Focus on Coaching: What a coach does, with Josh Nankivel

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It’s January, which means it is cold and grey and we are looking to do things better than last year. That’s why I’m spending January focusing on coaching and the role it can play in improving your performance and that of your team.

Today I’m talking to project management coach Josh Nankivel about what he does when he coaches people. Josh founded in 2006 and has been writing and training in the project management space ever since, primarily focused on helping new and aspiring project managers.

Hello Josh. I know you coach new project managers, but what does a coach do?

I identify with the definition put forth by Eric Parsloe in The Manager as Coach and Mentor.

Coaching is “a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve. To be a successful a Coach requires a knowledge and understanding of process as well as the variety of styles, skills and techniques that are appropriate to the context in which the coaching takes place.”

So it’s about teaching?

A successful coach enables learning and development through teaching, but even more than that a good coach cares deeply about empowering the people they coach to reach their goals. I teach people how to land a job or manage project effectively, but if they don’t go out and actually DO it to earn success for themselves, I’ve failed as a coach.

Therefore, much of what I do is making people see why they are empowered to make things happen for themselves and inspire them to tap into their own potential. I’m not satisfied unless they execute on theory and make it reality.

If you want to start coaching people in your team, where should you begin?

Begin by listening, observing, and building trust. Until you have gained the trust of your team members, you won’t be able to coach them effectively. They need to know at a gut level that you are there for THEM, not the other way around. They need to know your goal is for them to grow and be successful.

If you charge in with great ideas and ‘best practices’ you will lose them immediately. Only after you’ve figured out what the heck is going on and have gained trust can you coach.

Sounds like a challenging job. What do you enjoy about coaching?

I love seeing people succeed. That could be a light bulb going on, having them implement a strategy I coached them on and having it land them a job, etc. It makes all the hard work worth it.

I also enjoy challenging people. Some of the advice I give to people I’m coaching or in writing on my blog is hard to swallow. I tend to be rather candid (but nice!) when pointing out how people can improve. These are the times when I see the most light bulbs going on, because I’m challenging basic assumptions and getting people outside of their comfort zone.

You write a lot and you work with people online, for example through your Work Breakdown Structures that Work (And How to Implement Them) course. Isn’t it necessary to coach people face to face?

It’s not necessary to coach people face to face, but without that direct interaction steps must be taken in order to have the best communication possible.

In my online programs for instance, I have had students create their own plans for sample projects and then in a coaching session I record my screen and voice as I critique their ideas and work. We go through iterations back and forth, improving the item under discussion as we go.

These lessons are made available to all students and are a very powerful way of coaching on specific nuts-and-bolts topics that you can’t really understand unless you are doing it yourself.

Regardless of the medium, the best method of coaching is to be able to observe what someone is doing directly and give candid feedback on how they can improve. That is why having a mentor at your workplace can be so valuable, because they can observe you managing your team or running a meeting and give you direct feedback based on their observations of your behaviour.

What do people do with the feedback?

Just as with everything else in life, results are dependent on the work put forth. You get out what you put into any endeavour, including a coaching relationship. Great athletes can’t rely on their coaches to make them successful, they have to put in the hard work and persevere. Many people I have coached have gone on to land jobs in line with the career trajectory I helped them define and pursue.

That’s pretty good. Do you have any examples?

There are several examples of people on the Career in Project Management LinkedIn group where people have shared their personal success. Some leave comments on and many more send me personal email. Sometimes I ask for permission to share these stories when they involve lessons learned that can help everyone else too.

I’ll take a look at those. Thanks, Josh!

Josh has been managing projects in Computing, Financial Services, Telecommunications, and Aerospace for over a decade. Josh’s educational background includes a Bachelor of Science degree in Project Management and he is PMP certified. He uses his experience and love of teaching to empower people to get started and get ahead in their project management careers.

Read next: The Project Management Coaching Workbook.

Some links in this post are affiliate links, so if you click them and sign up for one of Josh’s products, I’ll make a small commission. Thanks, if you do that.

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