Coaching is the secret ingredient of the best leaders. Whether it is robust performance management, giving feedback or simply helping people get to grips with a problem, coaching skills are central to successful leadership and successful teams. Skilful coaching gets you the highest leadership ratings, and pulls the best performance from your team. Here’s how it’s done.
The aim of coaching
The aim of a coaching conversation is to help the “coachee” (sorry – no other word) think about, and take action to address, a challenge.
We have developed a coaching model based on the evidence on what has been found to be effective in helping people undertaking psychotherapy to change their behaviour. This model - where one person helps another, through dialogue - has three main aspects:
The short video below runs through the model, and a supporting PowerPoint presentation is a available here
In the “support” stream you will show an underlying tone of consideration for the person you are coaching. That’s different from necessarily agreeing with what they’ve done or the way they are approaching a problem. But a sense of understanding has to come across for the coaching chemistry to work.
It means listening attentively so that your coachee feels properly 'heard' and responding in a non-judgemental way, even when you have fundamentally different views. The job of the coach is to facilitate a person coming to their own conclusions, not to get everyone thinking the same as you.
Your opening question might be a general “How’s it going?” but your follow-up questions have to link to the tone and content of what your coachee is saying. Are you using their language? Are you asking for helpful details? Or are you just jumping straight in with your own solutions?
People will also pick up your underlying tone from your body language which should be open (eg not the other side of a table with crossed arms) and engaged (eg good eye contact).
As your coachee describes the challenge they’re facing, you will start to think of ideas that might help them move forward.
You may not be able to solve the problem for them, but that’s not what they want anyway. (If they just need a straightforward answer from you, that wouldn’t be called a coaching conversation). They want to work it out for themselves. Your job is to help them find the path to the solution.
The best way to do this is to ask the right questions:
“What do you think would happen if……?” “Have you thought about….?”
You might have a different way of looking at the situation:
“Do you think it is possible that…..?”
The knack to asking these questions comes with experience. You may feel your coachee is on entirely the wrong tack. But saying “That’s rubbish” doesn’t get anyone very far. The skilful coach constantly thinks to themselves “How can I express this in a way that will be helpful?”
The aim of coaching is usually to help someone do something. To solve a problem.
Towards the end of a coaching conversation the focus should move towards practical steps that can be taken. Again, your job is help your coachee to discover what actions seem workable for them.
You can certainly nudge someone in a particular direction:
“Supposing you did such-and-such. Do you think that would work?”
As a contingency, you can coach them through a back-up in case things don’t go according to plan.
They might ask you what you would do – and telling them is fine if it helps them. But, in a coaching conversation, the ultimate responsibility is usually theirs.
To round the conversation off, it’s good practice for your coachee to sum up by running through the next steps they're going to take.