3 Essential Tips for Leaders to Coach Their Team to Success
One of my clients was recently promoted to Executive Vice President of the company he works for. He credits his current success to the time and attention the CEO of the company invested in him very early in his career. He remarked that he has trouble getting to his own one-to-ones and yet his boss found the time. “He just saw something in me for some reason and took time out to help me practice being good,” he said. “He was so patient—much more patient than he usually is—and he let me take chances and make mistakes so that I could learn. I feel very grateful that he did that for me and it really set the bar for how I should be leading my own team.”
Coaching Does Not Pay Off Instantly
Like most investments, coaching often pays off in the medium to long term and almost never in the short term; that’s why hardly anyone does it. One way to inspire yourself to incorporate more coaching into your leadership is to ask yourself this question:
If five years ago I had started strategically coaching my key team on their ____ (fill in your own answers—communication habits, project management, hiring practices, leadership skills, etc.), how different would our results be today?
Coaching your team can improve communication, retention and engagement, but the most profound benefit is that it gives you—the leader—a real pulse on the capabilities and shortcomings of your team. Bottom line—fewer surprises, more results.
Here are three essential tips for incorporating coaching into your leadership toolkit.
Essential Tip #1 – Discern between coaching and other tools.
Tools commonly confused with coaching:
- Advising/Directing – Sometimes a situation requires straight-up advice, and coaching would be a waste of time and energy for everyone involved. If there is a logical right way—and wrong way—to do something, then simply be direct.
- Discipline – If you are observing behaviors that are unacceptable, then coaching is not the way to go. Where coaching is about asking good questions and allowing the recipient to come to their own conclusions, discipline is about a required behavioral change with clear consequences for non-compliance.
- Mentoring – The terms coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably, but for the purpose of our discussion today let’s agree that mentoring is a supportive, professional relationship with someone who may or may not be your direct report. Coaching, on the other hand, in our context here is targeted to your direct reports or their direct reports and there is an expectation that the recipient of the coaching will be held accountable to the agreements made with their supervisor in the coaching engagement.
Essential Tip #2-Improve your questions and your listening skills.
After spending hundreds of hours in coaching school I can share with you the inside secret to coaching: the secret is asking great questions. It’s all about the questions! Now, of course, there is an art and a science to letting your question land in a timely way, and the tone of your voice and the intention behind your question are key as well—but those are all things you can work on over time. For now, the most important aspect of your coaching skill as a leader is asking a good question—instead of just talking—and becoming an excellent listener to the answer of your questions.
Examples: Tell me about your thinking with the Manchester project…. or Talk to me about the challenges you are having with the strategic plan for your department. And then listen…
Essential Tip #3 – Dive right in and start today.
In most cases, you don’t have to ask permission or set-up a formal coaching relationship with your direct report to get started. Let’s say one of your key directors appears to be struggling with keeping his timelines on a big project that is highly visible in the organization. You suspect that his team is floundering, and you are hearing from your peers that he might be overwhelmed. In the last one-to-one you asked him if he needed help, and he insisted he was fine (typical response to a status question).
To switch over to coaching, you could send him a meeting request and ask him to bring certain documents. When he arrives, ask him to set his phone to DND while you do the same and simply dive into a working session. Ask your good questions and inform him you are here to help. Get him to talk. Working side by side with him and asking good questions while being patient with the process is coaching.
That’s it. It is not more complicated than that. If you have to switch gears and give some advice—tell him you are going to give advice, but otherwise remain in coaching mode.