How Managers Can Become Effective Coaches of Employees

Can a manager be an effective coach? Some professional coaches suggest that managers cannot and should not attempt to coach their employees. After all, the manager has too much of a vested interest in the outcome of the coaching and couldn’t possibly be neutral enough to hold back on their opinions.

Then again, a lot of managers think they are already coaching when what they are really doing is a lot of teaching, advising, and telling—or, in the worst case, micromanaging. They use the phrase “coaching” to describe just about any conversation they have with an employee. It helps to first understand the definition of coaching.

Aligning on the Meaning, Behaviors, and Types of Coaching
Coaching is the skill and art of helping someone improve their performance and reach their full potential. Coaching skills are often described as either directive or non-directive. Directive skills include:

  • Teaching
  • Advising
  • Giving Feedback
  • Offering Suggestions

Non-directive coaching involves asking questions and listening versus offering ideas or approaches. The real magic of coaching is when the coach takes a non-directive approach by asking challenging questions and listening as the individual works on solving his or her own problems.

When people come up with their own solutions, they are more committed, and the fixes are more likely to be implemented. Additionally, this problem-solving experience helps individuals develop the self-confidence to solve similar problems on their own.

Great coaches help minimize the “noise” and distractions that are getting in the way of someone’s ability to figure out what’s going on and what to do about it. Great coaches know how and when to ask the right question at the right time, when to give feedback, when to advise, how to get the person to focus, and how to gain commitment. Managers can do this, but they have to let go of a few beliefs and pick up a few mindsets and skills. Here are five critical behaviors for managers who want to coach employees.

Let Go of the Belief That Their Job Is to Have All of the Answers
While many managers won’t admit they think they know more than the sum total of their entire team, they still act that way. It’s human nature. We all like to be advice columnists when it comes to other people’s problems. The problem is, when you don’t give employees the opportunity to solve their own problems, they don’t develop. Instead, they become dependent and never reach their full potential.

Believe That Every Employee Can Grow and Improve
A manager can’t coach an employee if they sincerely don’t believe in the employee. Instead, they should be reading How to “Coach an Employee Out of a Job."

Be Willing to Slow Down and Take the Time to Coach
Yes, it’s quicker and simpler to tell and give advice. Coaching does take a little more time and patience upfront, and it takes deliberate practice to get good at it. However, it’s an investment in people that has a higher return than just about any other management skill. People learn, they develop, performance improves, people are more satisfied and engaged, and organizations are more successful.

Learn How to Coach
You can’t just throw a switch and be an effective coach. You need to have a framework, and it takes practice. Most coaches I know use the GROW model as their framework. They like it because it’s easy to remember and provides a roadmap for just about any coaching conversation. While there are many versions of the GROW acronym, the one I use is:

G = goal: “Tell me what you want to get out of this discussion?”
R = reality: “So what’s actually happening?”
O = options: “What could you do about it?”
W = what’s next: “What are you going to definitely do about it? By when?”

Managers Should Study the Experts and Practice the Techniques
To learn how to coach, managers should experience what it’s like to be coached by someone who’s really good at it. Then, read a good book on the topic. Then, practice, practice, practice, and get feedback. After a while, you become less dependent on a linear framework and begin to comfortably bounce from one step to another. It also helps to have a toolkit of favorite questions to ask for each step in the GROW model.

The Bottom Line
Managers who want to be effective coaches will most likely need to let go of some assumptions about themselves and their employees, be willing to learn and practice a style of management that will initially feel unnatural and awkward. However, the rewards will be well worth the effort.

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