Are You Coaching for Compliance? Or Coaching with Empathy?


Pam knows exactly how things should be done. She also knows how her employees should act and how they should think. Truth be told, she even knows how they should feel, but she doesn’t usually talk about that.


When her team doesn’t do, act, think and feel as she believes they should, she tries to set them straight. After all, if they don’t comply, chaos will ensue. Work won’t get done. Quality will drop and team cohesiveness will suffer.


She’s the boss. She has the title and the big office. Her employees are there to conform to her rules and do as she determines.


Kayla has no idea how her team should do things. She sees each of them as a person who brings a unique set of skills and experience to their role and she trusts that they will know the best way forward in their own work. When an employee is struggling, she focusses on understanding where they’re coming from and then seeks to meet them where they are. She works collaboratively with them to find a solution that works for them.


She’s the boss. She has the title and the big office. She’s there to serve her employees to ensure they’re able to perform at their highest levels.


Pam is coaching for compliance.


When we want everyone to do, think, believe and feel the way we do at work, we’re exerting inauthentic power – the kind that comes from titles and organizational charts. When we wield our inauthentic power, we’re doing so from a position of weakness. As in, do as I say because I’m the boss, not because I have great ideas and am able to communicate them effectively.


Compliance limits possibility. It limits growth. It’s a march of conformity. And it sends our most creative, innovative employees fleeing for the door.


Needless to say, coaching for compliance creates poorer results. But we do it anyway because it’s more comfortable. We set the rules, and the rules are followed. There are no surprises. Everything is as we believe it should be. It’s all very certain. And it makes us feel very significant and important.


Kayla is coaching with empathy.


When we focus on who our employees are, and how they can best contribute, we’re exerting authentic power – the kind that comes from knowing who we are, being grounded in solid core values and purpose and yet open to new ideas, people and situations. When we are authentically powerful, we’re operating from a position of strength. As in, let’s get curious, let’s seek to understand, let’s allow things to grow and develop as they will, not as we necessarily think they should.


Empathy expands possibility. It expands growth. It’s a dance of collaboration. And it allows our most creative, innovate employees to thrive and produce results well beyond our expectations.


Coaching with empathy is much harder. Empathy requires a high level of self-awareness, a willingness to not have all the answers and an intention to always prioritize the truth of who our employees are and where their talents lie over our own personal comfort. It’s incredibly uncertain. But it allows us to grow and contribute in significant and important ways.


So, which is it for you? The march of conformity? Or the dance of collaboration?


P.S. Yes, yes, I get it. Some jobs require compliance – especially when it comes to health and safety. Do I want a non-compliant anesthesiologist? No. Or a non-compliant pilot flying me across the ocean? Clearly not. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for collaboration in those jobs. Of course, there is. We only have to be willing to look for it.


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