Most managers and leaders these days will have a line towards the bottom of their job description which says something like ‘coach and develop your staff’. Unfortunately, many people have next to no idea what coaching really is and even fewer, how to do it.
Over the past 10 years, we have run a “Coaching Skills for Leaders” training course and had the pleasure of introducing several hundreds of experienced professionals to the skills and attitudes required to be able to coach. A very commonly held perspective by delegates at the start of our courses is that coaching is the same as mentoring and that coaching sort of means telling or advising people what to do, albeit kind of nicely. After lots of practice, whether through the 1 or 2 day variant of the course, these self-same delegates realise coaching is about using the fundamental skills of listening with empathy and asking effective questions, in terms of expanding and freeing their coachee’s potential. To that end, delegates begin to appreciate that coaching is a very different alternative to instruction and guiding, one that suits certain situations and requires both skill and the adoption of a certain positive attitude towards the coachee to be successful.
In preparation for attending the training course, we usually ask delegates to think about the best leader they have ever experienced, and then invite them to reflect on the qualities this ‘best leader’ exhibited, and what impact they’d had on the delegate. Typically, we get answers like this:
This anecdotal exercise is also backed up by research that both we and others have undertaken. Research shows there is a strong relationship between those leaders who add the most value (in the eyes of others) and their demonstration of both leadership and coaching skills. Indeed, the opposite is true as well, where either weak leadership or poor coaching skills produce ineffectual leaders, or worse, causes organisational harm.
In many ways, the qualities of those people described as the ‘best leaders’, are the qualities needed to be an effective coach. A coach needs to believe in their coachee’s potential, place the coachee’s agenda at the centre of the coaching intervention, create a safe environment to consider and try new things and have the coachee take personal responsibility for their performance.
This does not mean to say that coaching is the silver bullet solution in all leadership of people situations. For example, a good teacher can perform a vital role when imparting essential knowledge and skills to a relative novice – indeed it has been by standing on the shoulders and expertise of those who have gone before that humanity has come so far. Without doubt, a good mentor can help us by explaining, showing and having us experience what they have already mastered.
And sometimes, people do simply need to be told what to do and instructed in how to do it, such as when immediate action is necessary because of say, an emergency and where the people involved are not already drilled as to how to respond.
While of teaching and instructing have a role, we should recognise what both academic research* and anecdotal experience strongly suggests, namely that those people who combine good coaching skills and solid leadership competencies are the standout leaders that others look to and remember as their role models.
The practice of coaching isn’t only good for the coachee, it develops the coach too and especially if they are a leader too. If you want to know more about how to develop your coaching skills, as a leader, do get in touch.
* Dissertation: ‘The value of being a coaching leader’ found across 101 leadership profiles that Leadership and Coaching skills were found to be strongly and positively correlated (r=0.7) with comparative Value.