, I hope you see that it’s not about me. Did you notice that? It’s rarely about me. It’s about me helping someone else, and I think that’s a key mindset. So starting with coaching and drilling in. I highly recommend you read the book. It’s relatively short. And you start practicing these questions in your one-on-ones. You could use these in a group setting, etc, and switch that posture from, “Hey, everyone, I’m the boss here. I know what’s going on.” Switch that posture to activating your team. And my experience is that will grow the capability of your teams and they will blow your socks off because now it’s not about you, it’s about them growing. But that’s just me.

Henry Suryawirawan: Wow. When I listened to you explaining these seven powerful questions. It’s adapted from the book called “The Coaching Habit”. So if you haven’t heard, make sure you check it out on your bookstore, right? So the coaching habit advocates seven powerful questions. So the way Bob explained, I was looking back in my one-on-one habit. Because I also want to improve my one-on-one skills. Sometimes it’s really hard depending on the person as well. Sometimes they share more, sometimes they don’t talk. So I think these seven powerful questions can be a framework for everyone who listens here, maybe in your one-on-one or in your problem solving kind of discussions. You can start with all this. And the beauty is that it follows the coaching arc. So there’s a start, there’s a middle, and there’s an end. Thanks for sharing all this. I will make sure myself to read this book and learn more from these powerful questions.

[00:33:37] Powerful Listening

Henry Suryawirawan: The other skill that you mentioned is about powerful listening. I think it’s equally important. Like I mentioned, right? So many leaders have their own biases and they don’t listen. They don’t listen fully. So tell us more how we can be powerful listeners?

Bob Galen: I didn’t even write it in the book, Henry. I’ve been a technical manager or a leader for years. And one of the things I used to do, and I still sometimes do it. I have to fight it. But what you were talking about, I’m thinking ahead as a leader, and I know what the problems and I have five solutions, and I’m waiting for an opportunity to tell everyone how to fix themselves. So I’m actually not listening to them. I mean, I’m sort of listening, but I’m multitasking. Maybe 20% of my CPU is listening, and 80% of my CPU is waiting to tell them what to do.

Someone told me that talking versus listening, that you have idle time, and it really resonated with me. Even a fast talker is only taking up like 10 or 20% of your brain. Some people are really good at using the other 80% to observe, but I’m not. I have a tendency to multitask in my head. So I started taking notes and I don’t need the notes, but I started using notekeeping as a way to take up that idle time. I hope this is helping everyone. And so I actually take detailed notes, and what it’s doing is slowing me down so that I’m a better listener. It’s not about the notekeeping. It’s about the notekeeping to be a better listener.

The other thing is, I think it’s not just to think about the words, but become an observer. Part of powerful listening is observing someone’s body language. Observing their intonation. What if someone like their hands starts moving when they talk about a problem? They’re like, “Oh my gosh. You know, I’ve been working on this for like five days.” As a listener, what they’re doing is they’re giving you extra information, and you could explore that. I could say, “Henry, tell me more about your hands. What’s going on? This must be really frustrating or really challenging for you. Tell me more about what’s going on.” Everyone, if I wasn’t paying attention to his hands, or if I wasn’t using it to understand, he was communicating. Or his intonation, if his voice goes up, that something might be happening. So I think powerful listening is not just listening to the words, but listening to body language, listening to intonation, also listening to the emotional field.

Coaches talk about the emotional field. Sometimes even what’s not said. One of my most powerful listening aspects is what if someone didn’t ask me for help? So Henry comes to me talking about a problem. He hasn’t seen his children for five days. He forgot their names. He’s been working 24 hours a day, and sweat is coming off and he just promises, promises, promises, and then that’s the end of the conversation. So he never asked me for help. As a coach, as a leader, should I consider why? I might actually want to reflect later and then have another conversation with Henry. It’s like, does he consider me not helpful? Does he consider me an ogre? Is it unsafe for him to ask for help? Have I created an environment where it lacks safety? Or have I not encouraged him or what? There’s something going on there. Everyone with me? Henry communicated something to me without communicating, if I’m not really listening. I think of it as having my antenna up, I need to be listening on all channels. Maybe that’s the way to think about, to me, powerful listening.

Another big part of it is in reflecting back, telling Henry what I heard. Did you notice in my example, I observed. So part of reflection was I saw his hands moving. And that was an exaggerated example. What if Henry was like this when he was talking about dates? His eyes were down. He was looking at his feet. “Henry, are you going to hit the date?” “I don’t know. Yeah. Maybe I will. I’ll try. I’ll try really hard. He hasn’t made eye contact. Maybe I call that out. Not in a confrontational way. “Henry, you’re not looking at me. Clearly, something’s going on? So what I’m doing is it’s not just listening on all channels, but then reflecting back and clarifying, if that makes sense. Thinking about how do I get better communication? How do I make it safer? That, to me, would be powerful listening.

And then pay attention. I think the key thing, like I said, is it’s our job to pay attention. Something related to this. It’s not their job to clearly communicate to me. “Oh, they never told me that. They never said they couldn’t hit that date. They never said that they were having technical challenges.” It’s their job, but it’s also our job to detect it. As leaders, we need to become better receivers, is the point. Receivership is our responsibility, and it’s not just a one-way street is what I’m trying to communicate. So we have a responsibility to become a better questioner and a better listener.

Henry Suryawirawan: Wow. It’s like a masterclass for me. It’s like learning how to be a better coach or leader. I think you give some practical tips, right? Like, for example, taking notes itself is an act for you to slow down, kind of like listen, right? Because you cannot write notes without listening and also typing at the same time. Otherwise, you’ll use that brain to think about something else. Maybe the replies that you’re going to answer and things like that. That actually is quite powerful for those who haven’t practiced this taking notes in your one-on-one, maybe.

[00:38:54] When to Give Solutions

Henry Suryawirawan: Also, sometimes it’s not always about giving answer, solutions. Sometimes it’s about the person wants to express their frustrations and just blowing up the steam, and that’s it, or should I give some solutions? So maybe as an experienced coach, how do you determine whether this is the time for you to give solutions or this is the time for you to just listen, acknowledge, and maybe reflect back, like you said? Maybe any tips here, how to gauge this kind of conversation?

Bob Galen: I want to actually say something else that you inspire me, Henry. There’s something called ventilation. So I’ve attended professional coaching classes. I’m interested in improving my coaching skills, my professional coaching skills, and I attended something called ORSC. It’s an Organizational Relationship Systems Coaching, and it’s a system which is means groups of two or more. Allowing the system to ventilate can be very helpful. So I used to shut that down because I’m uncomfortable with conflict. We need to get something done. As a leader, I will shut down whining and complaining. Very often, I can shut that. What I’ve learned is not let it go on for days, but let it go on. Allow the system to ventilate instead of trying to neutralize it. So that’s, I wanted to give a term to what you said. It’s not a good habit to shut those things down. Allow them to emerge, I think, is a good habit for that. Now, I’ve lost your original question. Restate your question.

Henry Suryawirawan: Yeah. So I was about to say, how do you know the time for you to give some ventilation, or you should neutralize it?

Bob Galen: All right. So everyone, I have a rule that I made up called the 95% rule. It’s for coaches. It’s for leaders. This is less of a coaching rule and more of a leadership rule, but it applies to coaching. The 95% rule is out of every hundred opportunities, Henry, that you get that people come to you and they want your wisdom, they want your technical wisdom, your problem-solving capabilities. Out of every hundred times, you get five times to tell them what to do. Otherwise, the other 95% of the time, you have to shut up and help them solve their own problem. Does that make sense? So, you get five opportunities and you have to keep track of these. I have not written an app, but you can write an app, and you can call it your 95% rule. I think the best strategy is to keep those five in your back pocket for the most crucial decisions. Does that make sense? Like, if someone comes to you and you know that they’re making a fundamental mistake that’ll harm the business. Yes. Help them, Henry. Get in the game. Help them. Fix it. But that takes one away. You’ve now lost one of your five.

This is with a high-performance team. Everyone with me? So I think the 95% rule changes based on the experience level of the team. When I used this at a company, I had really high performance teams. So I didn’t need to solve their problems. I needed to enable them to solve their own problems. If I had an inexperienced team, I would probably have the 80% or the 75% rule because I would need to be more prescriptive more often based on the maturity or the skillset of the team. But the point is a lot of leaders flip it around. They have the 5% rule. They only shut up five times out of a hundred. Everyone, trust is part of this. Trust that the team or the individuals will solve their own problem. Think about it, if you’ve hired great people, if you’ve done a good job, then they are capable. They don’t need you to be telling them what to do, or it needs to be situational. So anyone listening to this, think about creating your own percent rule. Where are the must haves? But a lot of leaders, Henry, in my experience, they flip it around. It’s a sense of their self worth. It’s a sense of their experience. They’re not honoring and trusting their teams and they’re not aware of it. So that’s where the 95 or the 80% rule can really help.

Henry Suryawirawan: Again, these are all really insightful wisdom, right, from Bob about coaching for leaders out there, if you don’t practice all this yet. So I think also it comes back to this psychological safety, for example. As a leader, do you trust your people? Do you give a chance for your people to thrive on their own? Not necessarily always for you to direct. I’m guilty of this so many times as well as a leader myself. And I think for those of you who listen, I think it’s time to reflect back. How can you come up with your percentage rule? It should not be lopsided 5% to listen and 95% giving answer. But it should be more towards, you know, listening, and observing, and driving people so that they can solve their own problems. And you brought up a good point. If we hire good people, we want them to solve their own problems sometimes. Most of the times, especially in high-performing team.

[00:43:30] Coaching Up

Henry Suryawirawan: So Bob, another interesting thing that I picked up from your book, you mentioned about coaching up. I always thought that as a coach, you kind of like move from top to bottom, right? You kind of like advise people, give people some advice, and things like that. But you also mentioned about the technique called coaching up where you probably do some kind of coaching to the leaders. Tell us more about this. What’s this term? And how do we use it in day-to-day as a technical practitioner?

Bob Galen: People have talked about managing your manager. Or there are expressions that you may have heard or managing up. So coaching up is the equivalent of that. I think downward is easy, Henry. I think it’s easier for us to coach or manage down, and it’s much more challenging for us to coach. So for me, peer-to-peer. One of my challenges is peer-to-peer coaching or peer-to-peer management. Because I struggle with talking. They’re my peers and I respect them. And I don’t know if I should be telling them, giving them advice or having powerful questions with them. So actually for me, that’s actually my most difficult direction. And then there’s coaching up. I have an easier time coaching up than I do peer-to-peer. Coaching leaders, my boss, who I report to, and it depends on that. I would say, as a leader, we have a responsibility to coach in 360 degrees. An agile coach has a responsibility to coach. So as leaders, it’s that same thing. I think there’s risk in the direction. So some of those directions have additional risk.

The other thing, remember, I was talking about stances earlier. I was talking about this notion of stances. I think professional coaching stance is you’re probably going to use it more with your teams, people that report to you. I think that coaching up is much more about advisory stance, and leading stance, and how you’re showing up to them. Are you role modeling? Are you walking your own talk? That really resonates with leaders. Like you can coach up by just showing them what good agile. Let’s talk about agile delivery, business agility, and agile teams. You can coach your bosses by coaching kickass teams and showing them what excellence looks like. To me, that’s a coaching activity. That’s a coaching up activity. It’s less about asking them death by a thousand questions or something like that. So your stances need to shift. That’s, I think, the same thing with your peer.

Another part of it is being adept with what I would call crucial conversations or radical candor, having the courage. I can’t tell you, Henry, as an outside consultant, I’ll come into organizations. This happens to me hundreds to thousands of times. I might be coaching managers and leaders, and they all come to me and tell me their problems. And they’re like, Bob, will you tell them about it? They want me to have the crucial conversations upward. I mean, sometimes I do. But I’m like, “Come on guys and gals. This is your job.” “No, no, no. We want you to do it. You’re so much better at it than I am.” But my point is part of radical candor and crucial conversations is having the courage. It’s your job to have these hard conversations and to become more skilled at it. Actually, in my leadership workshops, we use a dojo format to practice having what I would call crucial conversations so that people can get a little bit more confidence in having them and improve their skills. So that they can have those, what I would call, those hard conversations. Another way to say it is speaking truth to power. That’s part of our job. And a lot of folks avoid that for a variety of reasons. But I think if you’re in the coaching business, or you’re in the leadership business, you have to have these conversations for your teams. If not for you and not for the organization, for the health of your teams. So whatever it takes to have them. Now, don’t go it alone. It takes practice and skill and techniques to do that. I would recommend two books to read. There is a book called “Crucial Conversations” that has a framework for engaging in these kinds of conversations. You could think of it as an arc. And then “Radical Candor” is a wonderful book that talks about the dynamics of that. Again, it’s not just downward, it’s outward and upward as well.

Henry Suryawirawan: Wow, thanks again for giving us recommendations of books to learn more about this. And I think you brought up a good point. These difficult conversations, the crucial conversation and radical candor, sometimes we opt for the easy way. Just shut up and don’t mention anything because sometimes we fear that when we say something bad to the boss, for example, they will rate us differently. Maybe they think of us as a problem maker or something like that. So I think the responsibility for us as a good mature leader is actually to bring up this kind of difficult conversations as well.

[00:48:06] Coaching Middle Managers

Henry Suryawirawan: When I listen to you, Bob, I think I can see why people tell you are the coach of the coaches. Can you maybe give us some practical tips? How can we actually coach those managers as well? Because they are like the coach to the direct reports below them. So any kind of tips, maybe as a coach of the coaches? So, for example, if you’re a director and you have a manager below you and the manager has more people below them, right? How can you coach this middle manager, so to speak?

Bob Galen: So two ideas I would present. One is show them. This actually comes back full circle, Henry, to what we were talking about. I actually think my most powerful coaching stance and I’m discovering this in my coaching journey. How am I role modeling stance? It’s part of the leadership. How am I showing up? I don’t have to say a word. What if a VP comes into a room that I’m coaching and they start blaming people for missing a date? And now people look at, “Okay, Bob’s an outside coach.” Whatever. There’s a context there. How am I going to show up? Do you understand what I’m saying? Not what am I going to say, but what am I going to do? And how do I do it?

And I have a myriad of choices. I could put my head down and check my phone. I could send an email to my mom. I could leave the room, pretend I have to have a break. Or I could have a conversation right there and say, “Henry, really, blame is not going to help at all in this situation. Why don’t I work with this team to figure out what the possible next steps are? Clearly, you’re having a lot of emotion and a lot of heat. Why don’t I meet with you afterwards? So I’m going to kick them off and facilitate. Why don’t you take a break?” So what I’ve done is stepped in and tried to facilitate a session to deescalate it. That required a lot of courage on my part. Maybe Henry was about to write my check. He was about to send me money and that might not work well. I might not get my money, so there’s a risk for me as well. But I stepped into the risk. I tried to be congruent. I wanted to deflect blame and I might have even called it out. And I’m like, blame is not going to help us here, Henry. Blame is not going to solve the problem. Finding out who made the mistake. What’s that going to do? Stop that. All I’m trying to do is I’m trying to role play here.

So I think as a leader, everyone who reports to you, you are sending, I call it culture shaping. Henry, let’s say you have three levels of organization below you. Guess what? The culture of that organization emanates from how you are showing up. If you are a workaholic and you like to work 20-hour days, that’s what you’re setting. Guess what’s going to happen in the organization? You might not ever write that down. If you never talk about your family, Henry, no one will ever. I’m kidding. No one will ever talk. But if you bring some of your personal self into work, if you honor people like work life balance, guess what happens in the culture? So my point is, I think one of the best things you can do is do that. Control how you show up and then give folks the space and remind folks of how you’re showing up, become a culture shaper. So you’re coaching by not coaching.

The second thing I would say is create a safe environment so those folks can ask you for help. I used to sit in on one-on-ones with managers and they would ask me say, “Bob I’m struggling with a one-on-one,” or “I need to put someone on a performance improvement plan, or whatever, and I’m really worried about that.” I would help them with that. I would coach them personally to help. So it’s not only two things, but role modeling and then mentoring the individuals around the ways that you’re showing up. Because it’s going to disrupt them. It’s going to be hard for them to change from a blame culture to an empowerment culture. So help them. That would be two ideas.

[00:51:47] 3 Tech Lead Wisdom

Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks so much for the tips. Again, like I mentioned, this is like a masterclass of coaching for leaders out there. I, myself, feel being coached a lot today. Unfortunately, due to time, Bob, I think we have to cut it pretty soon, but I always have one last question that I asked to all my guests, which is for you to share three technical leadership wisdom. You mentioned about it in the middle of our conversation. I hope you do prepare something. So take it like an advice that you want to give to all the listeners out there, especially maybe related to the conversation or to your experience. Maybe if you can share your three technical leadership wisdom, Bob.

Bob Galen: I intentionally didn’t prepare something because I wanted to challenge myself, Henry. So there’s going to be a little bit of a pause, everyone, while I think. But I think this is the better way.

So I think be genuine. As a technical leader, be you. Bring your whole self to work, not just your professional skills. Be you, be vulnerable. If you don’t know something, show vulnerability, say, I don’t know. Ask for help of your team. One of the most powerful things as a leader you can do is ask your team to help you. It can have phenomenal results. Help me to solve this problem, because you’re flipping it around. And it feels vulnerable. It feels like, well, I’m a leader. I need to know everything. So, be genuine. Be you. Bring your whole self to work.

I think one-on-one’s a second thing. Your one-on-ones are a powerful change tool. And we’ve talked about that. So look at your one-on-one interactions and, I mean, one-on-one coaching sessions. You are a coach. So darn it. Take ownership of those events and don’t make it about the business. The one-on-one is about the person that you’re with and about growing them, and it’s their agenda. So try this experiment. Have powerful one-on-ones with powerful listening and make it about the other person and their agenda. Lean into that and see what happens organizationally. Just look and I can guarantee you that your organization will improve. But it’s counterintuitive because both of those, one and two, are both sort of awkward to start with, but try it and look at what’s happening.

The third thing, and we didn’t talk about it at all today, is self-care. I don’t know if you can be a good leader if you’re not taking care of yourself. I once took a survey, and I took a leadership culture survey 360 with a lot of people. A lot of people that I had worked with as a leader in other companies. The survey came back and one of my weaknesses is I’m a bit of a workaholic. But one of the comments of 15 people, like eight of them, said, “Bob, we don’t want you to die. We’re worried that you’re going to die.” And I was like, oh my God! It’s like I’m not taking care of myself. So the data showed me that, but then the personal comments, like really I’m like, man, I must be doing it, really. So my point is we’re not self aware of it, or very often we ignore it. But your first customer, your first client, your first coachee is you. And are you taking care of you? My observation is most leaders are doing a terrible job. Me included of taking care of themselves. Because they feel like their job is to take care of others. But in order to do that, it’s the oxygen mask metaphor. Everyone with me? Before you put on the oxygen mask of other people, you have to put it on yourself. So self-care first. And that’s my three.

Henry Suryawirawan: Wow. That’s like a perfect way to wrap up our conversation because we’ve been talking about coaching. Many people assume coaching is about you’re helping other people, you’re listening to other people. But you mentioned something really important that the first customer, the first person that you should coach, is actually yourself. So self-care. Please take care of yourself. Don’t burn out. Sometimes we are in this mode and we are not self aware, right? Sometimes we need people to also trigger us. Hey, maybe you should take care about yourself. So again, thank you so much, Bob, for reminding us all this important advice.

So for people who love to continue their conversation with you, or maybe buy your books, or consulting, any place where they can find you online, Bob?

Bob Galen: The best place, one place, is Agile-Moose. So I have a little moniker called Agile hyphen Moose, M-O-O-S-E.com. That’s a nice landing place to find out more about me.

Henry Suryawirawan: Thanks for sharing that again. Thank you so much, Bob, for this powerful masterclass, I would say, and really thank you and appreciate for that.

Bob Galen: Thank you, Henry. I appreciate it.

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