What’s core to leadership isn’t what’s core to coaching
Today’s workforce is looking for a higher level of support from their leaders than ever before; they want less instruction and more coaching and empowerment in place of rules. This means that today’s leader is expected to transcend beyond management of daily operations to coach, mentor, and empower their team members. Like most high-level skill sets, practice makes perfect when it comes to coaching and mentoring.
What makes a great coach, and what steps can leaders take to refine their coaching skills?
Coaches listen 90% of the time and talk 10% of the time
Leaders are often required to do the talking; they cheer their teams on, pitch ideas to executives, and lead employees through change. However, great leaders know when not to talk; namely, when they’re coaching or mentoring employees.
During a coaching session, the leader’s goal is primarily to listen and help the employee identify potential problems and solutions on their own. When the employee has had the opportunity to think through a complex situation, identifying potential solutions and challenges they might face along the way, they become more invested in the process and they become, over time, leaders themselves. This is the real goal of coaching.
Listening is a difficult skill to learn; a good listener is fully engaged in the conversation, as demonstrated by their body language (eye contact, relaxed, open, leaning in), facial expressions, and responses.
Coaches don’t provide the answers
Although leaders are generally expected to have the answers, the expectation shifts in a coaching environment. In a coaching situation, the leader should simply bring the questions, not the answers.
Harvard Business Review recommends the ask, listen, emphasize model, in which the leader begins (and continues) the discussion by asking questions. For example:
- “What would you like to talk about today?”
- “What do you think is the best way to resolve this problem?”
- “In what ways might that solution challenge you or your team?”
- “How do you think you might have contributed to this problem? How can you help?”
As the employee answers the questions presented by the coach, the coach can provide feedback by asking further questions. For example, “It sounds like there’s a lot of animosity on your team. Why do you think that is?”
It’s okay to validate feelings
There are almost as many leadership books and concepts on the market as there are leaders, so knowing the best way to approach these situations can be challenging. Many leaders believe that validating emotions – especially when they seem silly or dramatic – can be equated to permitting an employee to create drama in the workplace.
However, a good coach recognizes the importance of validating an employee’s feelings without allowing them to dwell there. Here’s an example: “Wow, I can imagine how that must have hurt you.” And then, after a pause to allow the employee to respond: “How can I help you to heal from this and move forward?”
To summarize, a great coach spends more time listening than talking, leads the employee to solutions by asking questions, and validates the employee’s feelings throughout the session. Over time, trust between the employee and the coach develops, encouraging the employee to be honest and creative during their coaching sessions and allowing them to resolve problems and move forward in a safe environment.