Leading Through Coaching: Tips for Fostering Success

Coaching has become an increasingly relevant, and some say essential leadership skill set in recent years.

By Robyn Clark and Judah Kurtz

Coaching has become an increasingly relevant, and some say essential leadership skill set in recent years, driven by such factors as growing globalization, issues with finding and keeping talent in a challenged economy, an influx of millennials and emerging technologies that continue to increase the pace of business.

In this environment, leaders are realizing they need to shift away from the hierarchical, “command and control” model of the past, and adopt a more collaborative approach to working with employees. They are recognizing the value of coaching. In fact, a survey of current, former and aspiring CEOs conducted by consulting firm BPI group’s Institute for Leadership asked executives to name the top qualities possessed by the best leaders or managers they ever had, and the top three answers all tied to coaching:

1. Coached, developed and mentored me.

2. Communicated well with me and others.

3. Inspired and encouraged me.

The best leadership involves great coaching that leverages strong interpersonal skills and a commitment to fostering greatness in others. Coaching has incredible ability to not only enhance development and drive greater performance, but also to inspire and influence.

Creating Coaching Moments

Coaching is not about telling people what to do or just about fixing problems. It is about creating shared success, by collaboratively working toward solutions that align and balance the needs of the individual and organization. Coaching should be an ongoing series of meaningful conversations that are focused on translating employee career and development goals into action steps, with performance course corrections along the way.

Many leaders say they’re so busy running the business, they don’t have time to coach. When they do, they focus 70 to 80 percent of their coaching on shorter-term performance issues, neglecting the longer-term development areas that actually have greater impact on engaging and retaining key employees, building the leadership pipeline for the future and driving business results.

It is the leader-coach’s responsibility to recognize the various “coaching moments” where he or she can step in and provide the feedback, guidance and support that employees need from their managers. To be effective, leaders must take the initiative to get to know their people’s wants, needs and capabilities beyond the mid-year and annual performance review discussions.

The Art of Coaching

Who leaders are while coaching is just as important as how they do it. The leader-coach’s mindset is an important factor in creating a successful outcome for both the coach and coachee. The “right to coach” begins with a relationship of mutual trust. Trust requires an investment of time to build and maintain, and is enhanced by demonstrations of generosity, vulnerability and credibility.

The leader-coach must believe in the coachee’s potential to improve and be successful, or the coaching will have limited impact and meaning. There must also be an authentic interest in and commitment to creating shared success, where the needs of the individual and company are aligned, and the win is clear to both parties.

The mechanics of coaching are also critical to its effectiveness. The most impactful coaching conversations are a balance of “push” and “pull.” Push involves pushing information with positive and corrective feedback and guidance to help increase awareness. In contrast, pull focuses on drawing out information through deep listening and effective questioning, to help people find their own solutions.

Coaching conversations cannot be just feedback-driven, nor should they feel like an interrogation. Our experience is that many leaders who believe they are coaching actually spend most of their time pushing, with a minimal amount of effort devoted to asking probing questions and truly listening. The quality of the questions drives the quality of the coaching. A framework for coaching conversations can help keep the dialogue focused on information that’s meaningful to the coachee. Four key areas to explore include:

● What? — Establish the topic, define the focus/outcome and clarify the goal. Sample question: “What is the outcome you most desire?”

● Why? — Identify whether the individual is connected to the outcome. Explore how the person finds his or her energy. Sample question: “If you can’t achieve X, what will it feel like?”

● Why not? — Clarify the barriers, roadblocks and problems that limit action or improvement. Sample question: “What might get in your way?”

● How? — Build a plan together for action or improvement. Sample question: “What is the one first step you can commit to take?”

This framework can help keep the conversation on track and focused on a win-win for both parties, but it’s not a linear process. Through listening and discussion, the coach adapts to the coachee. There is not one right way to coach. Each leader-coach must find his or her style and approach that works for him or her.

Robyn Clark is the managing director and Judah Kurtz is senior manager of talent solutions and executive coaching at BPI group, a global management and HR consulting firm. They can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.