Coaching Skills for Leaders: It’s Harder Than You Think

These days, it seems like a lot of our clients want their employees to know how to coach. They throw words around like “we want a coaching culture” or “our people need coaching skills if they want to lead today’s talent more effectively”.

Part of this desire is born out of hunger for an organization where leaders are less about telling and more about asking. And, that is a good thing. Certainly, leaders with growing job responsibilities are looking for talent who can step up and take on more responsibility.

Tired of having to have all the answers, the enlightened leaders and their organizations want to have their direct reports think for themselves, sometimes making mistakes but gaining valuable experience in the learning about their own capabilities. Most of the time, teaching coaching skills for leaders boils down to teaching and training around 2 things:

A supreme understanding of the importance of listening, truly listening

An “aha” appreciation for asking questions that flow from the conversation

Just last week, we were working with a client to train a group of their sales leaders. Now this bunch was pretty convinced they already knew how to coach! One of the participants shared with us that he simply kept asking questions until the person came around to the answer he was looking for and voilà, great coaching!

Because we wanted to show him what coaching really looked like, we invited him up so that we could coach him in a demonstration in front of the room. After the 3 minute demo was finished, he marveled at the the fact that “all the answers and the work had come from him and we asked questions that flowed from what he said.” He truly had no idea what coaching looked like. 

In our work training thousands of leaders we see too many people who believe coaching is:

  • Giving advice
  • Having preconceived questions
  • Waiting for the person being coached to arrive at the “right” answer
  • Something that takes too long
  • Too soft

We are not surprised that companies want coaching skills for leaders. We are also not surprised that most companies say they want to invest in their leaders acquiring the skill set. BUT, they usually want a recommended 2-4 days of training to get crunched into 1 day. 

If this happens at your company, there still may be hope. Even one day of training offers a great opportunity for your leaders to start to gain appreciation and skills around better listening and asking effective questions. But really the most important thing you can do, is get your senior leaders to really take on the coaching skills and framework being used in these training programs. Walk the halls and start demonstrating what it means to:

  • Ask a question and truly wait for the answer
  • Role model humility and not having all the answers
  • Giving timely feedback that is future focused

Coaching is not as easy as it sounds and it does take skill and practice to unlearn the tendency to direct or give people the answers. But taking the time to learn to coach, may be one of the best investments you ever make.