Growing up, my father framed all of our chores in the form of a question. “How would you like to mow the lawn?” Of course, it wasn’t really a question. The lawn was going to get mowed, and I was going to do it.
When great individual contributors are first promoted to management roles, they often start by issuing commands like “I need this by Friday” or “This is a top priority.” But then engagement plummets; those new managers begin to look for guidance or are sent off to workshops to fix unfruitful leadership habits. It’s in these explorations for a new management style where new leaders come across the concept of coaching, almost immediately putting it in play toward improving their ability to empower, inspire, and enable their teams.
Unfortunately, the first time developing managers try coaching, they usually stumble. Sure, their words change from “Get me this by Friday” to “Why don’t you get me this by Friday?” But just as my brothers and I knew that there was no real question about doing the chores, team members know when a manager’s question is not really a question at all, and changing the structure doesn’t actually create a coaching conversation.
There is good news and bad news about leadership development.
The good news is that coaching can be learned. In fact, a relatively small amount of training results in a significant improvement in coaching skills. The bad news is that many organizations spend either too little or no time at all teaching their leaders how to be good coaches.
Developing coaching skills is not simply about changing your words — it is about changing your mindset. A leader who coaches is one who understands that every member of their team is on a journey. They learn that their job as a good coach is to facilitate the employee’s process rather than to orchestrate it. In practice, that often takes the form of asking questions but with the intent of helping that employee arrive at their own solution.
Are your leaders great coaches, or are they just going through the motions, phrasing the answers in the form of a question? What may be good for the game show Jeopardy! isn’t good for your business.
For more on how coaching drives results, read my report, “PEAK Coaching: Level Up Your Leaders To Drive Performance.”