This Guest paper series was originally published by the Cutter Consortium Agile Product & Project Management Advisory Service in 2009. It is reproduced here, September 2014, with permission from the publishers (

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Part 4 published here December 2014.

PART 3 | Indirect Paths to Learning | Role Models
Having Capable People is Simply Not Enough | Leadership | Coaching


Leaders who do perform a hands-on educational role are essentially providing the same service as a coach. The input they provide spreads the learning experience into the upper levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, and the advice they give provides the immediacy of feedback that is critical in the development of Klein-type expertise. In addition, a leader's position of authority can help prop open the door to the beginner's mind, thereby allowing richer and deeper levels of understanding to form.

Most organizations recognize the potential value that coaching can bring and rather than having managers act as coaches they establish peer-to-peer programs. In many cases such an approach is necessary because the managers themselves lack the technical skills in the domain in which they are working (this is especially true where technology has changed very quickly). While establishing such a program is a valuable step in the right direction, in many of the examples I see there are fundamental problems with the approach being taken. Those problems often undermine the value the program has to offer.

Chief among the problems is the fact that coaching is typically an add-on duty that gets piled on top of an already busy workload. The workload is busy because of the need to fight the fires that are the result of weak fundamentals within the organizations. Consequently, these coaches don't have the time to provide the necessary guidance to their trainees.

As a quick-and-dirty metric, I often ask those enrolled in these programs how much direct coaching time they have received. Across the organizations I visit, the average answer is a lowly 90 minutes, which is indicative of the challenges organizations have in establishing effective programs. Interestingly, that figure is usually a revelation to executives who often assume that coaching is a central pillar of their educational system.

Despite the difficulty, I certainly urge organizations to put a coaching program in place. However, that advice comes with the counsel that organizations need to do so with their eyes open. They must realize that coaching programs take resources, thoughtful planning, and ongoing over-sight if they are to succeed. In addition, organizations should recognize that coaching works best when the mentee is working along side the mentor. This way, the mentee is not only receiving advice from the mentor, but the mentor is also acting as a role model.

Leadership  Leadership

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