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How to adopt a challenging coaching style as a leader


Ian Day and John Blakey tell the community how to apply the FACTS model to improve on leadership skills.

In previous articles in this Challenging Coaching series, we have discussed the FACTS coaching model. The acronym FACTS describes how coaches can challenge their coachees using Feedback, Accountability, Courageous goals, Tension, and Systems thinking to create sustainable results for the individual and organisation alike. This article focuses on the practical application of FACTS coaching on a day-to-day basis from the perspective of a leader. In this article, two common issues of delegation and performance management are considered, however, the FACTS coaching model has an application in many leadership activities.

In demanding times, many leaders struggle with the notion of traditional coaching, as the greatest need is to focus on business performance and drive hard for results. There is a tendency to revert to a style that pushes harder and drives faster, to 'tell and do', and abandon developing people through a coaching approach because it is considered to be too much of a luxury.

Consider two common practical situations of delegation and performance management that leaders face and how the FACTS coaching model can be used to achieve peak performance in these areas.


Time is finite and cannot be conjured up by some form of business alchemy. Delegation is a practical way to free up time and allow more for strategic planning. The key to successful delegation is preparation and effective communication. FACTS coaching is ideal in this situation.

The delegation process requires openness and an adult-to-adult conversation. Understanding must be checked and the truth spoken so that the person who has been delegated to is free to question openly, for example 'what is the purpose of the task?', 'how will this be used?', 'how will this contribute to the organisational success?', 'if I focus my attention on this task, how will it affect my bonus?'

The milestones for the achievement of the overall task are monitored and feedback (F of FACTS) is provided to ensure that progress stays on track. As always, feedback should be honest and include praise as recognition of effective work, as well as challenge for work that is not up to the agreed standard.

The achievement of the task is delegated and with this responsibility and accountability are also delegated. The person is held accountable (A of FACTS) for the action they have agreed to undertake so that quality standards and timescales are achieved. Also, the leader is held accountable for the provision of resources and support.

The goal agreed is exciting and motivational. The individual is committed to and passionate about achieving the delegated task and a personal courageous goal (C of FACTS).

The leader can use tension (T of FACTS) as energy to achieve an optimal level of performance for the person receiving the delegation. This is not pressurising or being overly demanding, but subtly used to understand how a person works at their best. This means increasing tension by giving more challenge, or reducing tension and providing more support.

The leader helps the direct report understand how their efforts will contribute to the overall effectiveness of the organisation. So there is a systems thinking perspective (S of FACTS) that enables these connections to become clear and motivational.

Managing performance

Managing performance is the amalgamation of a number of activities to ensure that levels of effective performance are maintained. A model for performance is: performance = understanding x capability x motivation

Consider the role of the FACTS coaching approach in this process. If performance begins to drop off, possibly a milestone is not achieved on time, errors are present, a client complains, or a contract is lost. This is the place for facing the facts through clear and concrete feedback (F of FACTS). The leader provides feedback on what actually happened. This is two adults discussing an issue, seeking understanding; there is no blame or accusation. The leader will do this to determine which factor in the performance equation is missing: has the individual not understood, is there a skill gap and they are not capable, or is it that they are not motivated?

Once the issue is raised, responsibility is allocated and action agreed to increase the levels of understanding, capability, or motivation. New commitments are made, and accountability determined (A of FACTS). New goals are set which are clearly courageous (C of FACTS) and milestones agreed. This matter must be resolved quickly through a conversation that may go into the zone of uncomfortable debate; the tension (T of FACTS) will rise, potentially to a level that the leader will find uncomfortable. Nevertheless, the elephant is in the room and has to be dealt with. A key stage here is an understanding of consequences: what are the consequences if action is not taken? This is the systems thinking (S of FACTS) perspective: considering the bigger picture and knock-on effects. 

In practice many leaders avoid this sort of discussion. They hope the problem corrects itself; they think the individual is a professional and should be able to do it for themselves; or the leader is simply too busy. However, this is not realistic. The problem doesn’t go away or correct itself and the potential damage to the reputation of the company or impact on the morale of other members of staff is immeasurable. Taking the FACTS coaching approach can give a structure and a process for managing these difficult conversations. There is an upside, as a conversation will lead to a breakthrough when performance levels improve and actually exceed initial levels.

Delegation and performance management are two practical examples of applying the FACTS as a leader. There are many others. The FACTS coaching model is not limited to coaches - it can also be used as part of a leadership style. Leaders who take this approach have a focus on open and honest, adult-to-adult  conversations. They use the skills of feedback, holding accountability, setting courageous goals, using tension dynamically, and considering the wider context of the whole system as a solid foundation to achieve peak performance.

Ian Day and John Blakey are authors of "Challenging Coaching: going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS” published in April 2012 by Nicholas Brealey publishing and available on Amazon. To download a free chapter please click here 

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