The case for leadership and coaching skills
You are probably more familiar with mentoring than coaching. The predominant position of many leaders is more of a mentoring focus – “I have knowledge and experience that you will find useful and I will readily encourage you to benefit from my advice.”
Coaching targets high performance and improvement at work where the coach does not have any specific answers.
Leaders and managers are not generally looking to become coaches. They have been lead to believe that a coaching style of leadership is the style that is the best to use with people as it enables and empowers them to unleash their full potential to everyone’s benefit.
However, many leaders indicate that they don’t have the time with the pressures that they face for the slow and tedious task of coaching people and helping them grow. Leaders feel the need to be strong, to take control and to take action. But this is often an excuse hiding limited capabilities in coaching skills and an unwillingness to adapt. These leaders frequently resort to the immediacy of the situation by telling and informing people what to do, masking it with a leading or directive question thus convincing themselves that they are continuing to coach!
Good, skilful coaching actually takes little or no extra time when done well.
Admittedly, there is a paradox in coaching’s positive effect on business performance because coaching focuses primarily on personal development, not on immediate work-related tasks. Even so, research is increasingly suggesting that coaching improves results. The reason is because it requires constant dialogue. The ongoing dialogue of coaching guarantees that people know what is expected of them and how their work ﬁts into a larger vision or strategy of the organisation. Using a coaching dialogue develops responsibility and enhances clarity.
As for commitment, coaching helps there, too, because the implicit message is, “I believe in you, I’m investing in you, and I expect your best efforts.” Employees very often rise to that challenge with their heart, mind, and soul. Certainly, when it is applied well and skilfully coaching has a strongly positive effect on individuals and the climate within the organisation.
The leader as a coach
Modern leadership involves embracing coaching as an effective leadership and management tool.
Leaders as coaches clearly define the roles and the tasks of their followers, but seek their input and suggestions too. Decisions are still made by the leader, but the communication style is truly two-way.
Coaching leaders are very effective in settings where performance or results need improvement. They help others to advance their skills; they build capabilities, improve confidence and provide a lot of guidance. The coaching leadership style is most effective when followers are more responsible, experienced, and agreeable.
The coaching leader directs and guides including providing encouragement and inspiration to help motivate. They create a positive workplace environment where people know exactly what’s expected of them and understand the overall strategy of the department and the organisation.
The skills of a good coaching leader encompass an ability to ask penetrating, challenging questions in the right way to encourage the most effective and appropriate outcomes.
They also include the ability to actively listen to what is being said and what is not being said.
Whilst, on the surface, both of these skills appear easy and are skills that everyone knows about, they can be quite challenging for a coaching leader to do well in practice. Both require changing habits around framing questions and learning how to really listen.
The path to improvement
Most leaders believe that they already have very good skills in this area. The most effective leaders know that, however, experienced and skilful they are, there is always room for improvement and there is always more to learn.
Combining these two skills in a proficient manner builds upon capabilities that become essential in being a good coaching leader. These include
- Establishing agreements – developing strong relationships with direct reports
- Establishing trust – creating a safe, supportive, blame-free and challenging environment through mutual respect and trust
- Asking permission – partnering and creating ownership for direct reports
- Giving and receiving feedback – developing direct reports through effective performance management reviews
- Setting goals that energise and motivate – developing direct reports and performance management by aligning individual purpose and organisational targets
- Setting and reviewing actions – enhancing performance management
- Creating awareness – empowering around individual performance and behaviours
- Building responsibility – innovating and risk-taking for improvements and solutions
- Building sustainability and job satisfaction – empowering others to build long-term, sustainable behaviours that contribute to growt
The impact of personality
Often the expression of the skills and capabilities of a coaching leader is driven by the underlying personality and behavioural traits of the leader and are certainly influenced by the personality and behavioural traits of the followers.
One of the fundamentals of the coaching leadership style is self-awareness – knowing one’s strengths and limitations; how these play out in different ways in different circumstances and what influence these have upon the ability to coach by the impact that they have on questioning, informing and listening.
Leadership will never be an exact science but neither should it be a complete mystery to those who practice it. Psychometric assessments are useful for giving leaders an objective view of how they behave, and how they compare in their outlook with others. The perspectives reveal a greater level of self-awareness around the personality traits or preferences they show, and then provide some commentary on how these drive the expression of their leadership capabilities. Exploring the outputs with a qualified practitioner and coach is an excellent way to build capabilities.
Of course, the best way for a coaching leader to develop coaching capabilities is to be coached themselves either by their leader or by an experienced qualified coach. But their coach must have the right blend of self-awareness and questioning capability and know how to actively listen and so be able to demonstrate the right behaviours in action.
[The author has the rights to the image – purchased from iStockphoto and adapted]