One of the common themes I see emerging in 2018 is the topic, “Leader as Coach.” What we’re seeing is that as the coaching field continues to evolve and grow, more people are experiencing the benefits of having been coached and want employees to experience the same benefits. They are also realizing that they can begin that movement by being more coach-like in their leadership approach.
However, leader as a coach is not always a natural fit. For one thing, it’s not always the right approach. When we have a crisis situation, when there’s a very clear way of doing things and when it is the leading practice, being directive is often what is required. However, to assume that all leadership scenarios require a directive approach is shortchanging not only your employees but your peers and organization as well.
The world of business and our organizations is complex and competitive. It’s fast-moving and evolving. It requires innovative solutions, new approaches, and flexibility that a directional leadership style simply doesn’t utilize. In fact, our employees may have the best strategies to manage the challenges they face daily; they are closest to the work, the customer and the product. Organizations practicing continuous improvement and LEAN have known this for years and are light years ahead of their competition and they stay consistent in this method. Being more coach-like as a leader enables you to share the responsibility of creating new possibilities and products through to solving long-standing issues. Not only that, it allows you as a leader to demonstrate daily how you value your top talent, and authentically provide meaningful ways for individuals to contribute their expertise, ideas, and enthusiasm. In other words, stay engaged and contribute.
To be clear, this blog is not trying to profess that all leaders need to become coaches (you already have enough to do). Nor is it in fact ethical for you to officially be a coach to somebody who reports directly to you (according to guidelines set out by the governing body of coaches, the International Coach Federation). Rather, this blog is about exploring a few core coaching principles that helps to make any leader more effective and get out of firefighting mode; to enable you to harness, nurture and value the talent that you already have for the good of all.
Here are three key strategies that are essential to being more coach-like.
- Be Visible.
In terms of being more coach-like, you could certainly be more visible that only seeing employees in a meeting or the boardroom. And this applies to every level of leadership. It’s incredible the number of walk-throughs I’ve done with a new organization I’m working with and when I ask about leadership, people will tell me who has been around lately, how interested they were in what they had to say, and how valued they made them feel when they communicated with them. There’s nothing more powerful than when you’re physically where the value is created and you’re able to use inquiry rather than direction to be able to harness the best from your employees. Get out, get curious, and act on the good ideas or lines of thinking you hear. Circle back with folks what you learned and if there are some actions, ideas or opportunities you’re acting on. Now that’s a way to compliment your top talent…listen and utilize their wisdom…and watch them give you more of it!
- See Complaints as Opportunities.
My co-author Brenda Zalter-Minden used to say to leaders, a complaint is merely a poorly worded request. In other words, the individual’s greatness is in there, it’s just perhaps very well masked! But when you take a curious stance, you can listen past the complaint to the suggestion or opportunity. Inquiry allows you to learn rather than get on the defensive. Not easy to do if you’re tired and feeling burnt out, but all the more reason to do less firefighting so you aren’t as burdened. Perhaps after your line of inquiry to figure out the suggestion under the complaint you don’t change a thing, however, the person will feel valued and validated by you seeing them as resourceful rather than a problem.
- Ask Good Coaching Questions.
At risk of stating the obvious, being coach-like requires you to ask good coaching questions! In other words, open-ended questions as opposed to yes, no, maybe, sorts of answers. They allow the person to think differently to help you dig a little deeper. They deepen the understanding and assume the person is resourceful, rather than what we often do which is listen to speak (where we’re not really listening!)
If you would like to look at some examples of helpful coaching questions, here are some from our deck of coaching cards:
- Suppose the issue that we’re focused on actually was disguised as a great opportunity, what could that be?
- What value could you add without even trying?
- Who would have a different perspective on this?
- How do others describe you/the team/the organization at its best?
- Imagine your ideal day or shift, what would be different?
The power of these questions is that you are opening up the possibility of what solutions you could find, as opposed to trying to have all the answers. It allows new leaders, or people who have less experience, to immerse themselves in their team and to get a good read on what’s going on, through the power of questions. You’re able to share the spotlight with your employees and peers, valuing them for their experience, wisdom, and engagement. You can have the same benefits by asking powerful questions of your customers as well, making them feel a part of your organization and learning what they most need from you.
One last thought. Why not consider bringing a more coach-like approach into your family life as well? I can tell you as the mother of two teenagers, they would much prefer that I ask them questions than telling them what to do! That this is a way of being and thinking that can help to build any relationship.
What other suggestions do you have to fuel a coach-like approach as leaders? Will you share them in the comments section below?