What Coaching Leaders Do Differently

“Coaching” has been trending corporate buzzword in organizational leadership for well over a decade. We’re all familiar with athletics coaches. But when someone asks us to coach someone to learn a new skill or solve problem, it’s usually in a professional work context. What do coaches actually do – or do differently?

The interesting thing about coaching is how dynamic of a leadership role it is. Supervisors can coach. Mentors can coach. Peers can coach. Executive coaches can coach (obviously). Just about anyone can coach at one time or another.

Whether you have the opportunity to be coached or to be a coach, let’s take a look at six things coaching leaders do that set them apart.

Business People Talking

Coaches Don’t Set the Agenda

Leaders must be proactive, which means taking responsibility to set the agenda in leadership situations. But coaching leaders are most concerned with the developmental process of the leader he or she is supporting. That means allowing the the other person to take responsibility for determining the desired outcomes – and then working together to create a strategy to reach them.

Coaches Focus on the Future

Counselors often focus on understanding or interpreting the past. Coaches, on the other hand, focus on helping to create the future. The past is over and done with – it can’t change. Coaching leaders don’t get sidetracked wading through past experiences of others. They help them focus on the future they want to create.

Coaches Listen

Listening is hard work. If you don’t think so, practice active listening the next time someone walks into your office. In most conversations, we either don’t pay attention, listen with preconceived biases or simultaneously try to come up with solutions while the other person is talking. Coaching leaders have mastered the art of listening for the sake of understanding so in order to maximize the quality of their dialogue.

Coaches Ask Questions

Questions are the anecdote to unsolicited (or in some case, solicited) advice. It’s not that advice is bad, it’s just that advice often short-circuits the development process in others. Following someone else’s advice is a lot easier than exercising critical thinking. It’s also easier to avoid taking responsibility if the advice doesn’t work. Even when they have great advice, coaching leaders start by asking powerful, open-ended questions to give the other person the chance to come up with their own best solution.

Coaches are Action-Oriented

Nice conversations are nice, but ultimately fruitless. Action-oriented conversations drives change. Coaching leaders demonstrate value to others by helping them take their ideas and translate them into action items. They do this by helping them make a decision or choose a direction among multiple options. Another way is by helping to craft SMART goals and clarify next steps.

Coaches Give Responsibility

Taking responsibility is Leadership 101. Giving responsibility is Leadership 102. Think about the difference. When we take responsibility, we develop ourselves. When we help someone else take responsibility, we develop them. It’s often easier to take responsibility for outcomes by providing quick direction and then moving on to the next thing. Giving responsibility – and supporting the other person along the way – takes more time and more effort, but that’s where true leadership growth happens.

If you want to help others succeed, you’ve chosen a noble pursuit. But that’s not enough. You’ve got to work at it – and it’s hard work! But the reward is always worth it – especially when you find that the leaders you’ve coached start coaching others.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website  or follow him on Twitter.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, facilitator and author of the book Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to download Nathan's free white paper: Nine Ways to Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For.

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