A Leader’s Guide to Coaching
Coaching is one of the most important leadership tools for driving employee engagement and performance. Ultimately, a leader’s effectiveness is dependent upon the ability to bridge the gap between strategy and execution. Strategy, no matter how brilliant, cannot be achieved without proper execution by committed and engaged followers. Organizational growth is made possible by the contributions of employees, who willingly commit their talents, creativity and energy to achieve desired results.
What is coaching?
Coaching is facilitating people in their own commitment and enthusiasm to accomplish their objectives in support of organizational goals. It may happen as an in-the-moment event or at a scheduled meeting. While leaders sometimes need to deliver expectations, directions and feedback, coaching is different. It focuses on helping people work through issues and challenges to arrive at their own decisions and plans. Common coaching issues include helping people identify and focus on strengths, enhancing interpersonal interactions, compromising self-awareness, decision- making, performance challenges, career pathing, and dealing with difficult people.
Good coaches need to be good listeners to demonstrate genuine curiosity in what is being said. They resist the urge to jump in and “solve” the other person’s problems or quickly share “here’s what I would do.” To be a good listener, the other person needs to be the center of attention. Some tips for doing that are:
- Eliminate distractions by closing the door, shutting down telephones, or finding a private space to talk when out of the office
- Maintain steady eye contact
- Avoid interrupting or finishing the other person’s sentences
- Withhold evaluative comments like “That’s good” or “I’m not so sure about that” until the person has completed their story
- Avoid using words such as “no”, “but”, and “however”
- Don’t fiddle with something such as your pen, glasses or a piece of paper
- DO ask open-ended questions that encourage the other person to talk (while you listen)
- Be supportive and respectful throughout the entire conversation, even when delivering difficult assessments
Building trust and confidence through encouragement
One of your primary goals as a coach is to have the other person believe that they are being heard and feel that they are important. Nothing makes someone feel more important than being told that you, the team, and the organization value them. People will open themselves to you when they trust you and feel that you are sincerely interested in helping them. Trust is especially important because people are reluctant to show what might be interpreted as weakness. Keep in mind the following:
- Provide encouragement, which is one of the most powerful coaching skills. It must be thoughtful and sincere
- Use steady eye contact, head nodding, short acknowledgments (“I hear you”) and restating what you’ve heard to check understand are all strong signs of encouragement
- Provide encouragement specific to whatever issue the person is working on with statements like “I believe you can do this”
Coaching versus telling
Most leaders have been successful because they are very action-oriented and good problem solvers. As junior managers they typically managed others by frequently telling them what to do. This directive behavior is appropriate when the leader’s knowledge of information or organization directives is critical to a task. While leaders may at times use the directive or telling approach they used as managers, nondirective coaching becomes a more valuable skill and tool in leading others.
Here are some examples of telling versus coaching:
|Telling (Directive)||Coaching (Nondirective)|
|I noticed you did this.||What did you find most or least effective?|
|You are doing X and it’s getting in your way.||How might you be getting in your own way? What can you do about it?|
|You don’t do X.||What are you avoiding? Why?|
|It would be better to do X.||What’s the most effective thing you can do to make this work even better?|
|Try doing X and Y.||What are you willing to be held accountable for doing?|
Using questions to facilitate coaching
When coaching, you want the other person to speak the majority of the time, as they should be doing most of the work. Avoid asking leading questions. Allow pauses and resist jumping in when someone pauses to think. Here is a nice sequence of questions to guide the coaching conversation:
- How can I be most useful to you during this conversation? How have things been going lately? Tell me what’s new. Do you have any issues you want to talk about?
- What is going well? What isn’t going so well?
- What do you need right now?
- What have you done thus far?
- What obstacles are standing in your way? What are your next steps?
- What will you need to accomplish this?
- How have you handled similar challenges?
- What consequences might there be?
Responding to the person you are coaching
During the coaching conversation there are times when you will need to do more than ask questions. At times you might have information or insights that are really important to understanding the issue or to help the person arrive at a plan of action. Other times you might find that providing feedback is appropriate and helpful. That feedback might be real time around what your are observing as you coach, or it may be introducing observations from your work with the person that are relevant to this interaction. Remember to do this respectfully–even if you choose to challenge the person to help them move to a higher level of performance. Remember the following:
- Be sensitive to the emotional impact your comments may have on the other person
- Remain objective and resist judgments in your presentation
- Use specific examples whenever possible to focus feedback on behaviors
- Stories are powerful learning tools. Often you can make your point clearer/stronger by telling an applicable story
It is good to end the coaching session in an organized manner. Important components of closure include summarizing key issues, reviewing plans of action with identified measures of success, and agreeing on when you will meet again to review outcomes and learning. Suggested steps are:
- Thank the person for the opportunity to coach them and state that you hope you have been helpful.
- Ask them to summarize the key issues and action plans to ensure mutual understanding and reinforce commitment.
- Express your confidence in their ability to follow through successfully.
- Ask them if there is anything you can do to help them achieve their action plan objectives.
- Determine how you will follow up on today’s discussion (whether another meeting or email or phone call).
Values-based leaders effectively engage, motivate and develop their followers, enabling transformational, sustainable change that leads to effective execution, performance excellence, and outstanding results. One of the greatest motivational and learning tools available to leaders is coaching. Leaders can coach to empower and enhance employee engagement and performance. It is also a valuable skill for developing future leaders.
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