Paul B. Thornton

Can math help you be a better coach?


The best leaders are always looking for opportunities to coach and help people improve their performance.  

Start by Observing People’s Performance

What does he do? What does he say? Make multiple observations.   

Task Skills

  • What’s his approach to planning and organizing, making decisions, setting goals and priorities?
  • What is the quality and quantity of his output?

People Skills

  • What’s his approach to working with others (collaborating, negotiating, supporting, encouraging, and motivating)?
  • What role does he take in group settings?
  • Does he influence others?

Communication Skills

  • How does he communicate his ideas?
  • Does he focus more on ideas or feelings?
  • What types of listening behaviors does he exhibit? 

Take notes. Record the facts before making any inferences. Note, direct observation prepares you to provide specific examples during a coaching session.   

  • During the one-hour meeting, he asked five questions and make three comments.
  • He interrupted Pat twice during the meeting. 
  • He summarized the problem and said…

Look for patterns in the person’s behavior before reaching any conclusions.  

Next, decide what would help the person improve. Identify one or two specific attitudes or behaviors to focus on.

Add and Subtract

Here’s where the math comes in.  

  • Add – What new attitudes or behaviors would help this individual be more effective? What steps can he take to utilize his strengths in new ways. What new tools can he add to his toolbox. For example, a person may be helped by adding new techniques to manage his time, run meetings, provide difficult feedback, and use new types of technology.   
  • Subtract – What attitudes or behaviors should the person stop doing or do less of? You’re helping the person eliminate thoughts and behaviors that don’t add value such as unnecessary paperwork, needless questions, unproductive worrying, negative self-talk, and procrastinating.

Coaching doesn’t always involve adding new skills. It often involves helping people eliminate non-productive thoughts and behaviors.    

Coaching Styles

There are basically two coaching styles that you can use.    

  • Directing Style—Tell the person the one or two changes that would help him be more effective. Explain what he needs to do and how to do it.   
  • Joe, here are two things you can do to improve your sales presentations. 
  • Helen, you need to spend 80% of the time listening and 20% of your time talking in product review meetings. Here are three actions I want you to take.   
  • Discussing Style—Ask questions to directly involve the individual in identifying the changes that he thinks will help him improve.   
  • Pat, what is one thing you think you could do to generate more energy and enthusiasm in your group?  
  • Sarah, what could you delete from your report to make it more focused on the desired action items?
  • Marty, how can you use your organizing skills to better plan your online training sessions?   

Each coaching situation is unique. Sometimes people need clear directions on what to do to improve. At other times, people need to discuss what they were thinking, why they acted in a certain way, and what might be a more effective in the future.     

At the end of a coaching session, it is useful to have the person summarize the specific actions that he will take.       

Follow up. Periodically, check in with the employee to see what’s happening. Are the changes producing the desired results?  If not, find out why. A plan B may be necessary.      


Good coaching is important. It helps people improve their performance.

Start by observing performance. Then decide what one or two changes will boost the person’s performance. Does he need to add a add a new skill or delete a distracting mannerism. And finally, use an appropriate coaching style to accomplish goals and get the required buy-in.    

. Paul B. Thornton is an author, speaker, and adjunct professor. Three of his core principles are add-value, continuous improvement, and simplify the complex. His latest e-book, Leadership-Perfecting Your Approach and Style-($1.99) is available on Amazon Kindle. 

He has produced 28 short YouTube videos on various management and leadership topics. In addition, he has published numerous slide presentations that are available on 

He can be contacted at [email protected].