FEIAA, FEI, Federal Executive Institute, executive training, Executive Forum
Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Report Abuse   |   Sign In
Community Search

The upcoming calendar is currently empty.

Click here to view past events and photos »

Peer Coaching Leadership Series: What Is the Most Important Part of a Peer Coaching Relationship
Share |



Katherine Darke & Jon Gatti, LDS 436

This is the second in a series of articles focused on peer coaching, including benefits and how best to develop the coaching relationship.  The first peer coaching article, entitled “Bringing FEI Home—The Value of Peer Coaching” was published in the January edition of the FEIAA newsletter.  Subsequent articles will focus on specific aspects of the peer coaching relationship.

Peer coaching requires a defined skill set: active listening, nondirective feedback, and effective open-ended questioning. While successful peer coaching requires this basic framework, in 18 months of sustained peer coaching, we have come to recognize the specific fundamentals that really make our coaching relationship work. Because both of us coach other people in addition to each other, we have spent time examining what it is that makes our dyad work. 

Katherine Darke (KD): Jon, what is the most important thing I do that makes our coaching relationship work?

Jon Gatti (JG): Nonjudgmental listening.

KD: What specifically do I do that works for yo

JG: You question me, instead of telling me what to do. Even when I know you have a strong opinion about something, or that I’m going down a path you think may not be productive, you don’t tell me that. Your questions are open-ended and phrased in a nonjudgmental way so that consciously and unconsciously you are not leading. You allow me to keep all options open—you don’t foreclose any options by directing. 

JG: What’s an example of when I have done that in a coaching situation?

Jon: When I was thinking about how to operationalize my FEI leadership challenge, I had a certain idea in my head about how to proceed. What you did initially was focus on where I wanted to get to—what did I want to get out of that exercise. You asked follow-up questions that helped me step back from the direction in my head and open up more possibilities for accomplishing what I wanted to do. I think it might have been easy for you to tell me up front, “I think you should consider other strategies.” But if you had done that, I might have responded defensively, because I would have implicitly assumed you thought I was going in the wrong direction.

 KD: What would be the consequence if you didn’t feel like you were getting that in our coaching relationship?

 JG: I wouldn’t get to the solutions I get to—they wouldn’t be as robust and effective. I wouldn’t be as good a leader or manager. I wouldn’t be as good a person. I can compare before and after—what I did before our coaching relationship, and what I’ve gained in the last year and a half compared to before. 

 JG: Katherine, what is the most important thing I do that makes our coaching relationship work? 

 KD: You are persistent in your focus and your questions to get to the “real” issues.

JG: What does that mean?

KD: It means that you know my default communication style. You know I prefer to process before speaking, and that leads to some … hedging. You are patient and wait for my thoughts to spin out and be organized. You don’t allow the conversation to come to a halt the first time I throw up a roadblock or back away.

 JG: And why is this a good thing for you?

KD: Because it allows us to have conversations that cut through superficialities. You won’t accept my treating a subject glibly. You challenge my initial assumptions. You will hang in there, asking the motivational questions until we get to a place where I can really benefit from the exchange and I’m not operating from a place hemmed in by my own assumptions and blind spots.

JG: Give me a for instance.

KD: Last year, I was weighing a few options when I knew I had to find a new position. When you asked me to talk about how I prioritized the opportunities in front of me, I gave you an order and rationale for that order that you recognized were out of sync with my values. You kept asking me values questions until I “heard” you and “heard” myself and realized my spoken priorities were not really my priorities. We had these conversations for weeks until I arrived at the right conclusion—and you never gave up even when I refused to reconsider my answer initially and even said, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

JG: What does it mean for you in our coaching relationship that I do that?

KD: It means we get to a place where I am actually listening to my own wisdom. As you frame thoughtful questions for me to answer, I have the chance to think and rethink. I challenge my initial impulses—my “off the cuff” answers—and look for truer answers. We call these exchanges with each other “meta coaching”; that is, analyzing our coaching skills with an eye toward growing (and appreciating) our strengths and addressing places where we fall short. We suggest that you have this conversation with someone you have a coaching or “quasi-coaching” relationship with. What you learn is sure to help you improve your own coaching skills and strengthen the coaching relationship you have.


About the Authors
Katherine Darke Schmitt is associate director in the Office for Victims of Crime at the U.S. Department of Justice. She was a member of LDS 436 in August 2017. She has 20 years of Federal service. Since FEI Darke Schmitt has become an avid reader of the literature on effective leadership, which she endeavors to practice in her “day job” and in the fitness studios where she teaches at night.

Jon Gatti joined the Senior Executive Service as the deputy chief financial officer of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) at the U.S. Department of Transportation in fall 2016. He served at FHWA in a number of roles prior to his SES appointment and has also worked in the private sector. He was a member of LDS 436 in August 2017. Gatti is pleased to find, through leadership studies, an outlet for his natural curiosity about what makes things and people work.

Sign In

Federal Executive Institute Alumni Association

1100 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 900
Washington, DC 20036