Leadership Perspectives

Five traits of effective leader-coaches

coachingLately, there has been a lot of interest from leaders who want to learn to coach.  We’ve been asked to do programs – from one-hour conference presentations to multi-day training programs – to help leaders acquire coaching skills.  Leaders recognize that there is less and less use for old command-and-control styles of leading, and they believe that coaching might be a reasonable alternative.

Coaching IS a departure from typical management behavior.  It is also different from training, counseling, or mentoring.  Leaders need to learn a whole new skill set in order to coach effectively.  They also need to learn a new way of ‘Being’ if they are going to be comfortable and effective in their new roles as coaches.

So what does it take to be an effective leader-coach?

1.  Willingness to ask instead of tell.  Leaders are so accustomed to giving people information, telling people what to do, and telling them how to do it.  Coaching requires a whole new skill set of ASKING.  Coaches help people find their own answers and they do that by asking the right questions.

2.  Ability to let go of knowing the answers.  As managers, we learn early that we need to have the answers.  Otherwise, we might appear uncertain and cause others to lose confidence in us.  But when you coach, you don’t always know the answer to the question.  You are trying to help others come up with their own right answer.

3.  Genuine openness and curiosity.  The best posture to adopt to ask great questions is one of genuine curiosity.  You don’t know the answer but you are interested in learning.  When you approach conversations with curiosity, you encourage others to surprise you.  Your curiosity is liberating to those that you seek to develop.

4.  Belief in the resourcefulness of others.  When we believe that others are resourceful, we don’t jump in to ‘save’ them or to direct them.  We trust that if we remain curious and open, and we ask the right questions, others have all they need to find their own answers.

5.  Willingness to focus on the goals and aspirations of others.  It’s tempting when you coach to impose your agenda on others.  Unlike managing, the effectiveness of coaching does not come out of compliance, but rather out of self-motivation and energy.  (I tell my clients all the time before we get started that THEY will do all the heavy lifting.)  Therefore, by its very nature, coaching has to focus on the goals of the person being coached, if it is to be effective.


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