10 Characteristics of Great Coaches & Learners

Time to Learn - ClockThroughout my professional career I’ve been fortunate enough to learn – and teach others – about leadership, lean, and six sigma.

As I reflect back, I believe I’ve uncovered some characteristics of what makes a good coach and a good learner.

Great continuous improvement coaches…

…point learners in the right direction, but rarely, if ever, provide answers.

Good coaches use the Socratic method. They ask questions. They force the learner to think for themselves.

…encourage but rarely criticize.

Good coaches give praise when it’s deserved while offering encouragement when the learner fails. They rarely ever criticize.

…preach simplicity.

They stress the true, often misunderstood, power of continuous improvement lies in its simplicity and elegance. In other words, they challenge the learner to do more with less.

…have patience and remember what it’s like to learn.

Do you remember the first time you saw a current state value stream map? Or how about the first time you attempted to understand what a P-value was? Most likely you were a little intimidated. Never forget this when a learner struggles.

Great continuous improvement learners…

…hunger for knowledge.

Great learners, no matter their experience, hunger for knowledge. They’re addicted to learning and feel a deep, painful, void when it stops.

…talk less, listen more, and observe.

They realize they have one mouth, two ears, and two eyes. As such they talk less and listen & observe more. They also go to gemba and realize the best learning occurs where the work is being done… not inside a classroom or cubicle.

…seek root causes.

They learn how to create a strong problem statement while seeking (and countering) root causes. In short, they live and breathe PDCA.

…practice 5S.

Disorganization and chaos make learning extremely difficult. So good learners practice 5S before they begin working, while they’re working, and after they’re done working.

…are persistent and never stop trying.

They are absolutely relentless in the belief that they can solve any problem if they continue to learn and turn the PDCA wheel.

And great continuous improvement practitioners…

…never stop learning or coaching.

Do you agree? What would you add or subtract from this list of characteristics?

6 Comments

  1. Jon Hagan

    July 15, 2013 - 7:32 am

    Hungering for knowledge is really the key. You have to want to learn to be a great learner and coach. Sadly, this really cannot be taught as ironic as that sounds.

    • Ron Pereira

      July 17, 2013 - 8:02 am

      I tend to agree with you here, Jon. Some people are just naturally curious… they simply want to learn. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Sam Thompson

    July 17, 2013 - 5:32 am

    I’d add great coaches also stress fundamentals. They also force the learner to practice.

    • Ron Pereira

      July 17, 2013 - 8:06 am

      Yes! This reminds me of great coaches like John Wooden and Vince Lombardi. They definitely stressed fundamentals. Thanks for the comment, Sam.

  3. Rune Hvalsøe

    July 17, 2013 - 11:18 pm

    Thanks for a great article, and I agree with you, but I would like to highlight a few things which is kind of hidden in your message.
    Great leaders build trust, a key element in getting things to work smoothly is building trust in the teams and the organization.
    And they make sure that others have time to think, it is hard to improve your situation if you are under high pressure all the time to deliver, if you don’t have time to think about what you do.

  4. Kevin Kobett

    July 23, 2013 - 9:15 am

    Great CI coaches are good storytellers.