Feb. 7, 2020

Coaching: A Leader’s Responsibility…and Opportunity

A coaching ‘mindset’ can open the door to success for a leader and, most especially, for those whom they lead

We hear the words ‘coach’ and ‘coaching’ thrown about quite a bit and in a variety of circumstances. In the general public, they will most often be heard in reference to a coach in major league sports (such as in the NHL in the hockey-crazed north or the NFL south of the border) and what they are – or are not – accomplishing with their teams! In the work domain, ‘executive coaching’ has arisen as a profession in its own right, where external advisors assist individuals, usually leaders, to enhance their knowledge, capabilities and effectiveness. But in reference to those same leaders – and the individuals who work with and for them – how exactly does coaching ‘fit’ in the everyday flow of work and personal development that happens within an organization?

If you review the current job postings for leadership positions at all levels and in a variety of industries and sectors, it is not uncommon to see ‘ability to coach and develop staff’ listed as part of the ‘required capabilities’ for the role. That explicit requirement may be a more recent phenomenon, however the responsibility and the opportunity to develop the individuals with whom we work as leaders has always been a part of that equation: even if we didn’t call it ‘coaching’ at the time. Any time a leader has offered supportive input to a team member who was struggling; encouraged and acknowledged someone who took on a challenging assignment and succeeded; or stopped ‘doing what they were doing’ to take a few minutes to listen to a team member as they talked themselves through a situation towards a resolution: that leader has been coaching. Those actions help to meet the ‘responsibility’ piece of coaching: helping others to succeed and ‘get the job done’. Now the opportunity both for us as individual leaders – and for those whom we coach – is in how we can get better at it: to consciously improve as a coach.

So how could we better define ‘coaching’? A definition that I frequently use is: coaching is acting in a supportive, advisory capacity to an individual to facilitate their process of identifying issues and opportunities, prioritizing needs and selecting and implementing appropriate strategies. A little wordy – yes; but it covers the essentials: coaching is an advisory role through which we facilitate the developmental process for our team members: whether that is building skill at task accomplishment or developing self-confidence in dealing with challenging situations or colleagues. Putting a focus on coaching team members does mean taking time ‘away’ from focusing on the other demands and priorities that are on a leader’s ‘plate’ (and that plate is always full!), but that time is an investment that will pay dividends in both the short and long term for both the leader and the team.

Numerous studies have investigated the benefits of workplace coaching.  The Institute of Coaching at Harvard[1] outlined the benefits to both the individual and the organization:

Benefits to the Individual:

  • Establishing and taking action towards achieving goals
  • Becoming more self-reliant
  • Gaining more job and life satisfaction
  • Contributing more effectively to the team and the organization
  • Taking greater responsibility and accountability for actions and commitments
  • Working more easily and productively with others (boss, direct reports, peers)
  • Communicating more effectively 

Benefits to the Organization:

  • Increasing employee and staff engagement
  • Improving individual performance
  • Helping to identify and develop high potential employees
  • Helping to identify both organizational and individual strengths and development opportunities
  • Helping to motivate and empower individuals to excel
  • Demonstrating organizational commitment to human resource development

Given these outcomes, it seems like a worthwhile investment. So how do leaders become more effective coaches? The good news is that there are well-defined skill sets that contribute to that effectiveness and they are learnable and accessible to us all. Most leaders practice them already; it is more a question of increasing our confidence and frequency of use.

Key skills for coaching success include: practicing active listening; asking effective, open-ended questions; providing specific feedback; assisting in goal development; and practicing a little patience – and where appropriate, empathy – in working with individuals. Challenges certainly can arise based on both the capabilities and the motivation of the individual staff member, but a coaching ‘mindset’ along with acquiring and practicing some key coaching skills can open the door to success for us as a leader; and most especially for those whom we lead.

What also helps is acquiring and developing these coaching skills within established frameworks that can guide our actions and have been proven to lead to success. Some powerful ones include the Development Pipeline created by Dr. David Peterson (now the Head Coach at Google) that allow us to identify what developmental needs are ‘constricting’ our staff member’s ability to succeed (the ‘pinch point’ in the pipeline) so that we can focus our coaching activities in the area of greatest need. Other models guide the sequence and flow of our coaching activities so that we put our energies where they will generate the greatest return and ensure that the ultimate responsibility for pursuing growth resides where it should: with the individual employee. In coaching we don’t solve problems for our staff: we help them to develop the knowledge, skills, and capabilities to become confident problem solvers themselves. Perhaps one of the oldest coaching anecdotes comes from a familiar parable: coaching is about teaching people how to fish!

Our Leader as Coach program is designed to provide leaders with an integrated, blended approach to learning that will include all of the essential elements that a leader needs to be a successful coach. We cover all of the core skills and models discussed in this article and expand on them to give leaders access to the mindset, tools and confidence that they need to succeed. Practical knowledge will be supplemented and put into immediate practice through both experiential activities and coaching practice in the classroom and in the ‘real world’ with the opportunity and support to practice coaching in ‘real time’ with your own team members over the course of the program. You will learn online and in a supportive classroom environment with peers, and will share your experiences as you grow in confidence, competence and impact as a coach.

Register now to reserve your place.


[1] Benefits of Coaching:    https://instituteofcoaching.org/coaching-overview/coaching-benefits