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I recently taught a class on coaching in the workplace where the group was insistent that I thoroughly address the question of how to coach your boss. I felt they were yearning for a simple solution for how to get the boss to do what you want –which is quite different from coaching the boss! But nonetheless the experience has inspired me to write more on this topic.

If you have a strong desire to influence your boss (or even your clients, your customers or your spouse), you can use this 4-step coaching model to exponentially increase your influence.

How to Coach Anyone

1) Build rapport, trust and mutual respect;
2) Focus on what motivates the coachee while setting aside your own agenda;
3) Add value by listening, asking questions, clarifying, reframing or suggesting;
4) Encourage action, if the coachee is ready.

How will this work with your boss? Will you be able to really influence your boss using this model?

The first thing I notice about this model is that it is missing the first step:
0) Be confident, aware and present

As the coach, you must stand in a position of personal strength that allows you to drop your guard and immerse yourself in your boss’s thinking. For example, if you are afraid of losing your job, you will not be able to coach your boss. Conversely if you are confident in your own opinions, you will be able to set them aside long enough to listen fully to what the boss is concerned about. That confidence is the platform that allows you to be aware of the full picture of what is going on for the boss. That knowledge is what gives you influence.

So the prerequisite step in coaching your boss is to become aware of your own strength and security and to enhance it if necessary.

Coaching is like Tai Chi or any martial art where you use the energy of the opponent to move them according to your will. In steps 1 and 2 you begin moving along with your boss. You follow his or her pace, style and agenda. You focus your attention on what you respect and appreciate about your boss and you let him or her see the aspects of you that are most worthy of respect.

In step 2 you begin to notice your bosses needs, concerns and motivations. And you patiently set aside your own concerns until you can find common ground: some place where your concerns overlap. If your relationship is already strong, you may be able to offer your own opinions quite quickly. But if the relationship is new or tentative, you may choose to be patient and focus all your attention on understanding your boss’s motivations and building trust.

In step 3 the martial arts maneuvers begin in earnest. As you engage in conversation with your boss, use your curiosity to understand the boss’s motivations and reasons. Search for the areas where your needs and goals overlap as this is where you can influence your boss according to your own agenda. The more you notice about him or her, the more opportunities you will have to influence. Your influencing power comes from the combination of your awareness of your boss and the value of your own experience, perspective and interpretations. If you’re having trouble, go back to the previous steps.

If you’ve been successful with the previous steps, step 4 can happen automatically, especially since bosses are usually action-oriented people. But you may also want to suggest further meetings or other actions that encourage progress in ways that the boss may be less likely to forward on his own.

Obviously there are infinite variations in this process depending on what kind of boss you have, your own position and experience and the concerns you are dealing with. Think through your own example using the 4 step model to see how each step can help you coach your boss.

Would you like me to share some examples? What examples do you have?