Training & Development

5 Coaching Skills That Every Manager Needs to Have

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Whether you’re a manager trying to develop your people or trying develop yourself and build a career, you need to know that one of the key ways you can have a positive impact on the business is by operating more as a “Coach” than a “Manager.”

A study conducted by Bersin & Associates showed that organizations with senior leaders who coach effectively and frequently improve their business results by 21 percent as compared to those who never coach.

Many people are unsure about what is different about a coaching approach, so let me outline some key descriptors:

  • Coaches take an “Ask vs. Tell” approach. Don’t tell the employee what to do, instead ask powerful questions. This allows the employee to create their own solutions. When they go through the thought process to get to resolution, they are much more bought-in — it’s their idea!
  • Coaches focus on the employee vs. the task — it’s about their development.
  • Coaching is not about “fixing” anyone. Again, it’s about their development and facilitating the learning process.
  • Coaches set up a clear accountability structure for action and outcomes. It helps keep the employee focused on achieving the desired goals.
  • Coaching is something that can/should happen as needed and in-the-moment, which is the best way for learning to occur. It’s a great way to reinforce what may have been learned in the classroom by capitalizing on those on-the-job learning experiences.

Acting more like a coach

So how can a Manager behave more like a Coach?

  1. Ask good questions to enable the process.
  2. Meet the employee where they are.
  3. Guide the conversation (through questions, not directives) to a mutual agreement of the priorities of development.
  4. Ensure that the feedback information is heard and understood by the employee. Again, asking clarifying questions is the best way to do this.
  5. Do your part to support the employee through a shared commitment to their goals, responsibilities and action steps.

Coaching = Effective Conversations

What makes a conversation “effective”? It’s about a dialogue (asking), not a monologue (telling). The best coaching questions are:

  • Open-ended;
  • Focused on useful outcomes; and,
  • —Non-judgmental (avoid asking “why?”).

Here are some examples of good open-ended questions compared to the close-ended version:

Open-ended/Inviting Questions

  • What is the status on “x”?
  • How can I help you? 
  • Can you tell me about that error?
  • Walk me through your thought process?
  • What other approaches might you take next time?
  • How are your emotions influencing your perception of the situation?

 Close-ended/Evaluative Questions

  • Are you finished yet?
  • Do you have a problem?
  • Did you make that mistake?
  • Will this really solve the problem?
  • What made you think that was a good idea?
  • That’s clear enough, isn’t it?
  • Didn’t I go over this already?
  • Why didn’t you do “x”?

So are you up for the challenge? Your employees, the business and your career will all benefit if you begin to operate in Manager-as-Coach mindset.

Your employees will be developed and challenged in way that truly builds new skills and enables them to learn from experiences.

BONUS FEATURE: Your career will blossom if you are known to be a good developer of people – a critical skill for long-term success!

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults,a consultancy that guides organizations and individuals to “start the wave” of change. You can contact her at mduesterhoft@people-results.com.
  • Hax

    Many of the ‘open-ended’ questions suggested here could easily come across as negative and aggressive, which would defeat the coaching objective. Example: “How can I help you?” creates an assumption that help is actually needed, and (hence) the coachee has failed in their task. Oops. Whilst this is certainly better than the closed “Do you have a problem?”, it needs to be phrased much more carefully: “So that’s a great approach! Can you think of another way to address the problem? (no) Well, how about…”.

    There is a lot more subtlety required here, I think.

    • Martha Duesterhoft

      I see where you are coming from. The tone of voice does play an important role in how those questions come across. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  • Marta Steele

    I appreciate all the specific language in your post. So often we hear “coach” as a buzzword but what does that look and sound like? You’ve listed helpful examples here. Thanks!

    • Martha Duesterhoft

      Thanks Marta! Glad you found it helpful.

  • Gordon Brough

    There is so much more to coaching than just asking questions. A trained coach will be in rapport with the client and be able to ask questions that make the client access their subconscious mind.

    • Martha Duesterhoft

      Of course there is MUCH more to coaching. Given the limited space for this article, I chose to focus primarily on that aspect. For those managers who don’t go through formal coach training, it’s a bit of tactical advice that managers can understand and start practicing.

  • Marian Thier

    Very smart article. Often people want to change from telling to inquiring, but just don’t know how, so this advice will help. In my experience it’s also important for coach-managers to know how to tailor their messages according to how a person interacts–we each have patterns formed in our brain, body and emotions over a lifetime, and no two of us is alike–it’s crucial for the coach-manager to know and work with the employee as an individual.

    • Martha Duesterhoft

      Yes indeed! Every person/situation is different so being able to flex and adjust to the various styles and needs is critical. Thanks for your comments.

  • Kevin Frisby

    It is a good article but I agree with Hax’s comments. When coaching your prime focus is on the client’s needs; hopefully their needs are aligned to the shared needs of the organisation, particularly if the coaching is business related. The article focused on asking questions, which is important of course, but more importantly, the coach must be truly prepared to listen! By listening, I mean facilitatively listening; reflect back what has been said, paraphrase, empathise, rephrase and going way beyond actively listening.
    Coaching is about bringing out the best in a person, meeting their needs, as I said, before, so isn’t guiding the conversation manipulative? But I do get your point. The coach is the guide on the journey of discovery, professionally and personally.

    • Martha Duesterhoft

      Agree – if you are asking questions, listening to the response is paramount! Otherwise, it appears as if you are going through the motions and can do more harm than good.

  • Becky Sandifer

    The new managers I am coaching seem to be trending toward adopting a coaching leadership style. They are seeing the value of empowering their employees rather than controlling them. Useful article for me to use with my clients! Thanks!

  • Kathy

    EXCELLENT article!!!

  • Tim Riley

    Hi Martha. Good advice as always. I do wonder how many managers will know what you mean by meeting the employee where s/he is at. It’s a term we use frequently given our backgrounds but I’ve never heard a manager use it. I am also curious how you would differentiate between leading questions and guiding the conversation? The former is obviously not desired as employees may experience the conversation as being manipulative or having a foregone desired outcome. Thoughts?

    P.s, lunch soon?

    • Angie

      Hi Tim,
      I believe you are right about using the term “meeting them where they are.” I believe this is directly linked to your second question as well. I believe the answer lies directly in non-judgment. In coaching, for me anyway, the term judgment refers to seeing the differences. It is only in these differences that experience conflict. When we acknowledge and focus on the sameness, there is no conflict. It is in this place that we can truly come from a curious perspective, asking genuinely curious questions without regard to what the answer SHOULD be. It is exactly in this place that many managers struggle, because they are invested in the outcome as well.
      Difficult path sometimes. I often recommend to managers that struggle with this to schedule coaching sessions with some their employees, if possible, separately. This helps really stay in the coaching frame of mind, and this mindset does take some practice!

  • Alan Jackson

    Thank you. A great message, and great intent. Leadership is about service. Development / Growth is a great service to provided. Coaching will do this! Great Article, & I’m doin’ my part to get this out to the world!

  • Peter Murray

    Having a “Coaching Conversation” is the way to go in today’s workplace. And this is particularly so when managers are engaging with their staff or even among colleagues. With regards to Leaders, I can’t image a good Leader who cannot coach.

    Open and Close ended questions are excellent Coaching questions though they have to be used used skillfully. And yes, with the correct tone.

    Paraphrasing is also useful to seek clarity and gain acknowledgement. Conversations become more transparent and less defensive when both parties seek to understand each other better.

  • http://www.facebook.com/federica.rossini.792 Federica Rossini

    Beautiful article. Coaching is important in business and in sports. http://www.corso-mental-coaching.it/blog/ This is a specialized italian blog about coaching.

  • Tom Gimbel

    One of the biggest things I’ve seen, that you touched on here, Martha, is that great managers provide feedback at the time that it’s needed….they don’t wait for performance reviews or formal meetings. They facilitate conversations that help their staff learn and grow. I read another great article on TLNT a while back that talks a bit more about this. I shared it and my thoughts here: http://bit.ly/1l3Ytn9