How can leaders use coaching skills to boost their team's performance?
As someone who has been using coaching in my work for about 30 years now you won't be surprised to hear I have a lot of thoughts on what coaching is and isn't, how it should be used and what it's really all about. It has been fascinating to see how people’s attitudes towards coaching has changed over that time, and how, as the impact coaching can have has become more widely recognised more and more people are talking about being coached or calling themselves a coach. Indeed this over of the one word has become so prevalent that its all but meaningless, and ironically one of the key things that coaching is meant to do, provide clarity, has been lost.
So here is my perspective – being a coach and using coaching skills are not the same thing. If you get nothing else from this episode, I hope you get an understanding of that distinction. Almost all of us can benefit from using some of the skills of coaching in our work, and as leaders we need to build these skills if we are going to unlock our performance and that of our teams.
We know that our technical skills alone are not enough to make us a success as a leader, and that we need to be great at working with, and through, others too. The skills that coaches use to understand other people’s perspective, to open up peoples thinking to come up with better solutions, to support the decision making process are just 3 ways we can benefit from developing those skill for ourselves.
Using Coaching Skills is a key part of leadership
Coaching is something that is part of every leaders role, and it can influence your approach, but awesome as it is, you need more that coaching skills to be a leader.
Early on in my career I worked for a specialist manufacturing company who used machines and processes that were highly adapted to their needs. When we found ourselves without a Manufacturing Manager for six months, the board knew it would probably take us at least that long to find someone with the specialist knowledge to run that operation. Instead they asked me to take on the role, scary since I knew I didn’t know very much about how the machines and processes worked. Instead I had to approach the role differently, use my lack of knowledge and my coaching skills to ask great questions, develop the team and get them to solve any problems with the processes. My lack of technical knowledge made it easier for me not to get overinvolved in the technical solutions to problems and stay focused on prioritising what needed to get done.
I was able to use coaching skills as a basis for this role and still make it all about ensuring we could supply our customers now and in the future. I was also able to spend time leading and building the future vision for the department while empowering the team to keep the unit running efficiently.
For me this really allowed me to experience first hand how critical coaching skills are to leaders and how they are only part of the picture.
Coaching is all about unlocking potential and as leaders that is what we are looking to do - unlock the potential in our business and in our people. By the end of my time running the manufacturing unit they were operating more efficiently, had less machine down time and the team were better able to manage their teams so when the Manufacturing Manager returned he was able to build on that foundation and not shoulder everything himself.
As a leader your role as a coach is to unlock the potential in your team - it’s where you make sure they have the skills and knowledge they need and where you help them become able to make a great contribution.
The other roles leaders also need to play
As well as your role providing coaching, there are two other roles you need to fill as a leader. Leading and Managing.
Leading is all about setting direction, creating that compelling vision, creating the working environment and what it’s like to work round here, it’s the values we set and how we bring them to life, it’s engaging people and making sure the team are all pulling in the same direction.
Managing is about getting things done, it’s where the team and you deliver value and make your contribution, serve your clients, it’s the action area of your operations and where you deliver on your commitments.
Now these three areas are not separate, think of them as three circles which as a leader you bring together so part of each overlaps with each of the others like a Venn diagram.
As a leader when you can spend your time working where the three overlap you will be serving your team, your business and yourself well.
When for example you have a project or are leading change, reinforcing why the project is important and how it helps you get to your overall vision, then looking at how you are going to get that project done and how you can use the project to grow your teams ability and contribution is working in the overlap of the three circles and maximizing your impact.
Using Coaching Skills does not mean you have to become a coach
Building coaching into your approach like this does require some coaching skills, but it doesn’t mean you have to become a coach.
Coaching is one of the tools that you have available to you. If you were a gardener and you had a spade, it would be a tool you would reach for when you wanted to dig a hole, but you would not become a spade. You would also not be the only person who could use a spade, a builder might as well, but if you both ended up calling yourselves spades the world would be very confusing for anyone wanting to know what you do. It’s the same with coaching and why when you are looking for external coaching support or indeed considering becoming a coach, you need to be really clear what you are looking to achieve with it.
I digress and you can find out more about the questions you should consider when you are looking for a coach in Episode 23, where I talked about how to choose the right style of coach for you.
Why do we as leaders need different coaching skills and styles?
So as leaders why do we need to have the tools to coach?
As our business and our people grow so does what we need to do to unlock that potential. The coaching skills we apply change and grown with that. We all start by needing to learn how to do things - we need to be shown how to do things. Then we need to be taught more around our subjects and what we are doing - we need teaching for that
Then when our knowledge grows, we need to be helped to apply what we know - that’s where consultants and mentors are invaluable - we learn how to diagnose what is going on and how to fix it.
Finally, we get to the stage where we need someone to stretch our thinking, to challenge us and support us, to help us explore different angles and to generate and explore options, to make great choices. That’s when as leaders we need to be able to coach our teams.
As leaders we need to think about which of these we are applying and when, it’s not a linear process, it can change with the situation and with the task. Even a very experienced professional who has joined your team based on their expertise will need to be shown how things work in your business and in your team. The skills you are going to need are very different as you transition between teaching how to do a task and stretching someone’s thinking.
Part of the art of being a leader is knowing when to use show and tell or teaching with your team, when to grow your teams knowledge, when to supplement it with consultancy and mentoring, when to develop those consultancy skills and specialisms and when to act as a coach.
So what’s going to enable you to do this? Being curious about your team themselves, finding out all about them, taking the time to really invest in your relationships with them. You are going to need to develop the skills and emotional intelligence to work with others effectively, to develop and use your listening skills, your skills at asking questions, your empathy and your awareness of the impact you are having on someone else. And above all else it’s going to take practice and accepting that there will be things you can learn and improve on, so get in the habit of reviewing and assessing your own performance and encouraging and accepting feedback.
Summary & Taking Action
None of this is easy, but developing these coaching skills is key to being an effective leader. It’s not about being able to call yourself a coach, its about having the are tools that will allow you to unlock the potential in your team, in your relationships and in your business and therefore enable to you unlock your own potential as a leader.
The things I share in this podcast are based on my experience of over 30 years leading change and working with leaders who are making changes happen. Some of it will be more relevant to you than others and it's up to you to decide what you are going to do with them. My hope is that you will find something you can take and apply. But that's up to you and it's exactly what being a Curious Choice Leader is all about, getting curious, building your understanding and then making some choices about what's best for you, your team and your business.
So the questions I would like to leave you with are
What aspect of your role would benefit most from you applying the skills coaches use?
What is the next step you need to take to make that happen?
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If you would like to know more about my coaching and implementing these ideas please get in touch and let's talk about how you can become an even better leader, one curious choice at a time. Thank you for listening, and until the next time stay curious and I look forward to talking to you again soon.