More and more organizations identify “coaching” as a preferred leadership style for their management workforce, linking this approach to improved business performance. Employee surveys support the need for managers to develop coaching skills. Our own work with the Best Boss Experience suggests that having an effective coaching style as a leader is a critical component of getting the best out of your people.
So what is coaching?
Coaching is a collaborative partnership centered on achieving goals and building the skills and competencies that are needed to be successful on the job. Quite often, it’s also used as a tool to “ready” a promising employee for an advanced role.
There are key differences between the traditional “boss” way of managing people and coaching. Whereas the old-school boss tended to get things done by directing and telling, leader-coaches ask powerful questions, listen well, and offer constructive feedback. They are growth-oriented, place import on the individual’s career interests, and leverage development plans that target specific skills and competencies needed for current and future success.
What attributes make a leader into a good coach?
A significant challenge for many organizations is how to train their managers to be an effective coach. Many people are not born with good coaching skills and far too many companies under-appreciate the value of this skill when making hiring decisions. Developing this expertise will almost always require ongoing practice, feedback and modeling by someone with more advanced skills.
Although the skills required to be an effective coach are numerous, our experience has shown that the most successful leader-coaches possess the following attributes:
- They take the “leader as coach” role seriously. Effective coaches do not minimize the importance of coaching to their role and the organization.
- They display Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Successful coaches are able to manage their own feelings, accurately observe the feelings of others, and tactfully respond in ways that minimize a person’s defensiveness. Individuals with higher EQ form more trusting partnerships.
- They place high value on honesty. Leader-coaches are able to tell the truth while remaining completely constructive. Their honesty enables them to get straight to the point.
- They tie learning to improved results. Leader-coaches recognize that fostering an environment that supports deep personal learning engenders new ways of thinking and behaving – which ultimately contributes to improved performance and the company’s bottom line.
- They proactively hand out stretch assignments. Being an effective leader-coach means seeking development opportunities for employees and arranging “stretch” assignments to accelerate their development. These leaders take advantage of people’s existing readiness for change, create a sense of urgency, and help to eliminate organizational and personal obstacles that impede action.
- They’re always thinking about making their employees better. In sports, coaches don’t wait until the end of the season to provide feedback. They do it at the time of the action, when the feedback is most meaningful. In this way, leader-coaches “seize coachable moments” by delivering feedback in real time, when employees are optimally focused and better positioned to learn.
- They want to facilitate insight. Effective coaches are not advice-givers but change agents. Through asking probing questions, fresh thoughts and ideas are provoked which mobilizes the learner to take action in a new way. Developing coaching skills can be more challenging than it first appears. However, if they are mastered through dedicated individual effort or through the assistance of a professional partner the results will be well worth the effort.