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Chalk the Field: Coaching for Performance

As a leader, do you ever ask yourself why things don't get done they way you want, in time you want, to the expectation you want? This is because we, as leaders, fail to effectively define expectations, ensure buy-in and ownership, and shift accountability. This "chalk the field" analogy is a powerful approach to doing just that. Let the transformation emerge.

Chalking the field is a coaching concept used to shift ownership and create accountability. As a leader, often we don’t do a great job of creating and communicating specific expectations yet we count on others to execute to our desired outcome. When leaders chalk the field, we ensure that we are clearly communicating our expectations, ensuring alignment, and letting-go so team members can take ownership of the process and strategy.

Concept Overview

Envision a soccer field (rectangle). The boundaries (lines that chalk and define the field) on each side are your expectations: timeline, specific deliverables, compliance, goals, desired outcomes, etc. depending on the situation. You are the coach. Your team are the players. Your goal is to coach them to have confidence in their strategy to navigate the field, the opponents and score the goal.


Step 1: Define Your Expectations

Your first challenge is to ensure you are effectively chalking the field by defining the boundaries. They should be straight, aligned and clear.

Step 2: Ensure Alignment

Once you have successfully chalked your field and clearly communicated expectations, it's time to step inside the field and play the game. Check to ensure that your team players align and understand the field (scope) and strategy by asking open-ended questions:

  • Based on what you heard, what is your understanding of the scope?

  • Based on your experience, how do you align to this strategy?

  • What did you hear?

Step 3: Coach Your Team to Take Ownership

Once inside the field and your team is aligned, it is important to let go of your own process and strategy of how you might go about accomplishing or playing the game. Instead, ask questions to get your team members to take ownership and execute the strategy of the game. For example:

  • Based on these expectations, what does your process look like?

  • Using your experience, what will be your strategy to execute this goal?

  • What challenges do you foresee? Who are your players?

  • How will you effectively communicate with your team?

  • How will you know you are successful?

As you ask questions to ensure they can take ownership of the process, confirm that their strategy stays within the boundaries you have defined. Envision coaching them from the sidelines to reinforce, build or pivot their strategy. Use “yes and” versus “but” as you coach in the field—keep them engaged in the game.

As long as their strategy is within the boundaries of the field, you must let go and support them in taking full ownership. Let them play to win the game! (Be careful not to be the coach yelling from the sidelines!)

Step 4: Establish Accountability

Be sure to include a follow-up mechanism to ensure they will report back to you so you don’t have to follow-up with them. Give them permission to score the goal.


If the team players follow up with success, celebrate! In the event of failure, celebrate that too! Be sure to ask:

  • What got in your way from success with this project?

  • Where could you have asked for my help/support?

  • What did you learn from this?

  • What will you or can you do differently to be more strategic next time?


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