Leadership Perspectives

Leadership Development

Uncovering what leaders know: What coaches do

Marie Peeler

The most successful coaching engagements start with a successful leader who, as a person, is healthy, whole, and resourceful. Leaders who are confident but humble, and smart but willing to learn, come to coaching with an open mind, so that another person, skilled in the tools of coaching, can help them find answers that are within themselves.

Answers that are within themselves? Whoa! Wait a minute. I can hear the exclamations, “I’m going to pay someone to coach me, (or one of my team members), just to tell me what I already know?”

Well no … well sort of, actually.

First of all, typically, as Coaches we try not to tell leaders. Instead, we rely more on asking powerful questions. Powerful questions are the sort of simple questions that help leaders learn by urging them to consider things in a different way, to try on new lenses, and bring their inner beliefs to the surface.

That’s not to say that I never tell a leader anything. Sometimes, I tell them what the research says or I tell them about great resources such as books, websites, and articles that they may find useful. And occasionally, I just tell them a fact that I think they need to know.

I also give, and help the leaders interpret, feedback. I sometimes share with a leader my reaction to something they’ve said or done, or are contemplating saying or doing. Coaches also use a variety of assessments, for Leadership, Personality Type, Emotional Intelligence, and Conflict style, among others. Some of these assessments are completed only by the leader while others allow the leader to solicit input from bosses, peers, direct reports, and other stakeholders. Either way, coaches help leaders make sense of the resulting data and understand what it means to them.

Coaching tools and processes increase the leader’s self-awareness, help them gain clarity, and assist them with formulating and implementing their own action plans. The key here is enabling leaders to create personal actions that they can own and implement.

Which is why effective coaches almost never tell leaders what they must do. Telling a leader what to do presumes that they are not healthy, whole, or resourceful enough. It deprives them of the ownership of their plans and, frankly, seldom results in something that is workable for the client.

We’ve all heard that when managing a team, it’s best to make the team think that they came up with the idea so that they will “buy-in,” that is, get behind the idea and make it work. This is similar, but it’s not a gimmick to get “buy-in.” Rather, it is using what is within the leader – their experience, their ideas, their personal preferences and style to help them craft plans and solutions that are uniquely effective for them and their organizations.