Top 5 Coaching Skills Imperative for Business Leaders

HRDQ-U Top 5 Coaching Skills Imperative for Business Leaders
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written Rick Lepsinger

Business leaders sometimes make the mistake of treating coaching solely as an aspect of training or onboarding. The most effective leaders, however, understand that every day presents opportunities to coach team members and help them to improve in ways that drive success both on an individual and a company level.

Coaching can cover a wide range of activities, but generally focuses on the future, providing the advice, suggestions, and support employees need to achieve optimum results in their performance. Rather than the cliched image of an overbearing manager lecturing or micromanaging employees, a successful coach helps to develop skills, promote positive behaviors, and expose people to new ideas or strategies that can guide them through tough challenges.

Here are a few key strategies that effective coaches should be incorporating into their daily practices.

1: Understand Your Employees’ Values

Leaders need to have a good sense of what values, beliefs, and emotions motivate employees in order to provide effective coaching. Understanding how they feel about their work and what they hope to accomplish in the future makes it possible to tailor coaching strategies that will best match their unique qualities.

Teams are often comprised of individuals with diverse interests and values. Employees with children, for example, may have different ideas about establishing a proper work/life balance than those who do not. Knowing these differences allows leaders to identify common ground and make accommodations for a wide range of perspectives while still driving engagement and development.

Empathizing is an effective skill for understanding a person’s values and motivations. By responding empathetically to concerns and resisting the urge to ignore, disagree with, or reject what they have to say, leaders can show respect for the person’s beliefs. When employees feel comfortable being themselves, it is easier to utilize coaching strategies that encourage them to think independently, diagnose their own problems, and formulate their own solutions.

Leaders should also make an effort to learn a bit about what interests and goals employees may have outside of the workplace. These outside elements may well have a strong influence on how they do their work and make decisions, so knowing more about them can provide useful insights. Learning about employees’ lives also helps to strengthen the interpersonal relationship required for building trust and providing effective coaching.

2: Focus on Behaviors

Performance is ultimately about what a person does or says. Too often, evaluations focus on attitudes or perceptions. Effective coaches therefore keep their focus on a person’s actions. Telling an employee that they “lack commitment,” for instance, neither indicates what they have done wrong or what changes they could make to improve in the future. By describing observable behaviors and actions (such as arriving late to meetings, missing deadlines, or failing to provide information to teammates), leaders can keep the focus on measurable performance and indicate what things, specifically, need to improve.

Identifying specific goals creates a metric for employee development over time. Rather than waiting to see if a person’s “attitude improves,” effective coaches evaluate highlighted behaviors over time to determine whether or not they’ve made progress. This is tremendously helpful for employees because it gives them specific goals to work toward, rather than making them guess how to change their attitude or personality more broadly.

3: Practice Active Listening

In order to provide effective coaching, leaders must identify opportunities for providing guidance and be able to recognize when someone is raising concerns without addressing them directly. Active listening also allows leaders to demonstrate empathy and gain insights into what motivates an employee’s behavior and decisions.

The first step in active listening is simply being in a position to listen. Leaders need to be mindful that they make themselves available and approachable. If they’re difficult for employees to reach, many coaching opportunities will be missed. Simply making it easier for conversations to take place can be tremendously beneficial to employees.

Effective coaches excel at two-way communication. They restate in their own words what the others say to confirm their understanding. In addition, they respond in a balanced way (i.e., states the positives before they discuss the concerns) in order to reduce defensiveness and set a problem solving tone.  By utilizing good active listening skills, leaders can reduce defensiveness, promote self-esteem, and defuse emotional exchanges. Creating this safe communication environment allows people to engage in productive problem solving rather than struggling to be heard.

Part of being an active listener is asking good questions. Asking open ended questions can promote discussions that provide leaders with new perspectives, helping them reframe their own expectations and attitudes about matters affecting employees. By sparking conversations, leaders can involve employees in their own development and give them a chance to identify solutions.

Questions also set the stage for action, highlighting situations and problems that require immediate attention. Engaging in conversations about what should be done in regards to a specific issue helps employees learn how to work toward productive solutions and shows them that their opinions are valued.

4: Provide Balanced Feedback

Feedback is a critical component of coaching. If employees never get feedback, they won’t have the information necessary for them to improve performance or better develop their careers. Not delivering the proper feedback at the appropriate time can lead to significant problems both in the moment and in the future. By providing feedback on a consistent, ongoing basis, employees can more easily identify the connections between the observation and the inciting incidents that prompted it.

In order to be effective, however, feedback must be balanced, providing both positive and negative observations. Any conversation about an employee’s performance needs to indicate what they’ve done well and where they have opportunities for growth. If the feedback is too overly positive, employees may not have a clear idea of what they need to focus on to improve. Conversely, too much negative feedback can be discouraging and cause employees to become frustrated and disengaged.

The manner in which feedback is delivered is important as well. Ideally, effective feedback should be given as part of a private, two way conversation that provides employees with an opportunity to listen, respond, and ask for guidance. Leaders must approach these conversations with a specific goal they want to achieve and be able present clear steps an employee should take in response to the information presented.

5: Treat People Fairly

Leaders are responsible for setting the standards for how people are treated within the organization. While employees want to be treated with respect and fairness, they will ultimately take their cues from leadership. If they get the sense that some people are treated differently than others, or that it’s acceptable to engage in negative behavior, they may become disengaged, leave the organization, or adopt the same behavior and contribute to a toxic work environment.

One basic premise of respect is being open and honest at all times. While leaders must still be tactful, communicating with employees in a forthcoming and genuine way helps to build credibility and creates a foundation for trust. By involving employees in decisions that affect them, leaders make them feel more valued and respected.

Expectations are often best communicated by modeling the right behaviors. Leaders who demonstrate accountability and hold themselves to the same standards they expect from their employees establishes a positive model for employees to emulate. Rather than telling people how they should conduct themselves in the workplace, good leaders show them through their actions.

Many of these strategies can also be applied to remote coaching as well. With so many organizations adopting cross-functional and virtual teams, it’s easy to forget that remote employees need just as much coaching attention as those working in an office environment. Fortunately, many of the same skills used to motivate and inspire virtual teams more effectively can also come in handy for coaching. Establishing good communication habits and focusing on clear goals is tremendously helpful to the coaching process in a remote situation.

Effective leaders adopt several strategies to provide the very best support to their employees. By establishing a strong relationship with their team members, leaders can better identify and capitalize on coaching opportunities. In the process, they also foster a culture that emphasizes development, trust, and mutual respect that serves to drive workplace engagement.

META DESCRIPTION: Today’s top leaders understand that every day offers a chance to help their teams improve in ways that drive success both on an individual and a company level. Here are a few key strategies that effective coaches should be incorporating into their daily practices.

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