Becoming a Coaching Leader

We hear so much about coaching these days. Leaders need to coach more. Employees need more coaching. High performers need coaching. Low performers need coaching. As leaders, how can we know we’ve done enough? And what does a quality coaching conversation actually look like in action?

Over the years, I’ve adopted a simple definition of coaching: “To coach is to develop another person by listening and asking questions to clarify ideas and commit to action.”

If you look closely, you’ll notice five key characteristics. I’ve listed each of them out below:

Business Conversation

Developing Others

To coach is to play a development role. It’s focused on growing the competency and capacity of the employee. Consider the difference between a directing approach (“Here is what I need you to do”) and a coaching approach (“Let’s think about how you might address this challenge”). Both are appropriate at times, but the coaching approach is explicitly developmental.

Active Listening

Active listening requires some of the most discipline of any skill there is – but the dividends are enormous. It’s impossible to coach effectively without it. Quite simply, active listening seeks simply to understand the situation and delay the need to formulate a response or craft a solution.

Asking Questions

Asking powerful, open-ended questions goes hand-in-hand with active listening. It’s the perfect antidote to giving unsolicited advice or providing explicit direction. (Those responses are necessary in many management scenarios, but tend to ruin a coaching-rich opportunity). The more input an employee provides, the more he’ll own the solution.

Clarifying Ideas

Clarifying ideas is an extension of both active listening and asking questions. Without this clarity, employees may be unclear about the ultimate desired result – and managers may be unclear about key nuances of the situation. Adept coaches resist the urge to solve the problem until they have understood the situation and taken the opportunity to explore a variety of options together.

Commiting to Action

The last thing coaching leaders do is elicit a commitment to action. Otherwise, the conversation may be positive, but it won’t be productive. Coaching leaders are sure to ask the employee to commit to following through on the agreed upon action.

My favorite conversational “formula” for holding a coaching discussion is the GROW model, which stands for Goal, Reality, Options and Will (or Way Forward). It incorporates each element into a simple framework that can be completed in just a couple minutes.

Coaching employees is hard work – it takes a lot of practice and discipline to develop and use the skills. But the rewards are enormous: a more capable staff, more buy-in, and more capacity for you as the leader, to name a few. Give it a try and keep at it. In the end, everyone wins on this one.

Nathan Magnuson is an executive leadership consultant, speaker and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting ways Nathan is helping organizations and teams become more effective with Leadership-in-a-Box.