InsideOut Development

CPR for Coaching Up

by Nancy Q. Smith


" I should have remembered—those slippers will never come off, as long as you're alive. But that's not what's worrying me. It's how to do it. These things must be done delicately." —The Wicked Witch of the West.

In this scene from The Wizard of Oz, The Wicked Witch described the process of taking the Ruby slippers, but she easily could have been speaking of the process of coaching up.

It’s our responsibility as leaders to also have coaching conversations with those more senior to us in the organization. But how to do it?

Years ago, I developed a model that is particularly well suited for coaching up. It’s called CPR and stands for Consideration, Position, Request. It works really well if you’re introducing a new idea, point of view, or goal to someone above you in the hierarchy or if you’re in a team environment and the leader has gotten the group off track. Here is how it works:

1. Consideration: Show/Demonstrate Consideration
A genuine expression of the consideration you have for the other person is important. It must be phrased positively. Your rationale for engaging in the discussion has to be altruistic, with the intent that you’re bringing up the issue not only for the good of the person but also for the good of the company. If you cannot do this, you’re not ready for the conversation.

2. Position: State your Position
Your position can be a different perspective on reality or an entirely new idea. What you elect to share and how you phrase it need to be practiced. You also need to be sure you are coming from the right place—and stating your position not to prove a point but to offer an alternative perspective.

3. Request: Make your Request
Your request should be in the form of a question, ideally an open-ended question that will encourage dialogue and the recognition of other possibilities.

Sometimes coaching up is best accomplished in a group setting as it's easy to get shot down one-on-one. Let me share an example of how I used CPR in a team meeting early in my career. My boss made a comment that set a sudden, sharp negative tone for a team meeting. And while there was plenty of reason to pay attention and pitch in, there was no reason to panic. I knew I had to speak up.

Consideration: “Prior to this meeting, we were discussing the significant contributions that this team has made this past quarter. I know you don’t want us to lose sight of those successes.”

Position: “Therefore, let’s take a moment to recognize the great work that this team is doing to contribute to our success while we look for opportunities to close some gaps.”

Request: “We all need to focus on what’s in our control—and we need to work together. So…
• “What are some examples of the great work we are currently doing?”
• “What else might we do to fill in for current open positions?”

The next time you’re faced with the question of whether you should coach up, do a quick self-check:

1. What is my motivation? Coaching up—or any coaching—only works if your motive is pure.
2. What is the risk of not having the conversation? If by saying nothing you risk the organization, the team, or yourself, it’s worth speaking up and working through your discomfort.

And if you pass that simple two-question test, go ahead and perform CPR—delicately.

Category: Coaching Leadership Teams Check-Ins and Feedback

Picture of Nancy Q. Smith

Nancy Q. Smith is a facilitator, consultant, and learning and development executive with over 30 years of experience. An in-demand speaker for supply management and human resources audiences, Nancy has also been published in Training Magazine. Nancy has been married to Tobin, the boy who stood next to her in her kindergarten picture, since 1988. They reconnected at the Wayne State library and have been together ever since. They are the proud parents of two children, Walker and Claire, and two fluffy dogs, Emma and Indie.

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