There is no argument that effective leadership requires a variety of competencies in the leader’s toolbelt. Some of these tools include effective communication, inspiring, directing, creating vision, strategic thinking, building relationships, adaptability, drive, execution and emotional intelligence. Coaching is a relatively new tool for the leadership toolbelt. Like all the other leadership competencies mentioned, coaching is not the only tool for leaders; however, it is an important one.
There are many misconceptions of what coaching is and even how to use it, and leaders often think they are coaching when they are not. For example, a leader meets with a team member to discuss a challenge, situation or area for improvement and basically tells the employee how to resolve the problem. He or she may tell a story of resolving a similar situation. Next, the leader encourages the team member to “get out there and make the changes.”
Does this scenario sound familiar? Although this approach may have a place in leadership (in fact, it’s more like mentoring), too often, it becomes overused. When a leadership competency is overused, it becomes a weakness.
A leader who uses coaching skills moves from telling, giving advice and suggesting (which is thought providing) to helping a person generate his or her own ideas and solutions through critical thinking (which is thought provoking). Leaders can develop coaching skills by finding a space within themselves of curiosity and openness.
Next, leaders should move to asking thought-provoking questions and active listening. Coaching is the opposite of telling, so in order to use it effectively, leaders must ask meaningful questions rather than providing solutions. These questions should be open-ended and come from a genuine desire to hear the person’s thoughts and ideas. Leaders must believe the direct report has the answer (or at least the ability to find the answer) within themselves.
By asking meaningful, open-ended questions, leaders create the opportunity for their team members to engage in deeper thinking and thus clarify the problem before moving to solution. This step in the coaching process is key. Charles Kettering said, “A problem well defined is a problem half solved.” When a leader goes straight to telling or suggesting, the team member does not have the opportunity to clearly define the problem, let alone come up with a solution. He or she may even be solving the wrong problem.
Asking questions such as, “What would you like to see happen?”, “How would you accomplish that?”, “What is your first step?” or “What do you want out of this?” will help individuals come up with their own solutions, increasing commitment and buy-in. People believe in what they are part of creating. Coaching provides an opportunity for that to happen. That is the result when leaders add effective and meaningful coaching to their leadership toolbelt.