Coaching is a fascinating topic and a critical tool in achieving leadership and business success. For over 35 years, we have studied how effective coaches deliver results by identifying the key behaviors and skills of the most effective coaches in business. After examining numerous audio recordings of real coaching discussions and conducting interviews with coaches, we have concluded that there are five critical competencies that separate exemplary coaches from other leaders:

  1. Being supportive and reinforcing the coachee during the conversation
  2. Providing clear feedback regarding the development opportunity
  3. Helping the coachee discover new insights and awareness
  4. Crafting the basic plan of action and seeking commitment, input or buy-in
  5. Following up to ensure execution and accountability

In an in-depth coaching dialogue, a coach facilitates the exchange of ideas, brainstorms solutions and explores the development opportunity in more detail. However, leaders often find themselves in “express” coaching situations when time is tight or immediate action needs to be taken on a coaching opportunity that surfaces. The same five skills apply to express coaching opportunities, such as offering specific encouragement, suggesting an additional action item via text message or having a quick phone call for a progress update.

In express coaching situations, you can either use a few of the five coaching skills to frame the coaching you provide, or you can touch quickly on all five skills in an abbreviated way. Here’s how:

  1. Keep the support simple, and incorporate non-verbal techniques, such as selecting the right time and place for the coaching discussion, using appropriate eye contact, and being attentive.
  2. Explain what you have observed clearly, directly and in simple terms. Share your information and facts concisely. This isn’t the time to delve too deeply into the coaching opportunity. If there is tension or disagreement, move to a more in-depth coaching session.
  3. Explain your reasoning and the implications of allowing the situation to go unaddressed. Indicate why the situation is a development opportunity for the coachee. Ask questions like, “Do you see why this is so important?”
  4. Be ready to share potential options and solutions, and then ask the coachee for his or her ideas and commitment to do something about the situation. For example, ask, “Are you willing to give this a try?”
  5. Set a time to follow up with the coachee. This check-in will give you an opportunity to offer support and ensure that he or she is making progress and is not running into obstacles.

This whole sequence can take as little as two or three minutes, and you can craft your message in 25 words or fewer using the one or two skills that will allow you to coach in the most impactful way. When engaging in express coaching, open the conversation by saying, “In the interest of time, let me quickly share some thoughts with you.” Let the coachee know that you are open to having an in-depth conversation about the topic if it is necessary for his or her learning and growth.

It’s important to note that while express coaching is a useful approach, it cannot replace full coaching discussions. If it’s overused, express coaching can feel like you are pushing your point of view and aren’t willing to spend one-on-one time with the coachee. There is no substitute for spending a lengthier period of uninterrupted coaching time with a colleague. Time builds trusting and productive relationships, and you simply can’t be an effective leader if you don’t take the time to coach in a longer format.

That said, express coaching is a valuable tool with many benefits. Its power comes from saving you and the coachee precious time and allowing you to coach in the moment, in real time and when it’s fresh. As you take more opportunities to engage employees through coaching, you will create a culture of open dialogue, accountability and ownership. Who doesn’t want that?

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