How Can Leaders Evolve Their Coaching Skills?

6 mins

There will be times when it is appropriate for Leaders to be Coaches and the extent to which...

There will be times when it is appropriate for Leaders to be Coaches and the extent to which this is required will depend on the culture of the organisation, the situation and context, and of course the needs of individuals within teams. 


Effective Leaders ideally will deploy a range of competencies which include coaching, mentoring and directive skills. There will be times after all, when teams and individuals require directive input and guidance, such as in the face of immediate decision making or emergency scenarios. There will be other times when helping teams to find solutions for themselves or consider their own growth, learning and career development when Leaders can play a vital role via empowering teams to find their own solutions and answers. 


It is not always easy however for Leaders to switch fluently between these different demands. 


In my experience, many Leaders are aware of the importance of developing some of the core coaching skills of actively listening, asking open questions, collaborating, and providing constructive feedback. However, this approach can be time-consuming for busy Leaders who are time-pressured and have many other duties. Evolving a coaching approach within your Leadership style takes time and effort. 


So what can Leaders do in order to develop coaching competencies within their roles and build up this approach over time? 


The 70:20:10 principle is a reminder that most people learn the most from interacting and working with others in the workplace. Leaders can find ways to adopt a coaching mindset within their roles that can ultimately pay dividends in terms of team engagement and their ability to learn and grow, impacting productivity positively. 


1. Adopt a Coaching Mindset 

Understanding the benefits of a coaching approach and learning which situations to adopt this approach is critical. Spending time understanding the benefits of different Leadership styles may be helpful to you as well as spending time reflecting on some of your natural preferences, areas of strength and areas that may need development.  


2. Learn to Really Listen 

You are likely to have a million things on your mind. But learning to really hear what your team members are saying can really reap rewards. Asking them open questions and giving your full attention to what they say in return will be motivating for them and may also present new learning and ideas for you and the wider team. Showing them you have listened through practicing the skill of reflecting back what you heard: “So it sounds like what you are saying is….is that right?” This mirroring technique allows them to hear this played back, and qualify further, elaborate, or confirm. I would suggest focusing on the conversation first and take notes later or at the end of the conversation, so they don’t distract during the act of listening deeply. 


3. Build Trust and Manage Expectations 

 One of the core coaching skills we talk about is building trust via managing expectations. Before having any dialogue with your colleagues, manage their expectations of any conversation. For example, “This conversation is about hearing your thoughts, ideas, and feelings on xxx. It isn’t about finalising solutions today but ideas to feed into xxx and perhaps different approaches we could take. Is that ok with you?” This is a useful skills that can be applied to the context of any discussion and can make a huge difference what ensues rather than assume all parties are on board or in sync with expectations and what they want from a conversation. 


4. Support Goal Setting 

Helping your teams to set effective goals using a SMART structure can be very powerful in helping them refine generalities to specifics. Help them to test a goal: is it specific, measurable, attractive (at CCS, we like to say attractive, not achievable as realistic can cover this, and for them to take an action, they need to want to do it) and timebound. In addition, having clearly defined team and individual goals, will also make it easier for you to track and monitor the impact that your coaching approach is having. 


5. Learn to Reflect and be Open to Continuous Learning 

You can role model effective learning behaviours for your team by asking them and others for regular feedback on you, your strengths and areas and ideas for improvement. Demonstrating that you are open to regular feedback and learning is a great example to set for encouraging similar growth mindset behaviours in your own team. 


6. Celebrate Your Team’s Successes and Give Regular Constructive Feedback

Building on the last point, celebrating success and providing positive feedback is one of the most motivating things Leaders can do. Creating a learning environment allows developmental feedback to be part of a frequent dialogue and where the team can celebrate strengths and wins as well as identify learning needs for themselves with less direct input from you. 


Finally, I would just add that spending time getting to know your key direct team members is also critical. Different individuals will have different needs and the more aware you are of them, their strengths and preferred ways of working, the easier it will be to find a coaching style and approach that can be adapted towards their needs. 


Blog by Kate Mansfield, Career Coach and Programme Director at Career Counselling Services

Follow or connect with her on LinkedIn or email

Career Counselling Services offers career consultancy, career coaching and training in career coaching to organisations. Additionally, they run an open Accredited Career Coach Training programme on a regular basis.