Strong Wings

You were probably attracted to teaching as a profession because you wanted to help others and to make a difference.

You know that facilitating independent learning for your pupils makes a difference to their lives, but what about the adults? In the classroom you teach children to work things out for themselves, yet when a colleague asks you a question…  you tend to offer up the answer right on cue, for all sorts of reasons — it’s quicker, it’s easier,  it doesn’t feel right getting them to work it out for themselves, I don’t want to create extra work for them, I want to help them…

Whenever phrases like these crop up in a coaching session, I go all Zen and tell the Strong Wings story.

A man is watching a butterfly struggle out of a chrysalis. He decides to help by snipping the opening in the chrysalis. Sure enough, the butterfly does emerge more easily and the man is glad to have helped. Momentarily. He suddenly realises the butterfly can’t fly because its wings are too weak. The process of struggling was exactly what the butterfly needed to develop the strength to fly.

In this context, helping people is responding in ways that prevent them thinking for themselves and guarantees learned dependency on you – for your permission, your approval or your knowledge – weak wings.

Developing people is responding with questions – coaching and mentoring them so they are empowered to find their own solutions  – strong wings.

Weak wings – a common workplace feeling?

One time I was stuck on some point of online administration. I phoned an IT Help person who, very helpfully, sorted all the admin problems there and then for me. Great. Then something similar happened again. Phoned. Sorted. And then the same glitch. I wanted to learn how to put this right for myself. So, I thought about what I needed to learn for myself and what was appropriate for others to do for me. In this IT case, I felt stuck in conscious incompetence, and I felt disempowered. And then it occurred to me that this is what learned dependency feels like – repetitive and safe.

Image by DuBoix from

self coaching

Self Coaching

  • What examples do you have of when you ‘help’ people at work?
    And when you ‘develop’ people?
  • What are the repeat questions people come and ask you?
  • How does ‘helping’ impact on your time in the long term?
    And on their performance?
  • What can you do differently to shift away from ‘helping’ and move towards ‘developing’ your people?
  • Identify 3 – 5 ways you could support people to be less dependent on you for help, permission or approval — and so enable them to grow strong wings.
  • Choose one way that offers a degree of success.
  • Commit to a time or opportunity to apply or introduce this.
coaching others

Coaching others

Here are 6 questions from my Questions on the Go model. Simply ask the questions, without getting into much dialogue, and watch them discover their own solutions.

  • What’s working?
  • What’s not working?
  • What could work?
  • What would make a difference?
  • What could you do differently?
  • What are your next steps?
coaching upwards

Coaching upwards

  • What outcomes do you want to achieve in this situation?
  • What do you need to learn for yourself?
    How will you learn this?
  • What’s appropriate for others to do for you?
  • All things considered, which option will bring success in the longer term?
  • And sustain success?

Coacting Styles : Awareness & Adaptability

Use your style to help you to make progress.

Innovators – have no shortage of ideas on what to do, pinning them down to action is the challenge.

Achievers – value the short term gains in giving & receiving answers, they miss the longer term impact and benefits of people finding their solutions.

Perfectors – like to think things through and find solutions.

Harmonisers – may feel uncomfortable with the silence while they reflect, and also with the need to find a response you’ll approve of.

You can learn more about Coacting Styles here.