“Great leadership isn’t about what you accomplish yourself; it’s about what you inspire others to do.” – Lolly Daskal, Executive and Leadership Coach
The best leaders, like the best coaches, give those around them permission to succeed. Effective leaders see people as whole people who are inherently capable and use coaching skills to help team members improve their performance and develop their potential.
As organisations are moving away from annual performance reviews to providing more frequent discussions about development, it’s vital for leaders and managers to work with those around them to develop skills. Great leaders practice specific, proven skills that result in effective coaching conversations that help team members develop, grow, and reach their potential. They have a coaching mindset that moves away from telling others what to do, to empowering others to discover solutions themselves.
The leader as coach
Recent international research from the Human Capital Institute suggests that employees want and appreciate this skill in their leaders. Their study found that managers feel coaching skills are ‘not very important’ in today’s environment but almost twice as many individual contributors disagree.
The good news for busy leaders and managers is, according to a recent study by Gartner, that it’s less about the quantity of these conversations and more about the quality.
Surveying over 7,000 managers and employees across different industries, Gartner found that high-performers are three times more prominent where managers adopt a coaching style that explores employees’ skills, needs and interests; connects employees to others who may be able to help them develop; and empowers employees to find answers and solve problems themselves.
To understand how this works, let’s consider this sporting analogy: A professional tennis player’s coach may be the most important person guiding the player’s development, but she may bring in other experts—for strength training, nutrition, and specialised skills such as serves and backhands—instead of trying to teach everything herself. Despite this, the coach remains deeply involved, identifying expertise, facilitating introductions, and monitoring progress.
A shift in mindset
To adopt this coaching style may require a shift in mindset. Traditionally, being a leader has been about being directive and telling people what to do. Being a coach is more about asking the right questions, providing specific feedback, helping employees make a connection to others who can help them, and empowering employees to discover solutions themselves.
Key coaching skills that can help leaders on their path to coaching include:
Listening: Employees need to know their leaders care enough to listen to what they have to say and encourage them to share their opinions. Really listening to your employees will help to build trust and a relationship that results in improved performance.
Questioning: Be curious! Open ended questions require your employees to reflect more deeply on their answers and to allow them to provide more information, understanding and feeling in their responses.
An appreciative approach: Focus on identifying and doing more of what is already working for your employees, rather than looking for problems and trying to fix them. Focusing on an employee’s core strengths will help both parties respond and react in a way that fosters positive change.
Tanya Sheehan is an IMI associate on the IMI Diploma in Organisational Development & Transformation. Tanya is a Business Psychologist, certified trainer and accredited coach who works in the technology, pharmaceutical and finance industries.