Is coaching a leader’s job?

Source: Management Team (26/04/2017); Author: Karlien Vanderheyden

In the context of greater globalisation, fiercer competition, new technologies and social media, companies will increasingly have to set themselves apart on the basis of the talents they have on board. The skill of developing talented people will be a crucial characteristic of tomorrow’s leaders. Traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ training will become a thing of the past, more and more often replaced by a personal approach. Coaching is a great example of this. If you help people learn and grow, they bloom and perform at their best. So it is a win-win situation for both employees and the company.

What is a coaching leader?

A coaching leader stimulates employees to think, makes them aware of hidden strengths and helps them overcome obstacles. Let them come up with their own solutions instead of providing ready-made answers. At Virgin, for example, many leaders adopt a coaching role. Employees are responsible for identifying opportunities, taking decisions and evaluating the initiatives they have taken. Positive behaviour is acknowledged and encouraged. When something goes wrong, it is seen as a learning process. This coaching culture at Virgin has led to immense employee loyalty and higher sales figures than expected.

What are the potential obstacles?

Some leaders have low self-esteem when it comes to coaching. They experience too little support in developing coaching skills and building up the knowledge of coaching models that they need. They also sometimes lack clarity about their employees’ development needs and the reasons why team members achieve less. Moreover, the composition of teams can also change quickly. That makes it more difficult for leaders to build a strong bond with their people. Finally, many leaders also find that the pressure of work, priorities and deadlines gets in the way of them investing sufficient time in coaching.

How can you adopt a coaching mentality as a leader?

Put your ego aside. Instead of providing solutions and showing off your knowledge, help your team members to explore new options. Their solutions will not always be what you had in mind yourself, but with your support they can arrive at ideas that might even be better than your solution. What's more, employees will also be more motivated to implement a solution if it was their own idea.

  • Get to know your staff. Pay attention to who your employees are as well as the work they do. That means taking time to find out about their desires, fears, pasts and ideas for the future. The better you understand them, the better you can support them in continuing to develop their potential.
  • Ask questions. If you ask questions, you teach people to criticise their own assumptions and try out new ways of thinking. What have you learned from this task? What did you worry about? How would you solve this problem? How can you approach this differently in the future?
  • Be all ears. Don’t respond immediately when employees are talking, even if the answer is on the tip of your tongue. Let them have their say and only intervene when they are finished. Leave documents, telephone calls and e-mails aside for a moment. Your employees deserve your full attention.
  • Use a positive approach. Coaching leaders see what their employees do well and appreciate their efforts. Try to give more critical feedback in a constructive, non-threatening way as well. As a good coach, you praise people in public and criticise them in a private conversation.
  • Dare to take risks. When you coach people, a new world often opens up before you. Step off the beaten track. Besides helping others to grow, you also challenge yourself. Don’t be afraid of admitting your mistakes, and see other people’s mistakes as part of the learning process.

What does it achieve?

There is no doubt at all that employees benefit from coaching. But what about you, the leader? Does it make sense to invest time and energy in coaching when there are so many other things on your to-do list? Absolutely! You will get far more motivated employees in return. Studies have also shown that productivity and performance improve and that your organisation can use the available talent better. Employees who are coached can pleasantly surprise their leader with new, high-quality ideas. They will also be more open about sharing important information, even when it is bad news.

In the short term, it is often easier and faster for a leader to provide answers themselves to all kinds of problems. But coaching teaches your employees to find their own solutions. That enables you, the leader, to delegate more and thus have more time to do the things that are really important to you.

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