Some leaders get to where they are by working hard and learning the ropes. Some also seem to have an innate ability to motivate and inspire others. But a good work ethic, a charismatic personality, or powers of persuasion are not enough—to truly lead in the workplace, one must learn effective coaching techniques. Coaching is a key factor to develop your workforce, so every internal development plan should not only include coaching, but also teach your managers and supervisors how to coach effectively.
Why is Coaching an Effective Leadership Technique?
Coaching is about fostering independence and igniting the potential in those being coached. Managers who adopt a coaching style put the employees in the driver’s seat, empowering them to make their own choices when possible. As the employee gains responsibility for outcomes, their self-belief increases. This drives continued personal development, insight, and motivation, which in turn leads to a corporate culture with better workplace relationships and productivity.
A coach is not just a cheerleader, giving nothing but praise and high-fives for jobs well done. Nor are they a drill sergeant shouting out strict rules and reprimands. Coaching effectively means striking a balance of several things: Guidance, motivation, support, challenges, and feedback.
New Managers Need to be Taught How to Coach
A few years ago, an Adecco Staffing US study found that 92% of executives felt their workforce suffered from a skills gap. While that may be true, upper management also needs to recognize the skills gap that exists in their own ranks. Executive management often seems to fall short in terms of soft skills. The skill of coaching, in particular, comes up in multiple studies.
As new managers navigate their changing roles, they may not understand the nuances of managing vs. coaching. They need to know the appropriate mix of coaching and direction to get the best out of their employees. At the same time, new managers need some coaching from their supervisors too. An environment of ongoing guidance and effective coaching techniques is appropriate at all levels throughout a company.
The following tips illustrate some action items for how to coach your staff. Our courses on coaching also cover many of these tips; you can watch our full series on coaching in a free trial of Thinkzoom, our LMS.
Tip #1: Coaching Effectively Starts With Mutual Trust
Trust needs to build over time between you and your employee. It’s a two-way street.
As responsibilities are added to an employee’s role, their performance will impact your level of trust in their abilities and commitment. Resist the urge to micromanage. Mistakes and failures are bound to happen. Use these as teachable moments to coach them through with open and honest feedback. Guide them so they will do better next time, and gradually, you will be able to trust their abilities more and more.
Likewise, your transparency and honesty will help nurture your employee’s trust that you have their back and want them to succeed. As employees applying your coaching tips, they will gain confidence in their own abilities. When they take your advice and improve their processes and skill sets, they will see that you have their best interest in mind and learn to trust your coaching methods.
Tip #2: Realize That Everyone Needs Something Different
Everyone brings unique skill sets, education, and experience to the workplace. Managers need to assess each member of their team to determine the type of coaching that will work best for them. Tenure at the company matters, too.
In our video series on coaching, we categorize employees as rookies, contributors, key players, or captains, depending on how experienced the employee is, and how much they have engaged with the team. The goal is to move people through these categories, from rookie to captain. Each group needs a different combination of encouragement and empowerment. Get the mix wrong and you risk confusion, resentment, or demotivation.
For example, rookies need a lot of information and explanation. They also need encouragement, but too much praise before they have earned it can be counterproductive.
Contributors are no longer rookies and are showing an improvement in their performance. They still need guidance and instruction. They have earned some praise and will continue to progress with additional encouragement and empowerment.
Understanding a person’s position on this scale, and when they have progressed or regressed, is a key element in knowing how to coach your staff. An effective coach will recognize that people can move through these stages and modify their approach. Someone could be a key player with a growing list of responsibilities but then a merger occurs and their role changes. Now the key player is suddenly a rookie and feeling overwhelmed. An observant coach will adapt accordingly to fuel the overwhelmed employee’s resilience.
Other factors come into play too. For example, do you know the DISC personality type of each of your team members? You would certainly need to adapt your style differently for someone who skews as a High D as opposed to a High S.
Tip #3: Think “Self-Awareness,” Not Criticism
Employees can learn from their mistakes, but criticism is not the way to get there. Instead, leaders should work to build self-awareness in their employees. After the completion of a major initiative ask the employee three questions: What went well? What didn’t you like? What would you do differently next time? Teach them to coach themselves. In some cases, you may even document the post-project lessons learned for future reference and to spark continuous improvement.
The most effective teams are able to connect the dots and see the big picture. The goal is to have employees think for themselves and learn to problem-solve, rather than just doing rote tasks.
Self-awareness on the job can lead people to recognize where their skills can improve. Encouraging self-directed training programs can help them work on those skills while also continuing to develop their strengths. There is a direct line from effective coaching to the most successful kinds of learning culture.
Tip #4: Be Ready to Challenge Their Thinking
Effective coaching is about more than just teaching how to do a job. It is also teaching someone how to think and strategize. Asking open-ended questions and allowing employees the autonomy to take some reasonable risks will help them grow in self-confidence so they can find alternative solutions to work problems.
This doesn’t mean to give an employee free rein. Take, for example, a worker who finishes a task quicker by skipping a step that seems inconsequential. Meanwhile, the absence of that step causes problems later on in the process. A coach can challenge their thinking, explain the consequence of their decision, and collaborate with them on other ways to work faster if that is the goal.
An important part of this is to let an employee know where their work fits into the goals of the organization. They need to know that their job makes the next part of the process possible, and it matters how well it is done. Knowing they are not working in a vacuum, but that they are an integral part of the organization can be very motivating.
Tip #5: Be Open to Coaching and Feedback Yourself
Coaches need coaching too. There will be times when your communication style simply does not resonate with someone. Or you assume that a technique that worked with one employee will work just as well with another.
Coaching involves giving feedback to employees, so coaches can’t be squeamish about getting feedback themselves. When coaching is adopted throughout a company’s culture, it is easier to resist getting frustrated or defensive. Just as you coach your team toward the goal of personal development, your development as a coach is part of the bigger picture too.
Coach Your Team to Win
Coaching is an important part of leadership, but no one is born knowing how to be a good coach. The good news is that it is a skill just like any other. Sign up for a free trial of Thinkzoom to check out our series of videos on coaching the rookies, contributors, key players, and captains of your team.