Leading by Coaching

Coaching is a skill that every leader can benefit from developing. Coaching can be defined as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential” International Coaching Federation, 2017. Don’t we all want to inspire others to be successful and have positive results?

Coaching increases communication, builds a foundation of trust, inclusion, and collaboration; establishing a connection with your team. When coaching you ask versus tell, enabling people to arrive at their own conclusions through some well posed questions and focused listening. People develop and implement their own solutions, learn by doing rather than by being told what to do or by having someone do it for them.

This leadership practice leads to capable employees and drives accountability. Coaching focuses employees not just on the task at hand, but challenges them to learn and grow, and improves employee performance. The dialog is focused on an outcome and uses inquiry.  Good questions are open-ended and non-judgmental; the goal is to help the employee think bigger and better.  A simple “What do you think you should do?” or “What do you propose we do about it?” gets them considering alternatives and options.

Coaching can help leaders identify and leverage employee’s strengths.  A simple “How do you think you are doing on x?”, ensures that the manager and employee can work toward being on the same page and aligned. These inquiry-based conversations can sometimes make giving and receiving feedback easier to manage.

Be curious!  Ask one question at a time and really listen to the answer.  Give the other person time to think, resist the urge to ask another question before you’ve heard the first answer. It’s okay to ask clarifying questions, but talk less, listen more.

Often when we sit down to have a conversation with another person, be it employee, peer, friends, spouse, or children they talk about things they are stuck on, goals they would like to achieve, or issues they are having with others.  We may even think we are coaching them in these conversations, but likely we are giving advice, helping to problem solve, or offering counsel such as “if I were you…” or “you should try…”.  Remember in coaching…the focus is on them, not you.

Not just a tool for managing difficult situations, coaching should be considered for analyzing positive outcomes as well. Helping someone work through why a project turned out well, ahead of schedule or on budget, can be just as powerful. Understanding success can lead to future success. A coach can be inspirational or empowering by asking the right questions and then guiding the other person to create an action plan for next steps, managing agreements, recognizing and celebrating small wins.

It is not easy but with practice, anyone can develop coaching skills. The key is to focus on the needs of the other person, using inquiry, really listening, and helping them arrive at the solution that works best for them. Try it, you’ll be on your way to building an empowered and capable team.