Coaching skills for managers: develop your team and deliver results too

Coaching is a critical skill for any manager to develop. Learn to apply these key coaching skills for managers and you’ll be engaging, motivating and developing your team. And you’ll be doing this while you’re working with them to delivery results!

Coaching is also a very rewarding skill because you see your team members finding solutions for themselves, right in front of your eyes!

First, let’s define coaching.
There are many definitions out there, some of which are incomplete and some of which are incomplete and confusing too!

Our definition of coaching

Coaching is a structured conversation in which the coach asks questions to help the coachee find solutions for themselves: building awareness and responsibility within the coachee.

That’s a little long, but it’s important to clarify exactly what coaching is, and it’s certainly NOT telling or directing. The role of ‘coach’ is one of the 5 hats every successful manager must wear to be successful in their role.

To explore further, here’s more on coaching vs mentoring.

This definition draws on the thinking in Coaching for Performance, one of the first and best books on coaching, and highly recommended.

Professional coaches have it easy

Great coaches don’t need any related subject matter expertise: they use their skills of coaching to coach anyone, on anything, and help them find solutions.

(If you’ve never coached before, this can take some time to get your head around. Remember, as a coach you’re helping the coachee find solutions for themselves by asking great questions.)

And this, of course, is why we have professional coaches (a whole industry in itself). Though this again can be confusing, as many people who call themselves coaches are mentors, or inspirational speakers, or advisers – they’re not actually coaching.

The professionals who are focused on coaching are using their skills of questioning and listening to help their coachees find solutions for themselves.

The best of these professional business coaches work with CEOs and senior leaders and earn significant sums for doing so. As coaches they’re not expected to know more about the industry, or the challenge, they just ask great questions!

The ‘coaching moment’

As a manager this switch into coaching can be challenging. You’re used to being responsible for finding the solution: seeing the way forward, having the answers, being able to direct resources and achieve results. True. But not when we’re coaching.

Coaching skills for managers, No. 1

Suspend everything you know, adopt a beginner’s mind. Be truly curious about your team’s ideas and contributions.

This is ‘the coaching moment’: helping your team to find the solutions for themselves. Coaching moments can be in 1-1 discussions, team meetings and other group discussions too.

In this moment, you take off your ‘managing hat’ and put on your ‘coaching hat’. You stop giving advice, stop providing direction, stop offering solutions. All you do is ask great questions that help your team members to become more aware, see the situation for themselves and find solutions (and in doing so, take responsibility).

When to use your coaching skills

This is a frequently asked question: as a manager when should you use your coaching skills? Let’s explore this. Consider a spectrum of management styles.

coaching skills for managers - Jane

Jane spends most of her time working with her team telling them what to do.

Dick spends most of his time working with his team asking them for their ideas.

Jane spends most of her time telling her team what to do. This is a directive style of management. On the right, Dick rarely tells his team members what to do, he mostly asks them for their ideas. This is a non-directive style of management.

To be a great manager, you need to be able to blend these styles.

Imagine you’re kicking off a new project, your whole team is in the kickoff meeting. It’s an important project and everyone is curious.

You’ve got a couple of options (reflecting the two styles, above). You could be like Jane and start by telling your team the goals of the project. Then go on to sharing your experience of what has worked previously. Then lay out a step-by-step process, then give them roles and reporting requirements. You’re doing all the talking. You’ve adopted a directive style of managing.

But telling and directing is not engaging. If you are always directive, you’re teaching your team to be passive. To sit and wait to be told what to do.

Alternatively, you could turn this into a coaching moment. You could be Dick, introduce the topic of the project and ask if anyone has any experience in this area. Then as questions to explore the experience so that it’s shared with the rest of the team. You could ask their views on how to define appropriate goals. You could ask them about an appropriate process and the roles required to support the process. You’ve adopted a non-directive, coaching style of management.

Coaching skills for managers, No. 2

Recognize the opportunities for coaching moments.

Recognize coaching moments, ask your team to think for themselves and find solutions. They’ll be more engaged and pro-active as a result.

In the example above, take the project kick-off meeting as an opportunity for a coaching moment. Take the time with team to explore what they know, their experience, their views. Then, thank them for their contributions. Fill in the gaps and explain any adjustments that need to be made. Your blending the two styles, as a result your team will start the project far more engaged and motivated.

The tendency is to move too quickly from a coaching style of management to a directive style of management. (Because we’re most comfortable telling.)

Coaching skills for managers, No. 3

Stay in the coaching moment long enough to create value.

When not to coach

It’s easier to define when not to coach (because these occasions are limited and specific).

There’s not a lot of value in coaching when:

  • There’s legislation governing the topic under consideration. Let’s not discuss the options, we must follow the legislation!
  • There’s company policy governing the topic under discussion. Again, it’s not for discussion, we follow the policy.
  • It’s a crisis. A quick decision is integral to success and you (as the manager) must take responsibility. No time for a coaching conversation, just tell your team what to do.

Other than those limited and specific occasions there is always an opportunity to have a coaching conversation! This doesn’t mean that you only coach. You may start with your coaching hat on, and then move to a more directive or mentoring style as needed.