As the need for organisations to effectively navigate change and new challenges increases, ensuring that managers and leaders are equipped to use coaching skills with their teams becomes increasingly important.

It’s been a given for some time that in complex, fast moving business environments, leaders can no longer be expected to know all of the answers. And they don’t need to – by using coaching skills, they can enable their team members to think independently and create their own solutions.

What is a coaching approach?

So, what does using a coaching approach actually involve? Essentially, it’s about helping a team member to:

  • Establish their goals
  • Generate insights and options about the best way forward
  • Choose from those options
  • Feel appreciated, by acknowledging their progress
  • Clearly define their next steps

As managers and leaders are still often “programmed” to provide solutions for their team members, helping them to find their own answers instead, involves some behaviour changes which include:

  • Listening at a deeper level – rather than being in their own thoughts and interjecting with their views
  • Being curious, open and non-judgmental
  • Demonstrating empathy
  • Believing that people can learn and change (a growth mindset).
  • Managing any emotional reactions they might have, e.g., during a “difficult” conversation.

As Herminia Ibarra and Anne Scoular say in their Harvard Business Review (HBR) article The Leader as Coach , a coaching conversation is about “ask and listen,” not “tell and sell”. This is why coaching also differs to mentoring where a more senior person shares their experience so that the more junior person can replicate their approach. You can find more on the differences between coaching and mentoring and directive and non-directive coaching in their HBR article.

“Increasingly, coaching is becoming integral to the fabric of a learning culture—a skill that good managers at all levels need to develop and deploy”

The benefits of using a coaching approach

Coaching conversations often lead to higher job satisfaction, increased employee engagement and increased psychological safety which means employees are more willing to speak up and discuss their challenges.

A study by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) found that team members felt empowered and engaged by managers who used coaching skills, because they:

  • gave them responsibilities
  • allowed them to take risks
  • provided them with the autonomy to make decisions
  • trusted their judgment
  • removed barriers; and
  • allowed them to learn from their mistakes.

Team members also felt their manager challenged them to reach their full potential, as they:

  • encouraged self-awareness and self-reflection
  • facilitated learning
  • delivered constructive feedback
  • helped develop critical thinking skills, and
  • provided training opportunities.

As noted by Dr Rebecca Jones , Associate Professor in Coaching and Behavioural Change at Henley Business School, coaching conversations also:

Create a culture of innovation – by being non-judgmental and open to new ways of doing things, leaders help their team members to devise new and creative ways to tackle challenges. This complements Transformational Leadership  where ongoing innovation is the norm.

Improve wellbeing – when employees feel someone is genuinely listening to their views, they feel valued and a sense of belonging, “a fundamental human need” which leads to a sense of wellbeing at work.

Improve performance – Jones goes on to say that improved wellbeing, higher engagement and improved learning have a positive impact on performance. “Leaders as coaches enable team members to focus on what really matters, increasing their effort and persistence to reach important goals.”

One of the most well-known companies to benefit from the introduction of a coaching culture is Microsoft. In 2014, incoming CEO Satya Nadella, role modelled and established a coaching approach which helped Microsoft to succeed in an era of cloud-based computing. Ibarra and Scoular’s article  has more on this.

Spreading coaching skills across your organisation

Where senior leaders may have benefited from coaching and even have been trained in using coaching skills themselves, the main obstacle to introducing a coaching culture can be the expense of training leaders and managers at every level of the organisation.

Eluminas’ Coaching Skills for Managers online course, created with busy leaders and managers in mind, is a cost effective solution to this. In addition to introducing key coaching skills and a framework to use them, it also enables leaders and managers to increase their self-awareness around the behaviours that effective coaching conversations need.