Supervision or Coaching?

One day a man walked by a cocoon and noticed a tightly wound butterfly within it, struggling to emerge. As it hung vertically from a branch, he noticed a small hole at the bottom through which the butterfly would have to squeeze to make its way out into the world. Given the size of the butterfly, the man was convinced that the butterfly would never make it through a hole that small.  Out of kindness and to prevent the butterfly from an intensive, seemingly impossible struggle, the man took out a small knife he carried and snipped the sides of the hole to enlarge it. The next day, the man noticed the butterfly had made his way only partially through the opening but was still struggling to emerge so, again, he snipped the sides of the hole just a bit to make it easier for the butterfly. On the third day, when the butterfly had still not freed itself from the cocoon, the man snipped the sides of the hole and the butterfly emerged. But, to the man’s surprise, it was malformed with short, stunted wings making it impossible for it to fly properly.  He knew instantly that the butterfly would never survive.

What the man had not understood was how a butterfly is actually formed. A butterfly goes through several stages in its transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. By squeezing itself through the small hole in its cocoon, the toughness of the effort essentially forces the fluid from its swollen body into its small, premature wings. Its struggle is the very thing that gives the butterfly its fully formed and beautiful wings, its freedom of flight, and the life it was born to live.

The lesson in this fable for all of us is that robbing someone of their struggle to form their skills and push through challenging times and strenuous work, robs them of becoming fully formed people and stunts the formation of the beautiful wings they need to fly to new heights of understanding, responsibility, effectiveness, and self-worth. It insinuates to them that we do not believe they can actually figure things out on their own, think for themselves, or make it through the journey they’ll need to take to master the skills we need or wish for them to master. This is the main difference between supervisory conversations and coaching conversations.

This week, we’ll give you some tips for one of the most important meetings you’ll have with your team:  Growth Conferences.

Growth conferences are just that:  Conferences about growth.  If you have already firmly established a culture that values constant growth, then these conversations are always about what next step of growth is essential for the employee to meet their goals and those of the practice, team, or business. To ensure that you are continuing to strengthen your employee’s ability for critical thinking, decision making, initiative, and realizing their full potential, we must shift from a supervisory model in which we tell people what to do, how to do it, and then evaluate them on their performance of those skills. We must shift to a conversation of exploring with the employee their professional goals, where they see themselves within the current business structure and future vision and coaching them to identify the next step of growth necessary to accomplish what you and they would like to see accomplished.

In these conversations, we must learn to lead employees to their own answers with great questions and insights and help them access their own creative ideas about the resources available to them to push those skills further along. I recently learned a simple but powerful structure to make this shift easier. The structure is a 4-step framework: 1) Deeply listen with “Tell me more…”, 2) Notice and watch for energy shifts, and 3) Point them in directions worthy of exploration.

Here’s how a coach recently used this method while speaking with me:

Coach:  Katherine, what is the biggest challenge you’re wrestling with right now in your business?

Me:  Hmmm. I think it would probably be time management.

Coach:  (Deeply Listens)  Tell me more.

Me:  Well, I’ve got so many projects in process right now. I’m trying to get a book written, videos filmed for our new on-demand learning system, and we are revamping our website and marketing strategy.

Coach:  Help me understand why that’s hard.

Me:  Well, I’ve still got to make money. I’m the primary coach and speaker for most of our offerings, sole author of our weekly blog and marketing content, and all sales conversations and contracting still comes through me. So, I often feel overwhelmed, behind, and unable to finish the projects I really care about.

Coach:  (Notice) That does sound hard. I noticed that when you brought up being the only content writer and salesperson you seemed to feel you shouldn’t have to be the only one. Is that right?

Me:  Well, yes. But I’ve struggled with how to fix it. My assistant doesn’t work full-time for me, and I’m not sure she could fit these initial conversations into her schedule when the opportunity presents itself.

Coach:  (Point)  Have you asked her? What other ideas have you considered?  Have you spoken with other colleagues about how they’ve handled this issue?

Of course the conversation continued on with lots of discussion of ideas and solutions (mostly generated by me) and ended with some commitments to next steps. By the time our conversation was done, I had generated several new action steps and ideas for managing my current roadblock. My coach didn’t cut my cocoon. He just asked, listened, noticed, and pointed me to some new ideas and challenged me to find my own answers. This won’t be the last time I’ll ever face a time management issue as a businesswoman. If I want to grow with my company, I’ll need to master this skill. A great coaching conversation helped me squeeze through the hole and grow a new set of wings.

You can and should do the same for your people and for yourself. This week, consider how you can shift from supervisory conversations to more coaching conversations. Schedule some growth conferences for each of your employees over the next few months. And, then, watch all those beautiful butterflies start to spread their wings.

If you’d like our complimentary growth conference kit, email us at and we’ll be happy to share it with you.

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.  It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”
~ Timothy Gallwey

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