Updated: Apr 22
A good leader-as-coach will give time to coach, but a great leader-as-coach will make these given times purposeful.
A long time ago, coaching was an intervention to fix someone's behavioral or work problems. Without a remedy, the person may cause damages to others, teams, organizations or themselves.
Today, people leverage coaching in many profound ways. An engaging coaching conversation can bring notable and positive changes to someone’s business game and personal life.
The impact of coaching has been so eminent that its tools and techniques are continually developed and advanced each year. Each month, thousands of organizations’ leaders are interested in the key to effective coaching. There are also significant numbers of people turning their corporate careers into professional coaches.
The purpose of coaching within the organization is unique, mainly when leaders and managers apply coaching skills with their team members.
From my experience, there is a good leader-as coach and a great leader-as-coach. The good one gives time to coach others, asks good questions, tries to be present, shuts up, and listens. The great one does much more than that, and of course, with a great purpose.
Let’s take Erick as an example. Erick is a highly competent executive who has been successful and well respected by the people in his organization and customers. After having attended a robust coaching skills training, Erick became very passionate about coaching his four direct reports. Soon, one of them will succeed him following his promotion. Erick wants the person to be successful in the new leadership role.
Erick invited each of them into a coaching conversation and asked each of them, “What is your self-development goal?” and “How do you envision yourself in this company in the next three years?” Here is what Erick got as outcomes unexpectedly:
The first direct report, what he got was a confused smile and silence.
The second one gave him the answer; “Well…., I don’t know yet.”
The third one said, "I want to develop my team members’ productivity.”
His well-intent started to fade away when the fourth person said, "Myself?... I don’t think I need to develop anything. I am currently performing well, and I will continue to do so.”
Erick decided to bring this up to his executive coach. During their conversation, Erick came to realize that his subordinates were so honest. They could have provided much more satisfying answers to please Erick’s ears, but they didn’t. If they did, wouldn’t it still be doubtful if those were good coaching purposes for his subordinates and the organization's greater good?
A good leader-as-coach gives time to coach their employees. A great leader-as-coach engages the employees to align some of their passion and potentials with the organization’s purposes.
Although Erick can make time to coach his direct reports, they don't have time for everything. People have more than enough to handle day by day. A purposeful coaching conversation between leader and subordinate is necessary for the coachee to make time and everything possible for any unlearn-relearn mindset and meaningful actions.
The very first questions that Erick needs to ask himself, for instance, “What can I do to engage my coachee better?”, “In today’s constant changes, can my team members articulate where the organizations are going and why we are going there?” “Without that knowledge, will they be able to make a long-term positive impact on themselves and organizations?
Then, the very first alternative questions for his subordinates could be:
Here is what I am passionate about learning these days…….., what about you?
Let me learn from you too, tell me freely about your passion………
Which of your talents or strengths do you often receive compliments from others?
How do you currently apply your strengths to contribute to your team?
The conversation “what we do now and what we aim to do next or in the future” can trigger his subordinates’ thinking about their self-development, their contributions and its real purpose.
So, the next step in this coaching conversation sounds like this:
"Let's move our discussion to a bigger picture and see if my insights might be useful to you. What is your thought about where we are going? (Organization Direction)”
What might be your answers if a subordinate asks you “Why are we going there? (Impact to the Larger Context)"
“Who do you feel are our main stakeholders today?”
“Who might be our main stakeholders in the future?”
“What should be some of our future leader’s competencies - for him/her to answer these stakeholders’ needs effectively?”
Erick could also provide some examples of expected competencies of their organization's future leaders. Leaders should not be confined by questioning principles.
Erick could further the discussion into their self-development part now, for instance:
“Which ones of these competencies are you passionate about developing?”
“Which ones of them have been your strengths?”
“How can I help you contribute your strengths (and passion) more?”
“Which ones of them would you like to become better at?”
A good leader-as-coach helps employees discover their potentials. A great leader-as-coach aligns the employees' passion and potentials with the organization’s purposes.
Anna, a Managing Director, succeeded her uncle, who retired a few years ago. They own a Herbal Products Manufacturing Company. When she took over her uncle’s responsibility, the company was expanding in both markets and production capacity.
Daily operational problems became inevitable and kept coming to her attention. Anna was particularly concerned that the department managers do not talk to each other very much. When collaboration is low, she wonders how much innovation people can bring into the current marketing and production problems, and most importantly, get them solved for long-term results.
Gradually, people in each department were following their leaders’ behaviors. They talked nicely about vacation and kids, but they didn't discuss work issues and different ideas.
Anna made an effort to advise each of them one by one to hold a collaborative meeting once a week to share insights and solve the issues for today and the long run. Not a surprise to Anna, each manager came to the meeting, but only the two senior managers talked. The rest of them were disciplined listeners.
Having discussed with her executive coach, Anna had the “Aha Moment!” that a good leader-as-coach values participation and collaboration as a way to get problems solved. However, a great leader-as-coach creates a mechanism for collaboration to flourish without the interference of "fear."
Anna asked herself first, "Is my team aware; what is important to us as a team today?"
"Are they behaving unconsciously according to the outdated purpose or the updated purpose?” and “Well, what is our today’s purpose, really!”
Anna firstly sat down with each of them to understand “what he/she sees as common importance as a team?” Surprisingly, she found her uncle's legacy and shadow management style - "Commanding and Controlling" in their explanations.
She then started the team coaching process aiming to define together “What are joint purposes for us as a team that will enable us to achieve our short and long-term goals together?”
She coached them to think critically through these coaching conversations. She also awarded the ones that made the most mistakes in sharing ideas.
By doing so, she has created an environment of psychological safety for everyone to speak up.
“What would we like to achieve?”
“To achieve them, what should be our core purpose?”
“How could we express our core purpose better?”
“What behaviors that we have as a management team can be associated with this core purpose?”
“What behaviors that we have as a management team do not align with our core purpose?”
“What are we going to do with these gaps as a management team?”
“What are the behaviors that we need to leave them behind?”
“What will we motivate each of us to make this real?”
“How will we remind each other of our core purpose?”
“What kind of culture will we have when we enact our core purpose day-to-day?”
She delightfully sensed the positive energy during this conversation. More importantly, she witnessed their re-directed energy from the fear mode & self-protection to the courage & common purpose, shared goals, and performance improvement.
Coaching can move people from either the panic and comfort zone into the learning zone. Well-designed coaching can also lead to coach-coachee independence eventually.
At the team level, team leaders, with great coaching purposes, can lead the teams from "where they are today" to "where they can be," not just only to "where they want to be."
At the organization level, constant changes require organizations to adapt and innovate. In fact, organizations do not adapt; their people need to adapt for the successful organization's changes or transformation.
The unprecedented changes in the environment make it more challenging for people to keep up with the speed of changes. Without clarity and well-connected purposes, our brains identify the situation as a risk and stop us from moving forward.