What is one of the most underused tools in a leader’s toolbox? Coaching.
Business leaders have the opportunity every day to inspire, empower and engage members of their crew or team by being an effective coach. Why is that important? Because every inspired, empowered and engaged employee is an asset to your business.
When issues arise, leaders often deviate from coaching and revert to a non-coaching approach. They solve the problem themselves or instruct someone else what to do in a given situation. Although this approach appears to work, it doesn’t make a meaningful contribution to the development of an employee. Nor does it empower or engage the workforce in the long run.
More than that, leaders who use coaching skills effectively in their day-to-day activities become the leaders everyone wants to work for. As a result, employees appreciate the time spent on big-picture issues while experiencing less chaos in the workplace.
What Is Coaching?
• Developing the skills of others
• Demonstrating and teaching
• Being positive and supportive
• Promoting and ingraining good habits
• Showing patience and providing guidance
What Is Coaching Not?
• Doing it yourself
• Talking down to people
• Telling people what to do
• Being negative or derogatory
What Coaching Skills Are Essential?
Being an effective coach requires developing coaching skills and constantly refining them.
What are those skills?
Start with these three techniques effective coaches use.
1. Develop the art of asking great questions.
Properly implemented, asking great questions leads to these three outcomes:
• They cause people to think before they respond.
• The responses lead to an engaging conversation.
• The engaging conversation leads to action.
For example, when discussing a project update, a coach could ask:
• “What three things could cause this project to not finish on time?”
• “What three things could cause this project to be over budget?”
• “If we had the chance to repeat last week’s activities, what one action could we have taken to experience more progress?”
The answers to these questions lead to positive action (now or in the future) such as preventing a project delay or avoiding a budget overrun.
In addition to schedule and budget items, great questions can be asked in a multitude of areas: working relationships, conflict, teamwork, productivity, morale, working conditions and/or problem-solving.
In this example, a great question a leader would ask someone who isn’t sure how to handle problem XYZ is, “If it were entirely up to you, what would you do to solve problem XYZ?”
Or the leader might ask, “What do you see as available options to solve problem XYZ?”
Once a response is received, good follow-up questions could be:
• “What do you see as the main differences between option 1 and option 2?”
• “What do you think a third option could be?”
• “Which of these options would provide the most practical solution?”
Every great question can lead to another great question that can lead to a great conversation that can lead to a great result.
2. Elevate listening skills.
Effective coaching requires leaders to elevate their listening skills. To do that means working diligently at:
• Being available. Leaders can’t coach when they aren’t available to listen.
• Being approachable. Leaders can’t coach when they aren’t approachable to listen.
• Being present. Leaders can’t coach when they aren’t focused on listening.
When leaders don’t listen well, they won’t know what questions to ask, and they won’t know what lessons to share or guidance to provide.
Leaders must tune into opportunities for coaching. How? By listening with both their ears and their eyes and by observing their surroundings. When leaders go above and beyond to add value to an employee’s development, that person’s loyalty and engagement rise dramatically.
3. Provide positive reinforcement and encouragement.
Employees respond to positive reinforcement and encouragement — as long as they come across in a genuine way.
Using positive words and phrases tends to produce higher levels of engagement than negative words and phrases. Saying “thank you,” “I appreciate it,” “awesome,” “brilliant,” “nice job,” “glad to have you here” will add more value than negative expressions.
When using these words, exceptional leaders expand on their comments. For example, after observing an impressive feat, a leader might say something like “nice job,” while an exceptional leader would say, “Nice job, and I really appreciate your attention to delivering a high level of quality on this project.”
Gestures are key too. A well-intentioned thumbs up, wink, smile or high-five goes a long way to provide encouragement and positive reinforcement.
When mistakes are made (and they will be made), an effective coach uses them as learning opportunities and teaching moments. They supportively extract lessons by first asking great questions and then pointing out different techniques to avoid future mistakes. In addition, an effective coach aims to boost spirits by leaving any negative situation with a message of encouragement.
Leaders who are exceptional coaches clearly understand that, if they choose their words wisely, excitement, enthusiasm and engagement result. If they choose them poorly, valuable learning opportunities get missed.
Why Coaching Is Key
Whether you’re running the company or working your way towards that as a goal, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to learn and grow by taking advantage of key coaching moments.
It’s easy to tell people what to do and how to do it. Exceptional leaders inspire, empower and engage employees through the practice of coaching — and succeed in retaining the best ones!