Many leaders think of coaching as giving “feedback” without realizing that feedback is only one of several coaching skills. Feedback in and of itself doesn’t account for the kind of positive impact a leader can have by applying a coaching approach to managing and developing others.
Take the example of Pamela, a VP at a global financial services firm who leads a team of eight. Her team is global, but most are on site with her at headquarters. She has an eye for talent and hires good people, but once on board they tend to stay only a couple of years. This makes her feel as though she is “always in search mode rather than focused on growing the team and producing results.”
Pamela is a strong technical leader in her field but tends to underestimate the importance of the people side of the work. She assumes that the smart people she hires know what to do and can work autonomously. She provides feedback to her team when she observes them making mistakes and believes she’s a good coach for her team. During a recent conversation, a peer suggested she attend a workshop on coaching skills for leaders, saying “it’s really made a difference for me as a leader and for my team.”
The workshop encouraged Pamela to think of managing as the “science” of leadership and coaching as the “art” of leading. Managing the work of a team, evaluating performance, monitoring results, and measuring business impact are all critical to effective leadership. Managing is the “what” the team focuses on and is central to getting work done. Coaching focuses on the “how” by supporting individual goals and development needs while empowering each person to perform at his or her highest level.
Integrating coaching into your management style takes self-awareness and practice. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Shift your mind-set from directing to exploring, from advocating your own opinions and positions to seeking out those of the person you are talking to.
- Challenge personal biases and assumptions. Be aware of personal triggers and learn how to manage them during conversations. Rigid thinking will get you nowhere when coaching others.
- Focus on guiding someone else to clarify their goals and objectives. You should still challenge or provide feedback as needed but do so in service of their needs and objectives.
- Avoiding giving unsolicited advice. Even when it is solicited, first ask, “What advice would you give to someone based on your own experience?” You aren’t being evasive but encouraging the other person to use their own resources and critical thinking.
- Leaders who have mastered the art of leading and guiding through questioning explicitly build the confidence and abilities of those around them. Create a list of go-to questions you can use daily to coach and guide.
- Learn when taking a coaching approach makes more sense than managing. For instance, if a high-potential individual seeks your input on solving a challenging problem, coaching is more likely to expand their thinking and confidence. Telling them what to do may be expedient, but “teach a person to fish and they eat for a lifetime.”
- Practice listening – really listening – to what the other person is saying, verbally and non-verbally. Many leaders claim to be good listeners but tend to practice selective listening in order to advocate their position. Listening to what is said beyond the surface takes energy, focus, and self-control. It can be draining for some of us. While coaching is not therapy, the highly valued skill of listening used by therapists is what people pay to receive.
After taking the coaching skills seminar, Pamela realized that she wasn’t a great listener and had assumed that her team was motivated and driven by the same things she was. She embraced the idea of asking more questions before telling or problem solving, something she said she rarely took time to do previously. After a month of practicing active listening and asking more questions, Pamela reported, “it’s amazing how responsive my team has been. As a team we are more collaborative, and that’s fun.” If you seek to build your trust and confidence in your team’s abilities - do less directing and practice more coaching.