Think of coaching skills like the yeast you add to bread. You can make bread without yeast. It’s flat and not very attractive, but it will be edible. However, when you use yeast you get a much better result. And this is because it does two things.
First, yeast is stealthy. Once introduced it will make its way through the entire dough. Second, it makes the dough rise. And that gives you the soft, fluffy bread we all love.
So how is a coaching leader like yeast? Well, once a leader learns the ability to coach and develops coaching skills, those skills can spread throughout the 'dough' or the team and will touch every aspect of their leadership. Even better, once it spreads through the team, it begins to raise the entire team up to the next level. And just like yeast makes the whole loaf better, coaching skills will enhance your ability to execute any leadership tasks, whether it be strategic planning, performance management, team meetings, or communicating with influence.
The 4 Stages of a Leadership Task
You can look at any leadership task and break it down into these four stages:
- Plan and Prepare
- Engage and Inspire
- Adapt and Overcome
- Learn and Teach
Stage 1: Plan and Prepare
I’m sure at some stage you’ve heard the principle that prior preparation and planning prevents poor performance. And coaching skills enhance a leader's ability to prepare to execute leadership tasks.
Asking strategic questions helps you, as the leader, to begin with the end in mind. It helps you to be more intentional about ensuring that the way you conduct that leadership task not only achieves the desired outcome but also aligns with other objectives or considerations.
Let’s see how this works in practice by looking at how you prepare to have a performance management conversation. You may ask the following questions:
- What is the outcome I want at the end of the conversation?
- What change do I want to see in the individual’s behaviour?
- How do I want the individual to feel at the end of the conversation?
- How do I have this conversation in a way that increases the chances the individual will feel that way?
- How do I have the conversation in a way that increases the individual's ownership for the outcome?
Stage 2: Engage and Inspire
Coaching skills also allow leaders to take people on a journey when communicating a decision or promoting new initiatives. Often this involves guiding people along the same thought journey you have already taken. This helps them to understand why you made that decision in the first place.
In this context asking the same questions that you have had to answer will help your team understand why the decision was made and make accepting the decision easier. This approach also allows you as a leader to engage in a conversation around the decision, a more consultative and collaborative approach than simply telling people what the decision is and being seen as a dictator.
Using questions, you can encourage individuals to create their own picture of the outcome in their head. By encouraging them to envision the end state and do the work of creating an experience inside their own imagination, people are more likely to connect and engage with the outcome. This increases their level of ownership and your team will be more inspired to work with you to achieve the desired end state.
Imagine you’re promoting a new initiative designed to enhance customer experience. You might ask the following questions:
- How will this benefit the customer?
- What will they feel as a result of the change?
- Why is it important for us to make the change in a way that fosters the best customer experience?
Stage 3: Adapt and Overcome
Whatever the task or initiative you have got your team working towards, at some point they are going to encounter problems that need solving, or challenges and obstacles that need to be overcome. It’s not uncommon for leaders to face changing circumstances that require the entire team to adapt their approach and plans in order to achieve their goals.
Coaching skills allow both you and your team to effectively evaluate the changing environment, assess the options available, and decide on the best course of action. Many leaders will go through this analysis by themselves, then come out and inform the team of the adjusted course of action.
Coaching skills allow you, instead, to determine a new course of action collaboratively with the team. This not only engages the team in the process, it also increases the level of motivation and ownership over the new course of action. And it teaches your team the process so that they can effectively adapt to changing situations in the future and teach others who report to them how to do the same.
This process might involve asking:
- What has changed?
- What options do we have?
- Which is the best option?
- What do we need to do to implement it?
Stage 4: Learn and Teach
All highly effective leaders in teams engage in the discipline of regularly reviewing their performance and identifying how it can be improved. Remember – John Maxwell has told us that ‘Reflection is the process that turns experience into insight’. This applies at every stage of your coaching journey, as coaching skills naturally lend themselves to facilitating this reflection and review effectively.
This can be as simple as asking the following:
- What worked or what went well?
- What didn't work?
- What could have been done differently?
- What is the principle or lesson to be learned?
- How could we apply that principle in the future?
It is important to remember that coaching is just one part of a leader's overall leadership capability. There are many different skills and abilities that leaders need in order to be effective in their roles. But if we accept the fact that one of the most important roles of a leader is to develop other leaders, the use of coaching skills becomes vital. These skills have the potential to turn everything else you do as a leader into an opportunity for developing leadership capability in your organisation.