There are lots of indications that leaders who coach the people in their organization are more effective. These leaders, through the people they coach, are able to effectively steer the organization in the direction it needs to go, experience the paybacks of a motivated workplace and spend time on the high level of activities that will provide the most payoff in the long run.
Many leaders are coaching others in their organizations, and many others want to learn. That’s a good thing. The problem comes in when they think coaching others is an “event” that may happen as part of a performance review, career discussion or when someone has done something wrong.
If you are inclined to be a “coaching leader,” your best bet for making the most of your coaching skills is to integrate them into everyday interactions, just as you would any other communication instrument. Like a carpenter who knows exactly what tool to use for each situation, your coaching can become one of the tools you call upon when needed by recognizing the situations in which it will be most useful.
If you think of coaching others as a way to help others to think, you’ll recognize that certain skills — listening; being curious and asking questions; making observations; building agreement; and encouraging thoughts to be processed — can be put to use in many more situations than you might have originally believed.
The list below was compiled by a class of leaders, who had just learned coaching skills, when asked for circumstances or situations where they could coach others:
- Problem solving
- Crisis prevention
- Establishing rapport
- Growth and new opportunities
- Team goal-setting
- Deciding on a career path
- Reinforcing strengths
- Getting out of ruts
- Process improvement
Some of these might be a surprise to you, but they all have the possibility of gaining momentum and resolution through the use of coaching skills.
The trick is to recognize these situations in the moment and to pull out your coaching tools to move them along. More specifically than what you see above, the opportunities to coach others in your organization might also look something like this:
A knock on your door, a phone call or e-mail from someone who appears to need a listening ear — for a variety of reasons. They may have a problem with a task and are stuck trying to figure it out or are having difficulty with a work relationship. A little bit of curiosity and a few well-placed questions will help you both to discover the barriers that are getting in their way of moving ahead.
An employee who has unrealized potential would appreciate a conversation with you where you listen, ask, and make observations about what you see as possible for them. Initiate that conversation about their strengths and see what comes of it! If you see potential, let them know what you observe, then listen and see what they have to say about that.
A nagging problem that needs to be solved. If it’s been nagging at you and it has an impact on your organization, bring some stakeholders into a discussion to hear what they think can be done. Ask them questions, listen to their answers and be open to the possibility that you don’t have all the answers. You’ll all learn something and you’ll have fresh ideas for solving the problem.
A team that needs to be re-energized in the mission of your organization. Perhaps they’ve moved off course or gone rogue. Don’t be upset about it, instead enter into a non-confrontational dialog from the stance of trying to understand where they’re coming from. Hold off on giving your opinion; there is plenty of time for that. Instead, do a lot of deep listening and asking questions about their views. You might learn something, and they might get back on track without your needing to be heavy-handed.
An employee who has lost confidence. Most people don’t like to associate with someone who is feeling down on their luck. Someone who has lost confidence may need your help to recover. Take the lead and let them know you care. Your listening ear, curiosity about their situation and positive observations might be just the thing they need to perk up and get back to the work at hand.
There are many situations when you can pull out your coaching skills to make a difference in your organization. If you are vigilant and watch for those times, eventually they’ll become second nature, and your organization and the people in it will be better off.
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 10 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages large-scale corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.