Leadership Development

Is just giving direction enough? COACHING’S dilemma


To all my CEO’s, President’s, Vice President’s, and Corporate Head’s when you give direction to your direct reports do they get it right? Do you find yourself giving that same direction again and again? Well, I would say the majority of this problem falls on you….not your direct reports.  Yep, I said it it’s your fault but it’s understandable. We’ve all had those moments at the office where we feel we have to literally hold the hands of our employees in order to get things done. Before you stop reading this post and declare it just another smash against corporate leadership or a lecture on the fundamentals of good communication, wait just a minute you may find a different angle here. Being on both ends of the scale as someone giving the direction and receiving it, I have compassion for the CEO who provides direction only to find it falling on the floor like a broken egg. The office is often a bustling world wind of chaos, personnel running late for meetings, printing machines churning like crazy, and the side conversations taking place in the hallway….not an environment for patiently giving orders like spoon feeding a baby. However, I will always argue that the person giving the direction in the midst of chaos should discipline themselves to slow the world down. Let’s be frank, if something needs to get done through someone else it’s incumbent upon you as the “direction giver” to ensure it’s communicated in a way that’s understandable and executed on.  While this all may seem like common sense, rarely is it practiced and the consequences typically fall on the head of the receiver as incompetent or slow in taking orders. This is a problem that can damage a career.

Coaching versus Giving Direction

I’ve heard managers say “If I have to “check-in” more than once with an individual I gave direction too then it’s a sign I have an incompetent person. Conversely, the person receiving the direction will not ask for clarification for fear of being seen as incompetent. Now, as a manager you’ve just started the beginning’s of a communication crisis between you and the employee that could have been avoided. Coaching is not only about receiving maximum effort from the employee, it’s also meant to fight ambiguity which impacts communication and ultimately performance.  Certainly, we want to be able to empower our people and provide them the opportunity to critically think and make decisions on their own. However, empowerment, self-reliance and yes competency occurs when one is properly supported through effective coaching. What I find in my consulting work in dealing with clients who have internal leadership issues is that many of them conflate coaching with giving direction. The two cannot be any farther apart. In my humble opinion coaching is 90% listening and observing while the other 10% is actually communicating the behavior you would like to achieve. One of my favorite stories that I use in lectures best illustrates the confusion between coaching and giving direction: 

When I was Chief Commercial Officer for an animal health company I can remember like it was yesterday when I literally sprinted to one of my sales director’s office to give him direction on responding to a customer complaint we received. The sales director had been hounding me that one of his sales rep’s customers complained of not receiving a follow answer to a request regarding one of her patients. The request was outside the rep and sales director’s responsibility and could only be addressed by someone at my level. Rather than picking up the phone and speaking to the customer directly I chose to delegate the transmission of the message to the sales director who in turn inaccurately deciphered my message to his rep who delivered the message to the customer……the result was horrifying. Long story short we lost the customer…and patient. Whose fault was it? Absolutely, it was my fault and I fell on the sword avoiding throwing my sales director and their sales rep under the bus. I failed spectacularly in so many ways in that situation one being not properly coaching upfront prior to providing direction. Yet I see similar incidences like these take place every day in corporate America and it’s brushed off like just another day at the office. Giving direction is the result of adequate coaching which has to be taken seriously and with kid gloves. I’m sure I’ll receive the dissent that employees should not be coddled and taking the additional time to properly coach someone up is a waste of time…time I do not have. I hear this complaint all the time and it’s not only a cop out it’s dangerous for any company to survive. Successful leadership and ultimately a successful company is emblematic of unambiguous communication and superior coaching. As a leader ensuring there’s total alignment on how you want your direction executed can only be done when there’s proper coaching upfront. I explain more about this in our “1-on-1 Leadership Coaching Model” which you can find by clicking on the link: https://www.slideshare.net/aharrell2000/1-on-1-management-coaching-202.  In this model I also go over the fundamental steps of effective coaching but from an interesting perspective, I hope you have the opportunity to review it. 

Here are some steps you can take to ensure your direction is the direct result of your effective coaching


  • #1 ask if your direction is clear and understandable. What’s wrong with “Are we aligned”? “Do you understand…are you sure”?
  • Use short, simple sentences. Compound, complex sentences may work well on paper, but they can be confusing and difficult to follow when spoken.
  • At that split moment ask yourself subconsciously “Did I make myself clear”? Most times a self-check helps a great deal.
  • Think of how you react to someone who is unclear. How receptive are you to the person’s information? It’s easy to become impatient with people who can’t deliver a message clearly.
  • Watch that “corporate office speak”. People are more interested in hearing your thoughts clearly without all the latest hallway jargon.
  • If you sense that you are on a tangent, quickly segue back to your main point/direction. Acknowledge that you were off-track (distracted) and reiterate your main point/direction.
  • Use clear, concise language, even in the hallway casual discussion. This will help you be aware of the need to speak clearly and will give you more chances to practice clarity….and less ambiguity.


It’s the old adage before you “Inspect what you EXPECT” …make sure your coaching is thorough!


Is just giving direction ENOUGH? COACHING’S dilemma 


Take a look at our whitepaper: Cross Functional Leadership….”Leading across the Ambiguity Aisle”

Andre’ Harrell

AH2 & Beyond Consulting


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