What Role Do You Want Me To Play?

What role do you want me to play?

When I began coaching, I had to resist the urge to coach every conversation. So my wife and I made a pact: if it wasn’t abundantly clear (and I’m male, so most times it wasn’t) I would ask, “Which role would you like me to play: Husband, Friend or Coach?”

You know us husband types — we want to fix and protect. If she brings a problem to me, obviously she wants me to jump into action and fix it, right? This is easy to interpret with some comments, like, “Honey, the ice maker is stuck again.”  But if it’s about her tough day, or a problem with her boss, she may not want me to fix it — she may just want a friend.  

A friend is someone who commiserates. They’re the person with whom you grab a glass of wine and vent, just to get it off your chest. There’s nothing to fix; you just want someone who will join you in your misery and agree that you boss is a jerk. “I can’t believe he did that to you! Ugh!” Whether you’re right or wrong is irrelevant; your friend just listens, and you feel better because you’ve been seen and heard. Fixing the problem had nothing to do with it. Even though most spouses consider each other their best friend, this can be a difficult role for a spouse to play, especially if their partner seems to be hurting.

Coaching, on the other hand, isn’t about me doing anything, or commiserating. It’s about asking powerful questions, working together, and discussing the options in order to solve the problem. It’s not about what the coach thinks; it’s about the coach bringing out the best in the other person and collaboratively solving the problem in a meaningful, realistic way that empowers them — that allows them to step into the solution and take action.

To this day I will ask Julia that question: What role would you like me to play? And sometimes she’ll even say she wants coaching.

Leaders have an opportunity to do the same thing. When your team or an individual comes to you with an issue, our natural inclination is to jump into husband/boss mode, to fix it, to have the answer, to tell them what to do. After all, isn’t that why we get the big boss bucks? And sometimes, that is exactly what’s needed and wanted — but not always. To foster a real culture of engagement, productive communication and collaboration, they may want more of a coach or a leader than a boss. So ask them! “What role would you like me to play? Leader, boss, or coach?”

Instead of the boss, maybe what they really need is a leader: someone to inspire them, help them with the why and the vision, someone who is capable of bringing out their best and rallying the team.  Sometimes we lose touch with our purpose, our ‘why,’ and a leader can recharge that energy.

A coach, on the other hand, doesn’t tell them what to do like a boss. Rather, a coach engages with them, their confusions, their questions, their vulnerabilities, and helps them solve the problem. Like kids, we don’t always want to be told the answer all the time — but sometimes we can’t get there on our own, and want help without judgement or fear of retribution.

What do your people need and want? The answers, the inspiration, or the empowerment?

When was the last time you asked?