To Coach or Not to Coach

Coaching is not only a skill-set, it’s a leadership style. It’s a hat you can put on when needed and take off when a different leadership approach is needed.

In other words, leaders who coach, don’t coach all the time; they have a situational style of leadership. This means, they adapt their behavior and the way they speak according to the context of the situation at hand and the needs of the people who are involved.

For example, if you’re a leader who coaches and there is an emergency in your office, you won’t be coaching, you’ll be giving instructions. There’s no need for in-depth exploration of a topic when a clear, fast and helpful directive would be more appropriate.

You also won’t be coaching if your technical expertise is required or when someone needs to understand a process or policy of the company. In this case, it would be a teaching moment. You would give clear descriptions and explanations.

You will, however, use coaching when you want to invite new perspectives, or have team members discover their own solutions. Those are situations where you won’t give them answers, but you will empower people by encouraging them to find the answers within themselves. Team members then gain a sense of autonomy while also increasing their own contribution to the organization as a whole.

Related: Why improve your leadership skills?

Leaders who coach assess situations to see which ones will prove to be the most productive for coaching. They’ll ask open ended questions to help staff members explore topics from several vantage points. Then they give room for the person to elaborate, to come up with an action plan to make the changes and improvements. Some coaching questions may be…

  • What’s your biggest challenge with this situation?
  • Which solutions do you think would help?
  • Can you think of the next steps we need to make in order for that to happen?
  • How can other team members be of help to you?

There are however, some questions that are better left unsaid. Questions that result in a yes or no answer, questions that sound accusatory, and questions that insinuate incompetence. Questions like the ones below will shut people down instead of leading to creative solutions…

  • Why did you do that?
  • Why do you think your experience is relevant?
  • Who gave you the authority to make that decision?
  • How did we get to this point?

Questions beginning with “why,” may appear confrontational. Depending on the tone you use they might make people feel as if they have to justify their actions, so be very careful when using a “why” question.

“Who” can also be dangerous territory. Depending on how the question is formed, it can either lead to finger-pointing, or the polar opposite – inclusiveness. For example, “Who told you to..” vs. “Who would you like to work with to help you solve this problem?”

Leaders who coach don’t just ask great questions, they listen to the answers – intently. They are fully present in the conversation and focused on what the other person is saying, rather than being distracted by mentally starting to formulate how they will answer before the person has even finished speaking.   Lack of focus and inattentive listening is the source of many misunderstandings and missed opportunities to tap new ideas that may simply have not been noticed.

Related: How to prepare to listen to others

Written by Saba Imru-Mathieu CEO & Founding Partner of Leaders Today.

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Categories: Coaching, Coaching skills

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