How To Become A Better Coach

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When you think about your manager or leader, do you feel like they support you? Are they strong guides? Great at empowering you and your teammates?

I personally love when my Sphere of Influence 360 clients speak positively about their role models – it gives me great joy to hear stories of leaders who inspire their teams and commit to their continued development.

While it’s brilliant, it’s not something I hear all too often. It’s made me wonder: why is it an ongoing theme that so many leaders need to develop their coaching skills?

Many Strong Leaders Aren’t Strong Coaches (Yet)

There are two main reasons that coaching skills tend to be neglected.

First, coaching is an ongoing process that requires a certain mindset. Many leaders tend to be proactive, solution-oriented, and driven, and have a lot to deal with at any one point. In their eyes, the coaching journey can seem like a large time investment before any real results are accomplished.

Second, many leaders may already see themselves as good coaches, even when their skills could use some improvement. One study of 3,761 leaders revealed that as many as 24% of surveyed executives believed they were ‘above average’ coaches, a sharp contrast to the much lower appraisals that co-workers made of their skills (Ibarra & Scholar, 2019).

It’s a finding supported by our own Sphere of Influence (SOI) research, which found that coaching was the most consistently overrated of the 12 SOI interaction styles in a study of 3,058 360 feedback reviews.

Whatever the reason, coaching skills are essential to have if you lead others, and if you’re a manager, team leader, or executive, it’s a reminder to reflect critically on your own coaching skills. It could well be time to bridge the gap between how you see yourself as a coach, and how effective you really are at coaching others in practice.

5 Exercises to Become a Better Coach

Coaching is about challenging, not telling, selling, or yelling. It’s not about providing answers, either, it’s about asking the right questions – questions that stimulate and offer others food for thought.

If you’re ready to develop your own coaching skills, use these five tips to help you.

1. Find Out What Motivates People

Intrinsic motivation is what helps others grow and achieve their goals, so try to find out what drives your co-workers to achieve their potential.

  • What gives them energy?
  • What are they proud of?       
  • What are their dreams?

One of the most challenging things about any development journey is starting out in the first place, so consider breaking down new goals into more manageable subgoals. To sustain their motivation long-term, you might want to talk about how they can celebrate their little ‘wins’ along the way.

2. Encourage Coachees To Persevere

We learn by making mistakes, but failure can often make many coachees feel discouraged. Here is where you can make a huge positive difference as a coaching leader by stimulating them to try again.

This skill is a brilliant one to learn from others who already have it:

  • Find 2 or 3 role models who are very strong ‘stimulators’ skills, and note their behavior
  • Note down any effective behaviors that interest you, and that you believe might work for you
  • Try them out when you’re coaching!

3. Provide Food For Thought

You can challenge and offer perspectives as a coach, but people very often have their best insights when they reach their own conclusions through reflection. This is where you can ask the right questions to offer food for thought:

Once again, don’t tell – try asking some of these questions instead:

  • What are you doing to not achieve your goal?
  • What will things look like after your issue is solved?
  • What would you do if you had unlimited resources?
  • What can you accomplish on your own, that doesn’t depend on others?
  • If a friend were in your shoes, what advice would you give them?
  • What is one step you could take right now that would move you forward?
  • Are there any important questions that have not yet been asked?
  • If I asked you to give yourself a tip, what would it be?

4. Make Yourself Available For Support

Coaching takes time, yes. But it doesn’t have to take all of your time.

You can make a considerable positive impact by being available when it’s most strategic – when your coachees really need your support.

Let them know that you’re available simply by telling them: “My door is always open,” or “I’m always here if you need.

You can also:

  • Leave your office door unlocked and open
  • Look up from what you’re doing and catch your co-workers’ eyes when they walk in, or if you’re pressed for time,
  • Notify them of specific hours that you’ll leave free for your coachees’ questions or concerns.

5. Offer Encouragement

When your colleagues come up against a challenge, you can help by recognizing their frustration and offering encouragement.

Try:

  • Learn to recognize the signs that your coachees are discouraged, struggling, or doubting themselves
  • Talk to them to validate your observations
  • If your coachee is indeed struggling, make time to listen to their feelings and concerns
  • Show that you believe in them by expressing it verbally, e.g. “You’re doing the right things,” or “You’ve overcome worse than this before.”

Nicolien Dellensen

Nicolien Dellensen, Senior Consultant and behavioral specialist and creator and owner of the ’Sphere of Influence 360º’ a comprehensive concept and (360) online tool about interactive dynamics.

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