Peer coaching

Peer coaching

A man is sitting in a boat, fishing. After hours of waiting for something to bite, the fisherman encounters another man sailing by and asks, “What am I doing wrong? Am I using the wrong bait?” The man looks at the water, then points his finger behind the fisherman and says, “Look behind you. See that?” He pointed to factory in the horizon, a huge grey complex with three chimneys smoking thick vapor into the sky. “You came here to fish without knowing that the plant has killed off all the fish.”


The fisherman moved his boat a little further upstream. The other man in the boat had led him to consider that changing his path might point to a better location for fishing that night’s dinner. As he began taking his boat further ahead, the man once again spoke up and said, “Do you realize where you are going?” The fisherman shook his head and looked closer. “The river seems pick up quickly that way,” he concluded. “There must be a waterfall nearby.”


The fisherman had been spared a fateful error. Like any good coach, the man had asked strategic and powerful questions to unlock the power of understanding clues by paying attention. This time, he’d avoided eating fish fed on a factory-plant-based diet, or plummeting to his death.


Coaching, and learning how to, is one of the most essentials tools for any creative leader to master. Poisoned fish lurk everywhere; summits are alluring. A coach never pushes toward the coachee in a pre-determined direction. Here we go into advising. Advising differs from coaching by telling someone what to do, either explicitly or by giving recommendations through mapping scenarios, and giving direct opinions and perspectives. A good peer coaching session creates insight and reflection through listening and, most importantly, by asking the right questions. This can only be done through a structured and clear partnership, and learning and practicing with each other around a pre-designed structure.

peer coaching
Coaching is one of the most essentials tools for any creative leader to master. Click To Tweet

Visualize it

If you want to understand peer coaching, you must be willing to increase and improve your ability to coach others first, and simultaneously receive coaching. You cannot only be on the receiving end of peer coaching; by agreeing to understand it, you are sharpening your skills to return the same insight, wisdom and dedication to your peer. Obliging to devote attention and care to another person sailing in similar, or different, waters than yours creates a wildly effective bond between peers.

To begin, establish a monthly peer coaching schedule and be religious about sticking to it. Find a space that is comfortable for both, and allows freedom to talk. Sit across from each other and begin each session by establishing a leadership topic that you are trying to develop. Ask and rate yourself on the following questions:

Peer Coaching

Draw a spectrum scale of 1 to 10 and rate yourself and your current situation to understand precisely where you stand right now. This is the first part of the process.

This first step allows for exploring and identifying what the peers aims to solve during the session. It’s vital to not try and solve the wrong problem, so before buying a different kind of bait, check first if there are any factory plants nearby that have killed all the fish.

The second asks you to really look at where you want to be and, most importantly, how will you know when you are there?

What will it look like?

The third focuses on the hurdles you might face. Try to sort out what challenges you need to overcome, and allow yourself to think as broadly (or minutely) as possible.

The final step encourages you to think about a small action that will help you get a step further. What little experiment will work? Personal change is not something that happens overnight, but is a sum of small changes, which breed bigger success.

peer coaching
If you want to understand peer coaching, you must be willing to increase and improve your ability to coach others first, while at the same time receive coaching. Click To Tweet

The power of powerful questions

Most people undergo some form of coaching from their peers, but that often becomes feedback, which is in the advising branch of support-giving. Creating a formal structure is a systemic, and sustainable, method of learning. The fundamentals here are a cycle of asking and listening, then asking and listening, over and over again. It will become a conversation where honesty is the non-negotiable guarantee. As a coach, you are not supposed to solve the problem of the coachee, but simply steer them away from their bigger problems – the poisoned fish, the waterfall – before they have to figure out how to navigate the rapids. Powerful questions work even more efficiently than taking the reins yourself.

Peer Coaching

There is a Chinese proverb that says, “A clever man can answer any question, but a wise man knows which question to ask.” It is not easy to watch a peer attempt something or head toward disaster without telling them what to do. We can only use our most powerful tools for effective results. Ask yourself, what are the assumptions, what biases hold you back? How can I use my pure heart and freedom of judgment to steer you away from the waterfall?

To discover how the THNK Executive Leadership Program can help you become a better peer coach and ask powerful questions, visit the program page.