Thought leadership

Expanding Your Leadership Competency - Coaching Skills for Today's New Leader

Expanding Your Leadership Competency - Coaching Skills for Today's New Leader

It’s no longer enough just to know the basics of being a great leader as today’s business world keeps adding various complexities and the talent we employ are forever pushing leaders to the brinks of their management skill levels. As a result, more leaders are being asked, and even required, to build a new competency – coaching. While once thought to be relegated to those special outside consultants with unique experiences and in-depth certifications, it’s almost now a prerequisite for managers who must lead successful teams.

Just like other leadership competencies, coaching is a learned skill. Think back to your experiences as a youth and recall some of the coaches you’ve had in your life. Some were outstanding and really brought out the best in you, and others were probably less-than-perfect and negatively influenced your abilities or performance. I remember one high school basketball coach I had that operated by constantly belittling and negatively criticizing our team. He was so uninspiring and his verbal comments were so demoralizing that the team’s performance dropped each game. After playing under this difficult coach for an entire season, I made the decision to drop off the team--all because of one coach who made playing basketball for my high school a miserable experience. On the contrary, I also can remember some phenomenal coaches. One, in particular, was the father of a friend of mine who was an accomplished track and field athlete. He decided to volunteer his time to coach a bunch of us in field sports including discus, javelin and shotput. I had never touched any of these instruments before I met him in the eighth grade and through his teaching, coaching, encouragement and belief in me, I ended up excelling in discus, breaking high school records and achieving state rankings. Both scenarios began similarly, but through the leadership style and coaching skills of each coach, different results were achieved.

If you are being asked to coach your team members for the first time it may seem daunting. To ease your journey, I have provided you with a simple approach and a model you can use to learn some basics on how to coach others. 

What is coaching?

Leading others on their chosen path towards success. Coaching is about facilitating the discussion focused on solving an issue or performance level they feel is important. It’s not about giving people the answers to their questions; it’s about helping them find the answers that they couldn’t see initially.

Coaching continues to become increasingly important in today’s business world for several reasons. Some statistics reveal that between a typical employee’s effort level and the lack of a developed and ready bench, there’s a lot of risk in not developing our people. Some troubling statistics from SHRM research include:

  • 44% of workers say they put in only the effort required to keep from getting into trouble
  • 23% of workers report working at their full potential
  • 75% of workers report they could be significantly more effective
  • 30% of senior leaders think their firms have a strong leadership pipeline
  • 21% of workers are satisfied with their firm’s bench strength
  • 24% of senior leaders said their current high potentials were “leadership ready”

Often leaders are unsure when to coach. It is not necessarily something you make a conscious decision to do, but rather it becomes a natural way of interacting with an employee who needs your guidance. Typically coaching is used in three scenarios:

  1. To recognize and reinforce positive performance and behavior
  2. To improve performance
  3. To develop future competencies or skills

Interestingly, many leaders consciously decide not to engage in a coaching conversation with their direct reports for several reasons. See if any of these comments ring true for you.

  • Believes there is not enough time in your day
  • Fear of failure and of judgment by others
  • Nobody coached me
  • Coaching feels awkward
  • I have too many employees
  • Employees should be able to figure it out themselves
  • Employee doesn’t ask for help
  • Performance is “almost” acceptable
  • Employee is motivated and doesn’t need feedback
  • Employee needs “learning time”
  • Fear-based culture
  • Exposing incompetence

If you are like most leaders, you have leaned on some of the same reasons as above. Be careful and do not subscribe to the easy way out that these excuses provide. The benefits of coaching far outweigh any of these reasons and often the benefits are realized immediately or in the near term. Some of the benefits of coaching include:

  • Improving individual performance by encouraging (or discouraging) specific behaviors
  • Providing a context to guide future performance
  • Giving employees an opportunity to express their needs, concerns or expectations
  • Enhancing employee’s motivation and commitment when message is delivered constructively
  • Refocusing efforts
  • Providing an opportunity to make modifications to job requirements and adjust goals

As you enter into a coaching conversation, beware of the role of bias. Remember coaching is a two-way conversation with specific goals in mind. People come into the conversation with their own perspectives, so make sure you enter these conversations without preconceived notions or judgments. Otherwise, your biases will influence your assessments of others. Some of your bias may come from previous experiences, beliefs, values, family, culture, attitudes and interests.

A Coaching Conversation

An example of a coaching conversation flow may occur like the following for a performance issue:

  1. Specifically describe the performance issue
  2. Explain how the performance impacts you and others
  3. Ask for reasons and listen openly to the explanation
  4. Get “buy-in” about the opportunity to improve
  5. Agree on actions to resolve the problems
  6. Indicate consequences as appropriate
  7. Summarize and express support
  8. Document as appropriate

Often there is not a specific issue that you need to address however, your employee may have something on his or her mind. Some effective coaching questions you may want consider include:

  • What is important for us to discuss today?
  • Tell me about your biggest obstacle to success right now.
  • What are you the most proud of since our last meeting?
  • What are you the most sorry about since our last meeting?
  • What is the one thing that I can do to help your performance?

There are many coaching models that have been created and it’s helpful to follow a template. Titan Group, a division of Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc., (Titan Gallagher) created one called Discover Coaching Model SM. This stands for Discovery Zone – Outcomes – Action Plan – Results and is described in more detail below.

Discover Coaching Model SM by Titan Gallagher

Discovery Zone - explore what’s working well and what “gaps” exist; the individual and manager assess current performance/competence levels and where he/she wants to go; identify strengths, opportunities and pinpoint gaps through the use of existing and new assessment data.

Outcomes - articulate the desired future state, agree on that future state, create specific learning goals and identify the value of behavior changes.

Action Plan – identify the steps and activities needed to close the gaps and build skills, implement the plan in a structured way (IDP), affirm that both the manager and employee are jointly accountable and continue to build the improved behavior by engaging in multiple coaching conversations.

Results – after completion of the plan, the individual and manager evaluate and assess his/her results, how well those matched up to desired outcomes, what value was achieved and identify next steps.

As you use this or any other model, it is important to continue to focus on building the three critical skills of a coach as defined by Ken Blanchard, author of Situational Leadership.

  1. Diagnosis—assessing developmental needs of your direct reports
  2. Flexibility—being comfortable using a variety of leadership styles
  3. Partnering for Performance—reaching agreements with others about the leadership style they need

As you focus on building your diagnosis skills consider these five diagnosis questions:

  1. What is the specific goal or task?
  2. How strong are the individual’s demonstrated task knowledge and skills?
  3. How strong are the individual’s transferable skills?
  4. How motivated, interested or enthusiastic is the individual?
  5. How confident or self-assured is the individual?

Next, develop your ability to develop competence and commitment in others through these 6 steps:

  1. Tell the individual what to do.
  2. Show him or her how to do it.
  3. Let the person try.
  4. Observe performance closely.
  5. Praise progress or redirect.
  6. Change your leadership style over time as competence and commitment change.

Consider each interaction with your employee as an opportunity for greatness to excel beyond what they believe is possible. Be intentional about one-on-one coaching and set up regular meetings with your employees to hold coaching conversations. Try to catch someone doing something right and tell them about it. In your delivery of feedback, be a comprehensive coach-- give comprehensive feedback with specifics examples of behaviors. Go into the conversation expecting your people to excel and build on small wins. Who knows what greatness you will be able to bring out in your folks, but the next great leader for your company is not a bad start.


Genevieve Roberts

Genevieve Roberts is a Managing Director & Practice Leader with the Gallagher Human Resources & Compensation Consulting practice focused on HR, Leadership, and Organizational development. Genevieve is based in Richmond, Virginia.

Genevieve has over 25 years of diversified experience in Human Resources and consulting. She has performed as a business partner with varied industries including technology, health care, higher education, manufacturing, retail, financial services, non-profit, public sector and professional services. She has specialized experience in Executive ...

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