Coaching a Teenage Driver

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My daughter is now of driving age. While I’m excited for her, the reality as a parent is terrifying, especially while she’s learning. One thing I do know is that the only way she’s going to learn is through practice. This means I have to stop wishing away the learning phase and get in the car again and again. 

As we’ve been going on more drives, I’ve seen her confidence improve. It shows up in subtle ways—how she approaches an upcoming red light, how she keeps a relaxed focus in her lane when another car zooms past, and how she remembers the right roads to get home. 

One evening, we got into the car. It was very dark outside. Since it had been some time since our last drive at night, my daughter had forgotten how to turn on the headlights. Through the light glow of the dashboard, she turned to me and asked how to turn them on. While tempted to give her the answer, I snapped into coaching mode. I asked, “What would you do to figure this out if I wasn’t here?”

She gave me a funny look, the look she always gives me. She said, “I know it’s over here on the left, but when I turn this thingy, it won’t budge.”

I stayed silent. She kept staring. Internally, I felt torn. On one end, I wanted to help her, but on the other, I had to remember that by not helping her, I was helping her in the long run. I could tell she was stuck, so I conjured up another question. “What would help you figure this out?”

She paused, then said, “I need some light in here to see the dash.”

“Hmm, how could you get some light?” I responded.

“Well, I could . . .” She looked up and smacked on the interior dome light and then leaned over behind the steering wheel to get a closer look. “Oh, I was turning this thingy the wrong way, Dad!” Finally, she flipped on the headlights.

“Good job, love!” I told her.

A few key ingredients made this a fun coaching and learning moment:

  1. We were in the car together, which gave me a front-row observation for intentional practice.
  2. I relied on questions that activated critical thinking and extra perspective.
  3. She did extremely well to think out loud with me.
  4. My temptation to solve the problem for her was excruciating (I don’t think this will ever go away).
  5. While I did get funny looks, there was a trusting relationship at play.
  6. We celebrated the breakthrough to keep building confidence!

These ingredients are very similar when I’m coaching a product manager. We must create the availability and presence to address the problem, proactively speak out loud in a way that activates critical thinking, and ultimately trust each other in the back-and-forth to find a breakthrough for our customers. I've found that even if we don’t outright know the answer from the start, having a little distance from the problem can help us zoom out to see things differently. Most of the time, we end up having so much fun that there is a natural celebration where we both walk away psyched up about our time spent, creating a positive cycle for future moments.

I’m continually learning how the art of coaching is very subtle, yet very fulfilling. Simple, but not easy. When life presents a moment for you where you are a bit further ahead than someone else, I challenge you to resist a direct answer, snap into coaching mode, and see how it goes!