People are typically promoted to leadership roles because they are star performers and demonstrate maturity, loyalty and strong work ethic. Yet when these stars are promoted to team leader, others often wonder, “Now what?” New managers can be more equipped to lead others effectively when they learn to coach.

Colleen was promoted from senior sales rep to district sales manager, inheriting 14 senior sales reps in her company’s most important region. When she engaged me as a coach, I realized I had seen this story unfold numerous times. Someone gets promoted as a developmental experience and the team they inherit is weary and disheartened by yet another less experienced person learning at their expense.  This team had weathered 10 new managers in less than 14 years and once again they rolled their eyes when she held her first meeting. In this case, Colleen had two advantages – 1) core coaching skills education, and 2) experience as a member of a high performing team.

Colleen learned to trust her intuitive insights into what her team really needed. In summary she was really successful from the start– she showed vulnerability by asking for help and she asked questions to engage others in problem solving. While confident, she was transparent about the process of coaching, calling out the many hats she would wear as a leader. She explained that she would manage the processes, “what needed to get done,” but would work with them in a coaching role when it came to team development.  The notion was that together they would seek the right answers to any situation. As you might imagine, Colleen had a better start than others who had been charged with leading this senior team. They learned together and at the end of the first six months, they had accomplished much more than revenue goals, they became a high performing and caring team.

Three Foundational Coaching Competencies for Leaders

Distinguish when to manage, lead and coach 

The leader’s most important role is to coach and develop their teams to work together toward a common purpose and goal.  As Colleen communicated with her team, managing is about ‘what’ needs to get done, training is about ‘transferring skills to perform the daily tasks, but leading is about ‘who’ we are and how who we can work together.

Presence and Partnership

The foundation for a leader to effectively coach is practicing presence and becoming a trusted partner.  Partnerships happen in an instant while relationships can take years to build – and who has time for that? Giving others full attention is easier said than done.  We are so focused on what’s next that slowing down to consider, “what’s now,” is paramount to gaining trust and respect. When a leader begins a conversation by listening first and then questioning for understanding, they bypass the longer term dance of building trust. Colleen learned that cultivating a culture of coaching begins one conversation at a time – the one that is occurring right now.

Courageous, Conscious, Caring  – the 3C – Conversation

A courageous conversation is direct and honest, yet truth telling is a lost art in leadership.  Honesty has been sacrificed for political correctness and fear. So here’s a way of starting. Breathe in some fresh AIR. Colleen liked my use of the acronym – AIR – to help move fully into a courageous conversation. This approach works for those who are enthusiastic, as well as those who are challenging.

  • A – Action: What did you notice the person doing specifically?  A behavior is simply an observable action.  Let them know what you witness as if you were a neutral journalist. Example: “Bill, it seems that you are upset, withholding something you really want to communicate.”
  • I – Impact: Tell them the impact this activity has on you and others. Example: “Bill, the impact of your continuing to withhold your ideas and even your concerns keeps others in a guessing game about what you need.”
  • R – Request: Ask for a change. Example: “Bill, please let us know what you are thinking, even if you are angry.  I am confident we can work through what we know, it’s what we don’t know that is creating a barrier in our communication.”

If every leader listens fully and engages others in dialogue rather than ranting, engagement scores will rise significantly. Coaching is an investment in people and creating a coaching culture is a worthy goal.

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