What is Leader as Coach?
Have you heard of Leader as Coach; the shift where leaders optimise employee engagement, connection, energy, creativity and agility through a coaching management style?
Fundamental to the Leader as Coach methodology is the facilitation of regular coaching-style conversations. Regular coaching conversations are pivotal to earning respect; building connected, high-trust relationships; developing employees’ motivation and engagement; and creating a high-performance culture.
Great conversations are transformational. Through conversations the leader as coach is seeking to activate an individual’s potential and wisdom, while eliciting the courage for them to use that wisdom to enhance the lives of those around them.
Leader as Coach leverages the insight that, the most motivating condition we experience at work is making progress towards something that is personally meaningful (HBR: You Can’t Be a Great Manager if You’re Not a Good Coach).
Leader as Coach is a dramatic and fundamental shift from the traditional command and control management practices that have historically seen managers dictating answers, prescribing and directing work practices and demanding compliance. High-performing cultures are rapidly shifting from tell and sell to ask and listen communication styles.
Asking open-ended questions
Asking open-ended questions is key in facilitating coaching conversations. For many of us, asking more open-ended questions, especially to lead the other person to their own insight is quite different to our current and well-established ways of communicating.
Open-ended questions typically begin with words such as what, when, who and how. Phrases such as “Tell me about…” that implicitly ask for a more detailed response are also helpful. An open-ended question or phrase is designed to encourage a full, meaningful answer using the other person’s own knowledge and feelings.
By asking open-ended questions we arouse people’s thought processes and bring people to their own insights. Some examples are:
- How do you feel about your progress with…?
- If you could replay that last … what might you do differently?
- From your perspective what do you think are some of the root causes of…?
- What else bothers you? And what else? Tell me more about that.
- How would you describe the problem in one or two sentences?
- What quiet hunches do you have that could offer solutions?
- What key resources (and/or knowledge) might you need to achieve the desired outcome?
Conveying genuine curiosity and asking questions fosters greater connection and trust and supports leaders to listen and seek to understand, rather than resorting to old-school patterns of telling people what to do. Questions optimally begin broadly then focus increasingly on detail. The increasing focus on detail maintains the other person’s focus and interest.
When handled well, a deeper conversation tends to be more meaningful and both the leader and the coachee will feel invested in and valued. Key to asking additional questions is the intention to facilitate a conversation that includes listening, sharing and discovering. This means asking questions for which we have no answers and sharing insights and wisdom.
This co-creating style of conversation leads to more innovative insights and deeper listening to connect to others’ perspectives. People are more candid, more trusting and more open to influence.
Limitations of telling
In contrast, if the conversation slips back into a transactional dynamic of telling, the coachee may feel defensive and threated. Once defensive we easily slip into flight or fight mode. Neuroscience explains that the threat response is mentally taxing and destructive to the productivity of a person and an organisation.
The threat response impairs connection, analytical thinking, creative insight and problem solving. From an organisational perspective when leaders trigger a threat response, employees’ brains become much less efficient; stress increases and there is risk the coachee will descend into self-criticism, feelings of ‘I’m no good at this’ and shutdown.
Note that questions that begin with why can feel interrogative and trigger a threat response.
Further, if the leader regularly talks more than listens and tells more than enquires, they are at risk of overusing their authority. Whilst having a sense of ‘being right’ feels good, it prevents honest and productive conversation. The leader may look smarter, but this puts the coachee at risk of feeling inferior. When we feel inferior, we tend to feel threatened and get defensive and reject ideas. Further, telling reduces a coachee’s autonomy – which in turn decreases motivation.
How to facilitate coaching-style conversations
The GROW coaching model offers a useful framework for facilitating pre-planned coaching conversations. Click here for a summary of how to use the GROW model.
Regular scheduled meetings are important as they enhance employee performance, the quality of your relationship with your direct reports and the perception of your effectiveness as a manager. One of the many advantages of pre-scheduled one-on-one meetings is you can plan ahead and prepare for your conversations. Email for a copy of our comprehensive Coaching Conversation Preparation Form, that integrates GROW concepts.
As well as scheduled meetings, the leader as coach should be adept at facilitating coaching conversations in the moment, as the need arises and in response to spontaneous situations. For example, you might be waiting in line at the café with a direct report after attending a challenging meeting together. You could take the opportunity and start a coaching-style conversation with open-ended questions such as:
- What did you notice in that meeting just now?
- What are your thoughts on how that meeting could have been handled differently?
- What do you suspect are the root causes of the conflicts?
- What can we learn from that?
If this sounds overwhelming, the best place to start is with short, weekly, one-on-one check-in meetings with each of your direct reports using these transformational questions:
- What are you working on this week?
- What are your top priorities for this week?
- What progress do you notice?
- How can I help?
Email us to discover how iMastery’s Leader as Coach masterclasses and individual coaching can support you and/or your team of managers to enjoy the deeply satisfying reward that comes with leading an engaged, connected and high-performing team. I look forward to hearing from you.