Why leaders need coaching skills

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It is often said that leadership is more art than science. Even with books on leadership drawing heavily on technical information, tables, graphs and models, most leadership behaviours are chosen by instinct. Most leadership training is behavioural – i.e. sharing of information and encouraging leaders to be a certain way. All of this means that it is hard for leaders to work out what is the “correct” way of leadership. The external information is not tailored for them, for their organisation, and for this moment in time. 

Why leaders need coaching skills

It is tempting for leaders to take one of two opposing views. They may choose a style/approach early in their career, and stick to it. Or they may chop and change with every trend and new idea that comes along. Neither approach is very effective! 

Coaching isn’t a latest trend, fad or simplistic approach – it is solid, practical and here to stay! That is why it is such a useful, sustainable leadership approach. In this blog we explore the question of why leaders benefit from having a coaching approach to their leadership style. We’ll be looking at it from a number of perspectives: 

What does the leader as coach do? 

Firstly, they don’t coach all the time! There are plenty of situations where clear direction is needed, application of strict guidelines, being firm and unequivocal. All leaders are entitled to take this approach, for the benefit of the organisation and the employees. 

But when they do coach, they probably do it in two different ways:

  • Every day, in many of their conversations they’ll hold back from making decisions, giving answers and instructions. More likely they will have dialogues, help their colleagues explore possibilities and options, and come to their own conclusions. In short, they’ll empower others. 
  • And if they have had enough training, they will most likely provide regular, off the job, 1:1 coaching sessions for their team members. They’ll take time to listen, acknowledge, question and help them resolve their challenges.  

Mini case study – the coaching head teachers 

Since 2010 we’ve been training head teachers to coach and to use coaching as part of their approach to running schools. And this group of people have fully embraced coaching, for everyone’s benefit. “Coaching has impacted on everything in our school. I coach all the leadership team, we use coaching in our appraisals, and teachers are starting to coach the students. We’d never go back to the old ways”, said Peter Hopkinson, head teacher at Portsmouth Grammar Junior School. 


Is this what employees want? 

In his book Drive, Daniel Pink cites autonomy as one of the key drivers in satisfaction at work. Most people have a good understanding of their own roles. And normally they can see many aspects of how an organisation should be doing things. So asking them and helping them to resolve challenges that they have is highly trusting. It sends the message “you have the answer and we want you to follow your own views”.    

There is much talk of Z gen and millennials being brought up in a more autonomous way than earlier generations. They may have an expectation that leadership will take a modern, inclusive approach. That is true in the main, but we can’t assume that all young people will automatically be open to coaching. (Similarly, we can’t assume that all not so young people will be closed to it!). 

There will be some people who would prefer not to be coached on work issues, and would prefer simply to be given answers and direction. Sometimes that is fine, and a leader can always choose to be more instructional. But sometimes there is an overreliance on being given direction. So the coaching leader can gently wean their team member away from having this need. 

Is this what fellow leaders want? 

For the sake of simplicity, let’s categorise fellow leaders into three groups: 

  1. Those who want to take a coaching approach and have embraced it
  2. Those who don’t want to take a coaching approach and resist it
  3. Those who are on the fence


We’ll think about each group separately:
 

1. Those who want to take a coaching approach. It may be a sole leader, or the majority of the leadership team who are coaching. In either case, they will embrace a fellow leader who chooses to coach. A united approach is important. Knowing that our fellow leaders are also advocates of coaching gives a great sense of unity and solidarity. 

2. Those who don’t want to take a coaching approach. This depends on the nature of the organisation. For some, a traditional, hierarchical approach can still work – although examples of where this is true are becoming scarcer. For most, embracing a coaching approach is important. So these leaders will, at some point, have to shift towards a more collaborative style. It is possible that these leaders have fears or concerns about coaching that are unfounded. So, seeing fellow leaders coaching, and coaching well, will help them be more accepting of the coaching approach.

3. Those who are on the fence. This group needs to see, appreciate and experience good coaching too. Modelling will help them to see that coaching is a helpful way for them to operate as leaders. And the best way for this to happen is for their peers to be coaching well and setting high standards in coaching. 

Is this what the organisation wants? 

Each organisation has its goals, objectives and targets. Whether the goals are commercial/financial, or client/user goals, similar rules apply. Well run organisations have team members taking high levels of responsibility, and being well supported. This will allow the organisations to flourish and achieve their goals. Coaching is shaking off its original image of being a bit fluffy and non-specific. These days, coaching is robust, organised and practical – even if within coaching there is a high degree of tenderness and empathy.  

Organisations that sign up to a coaching culture and give their leaders high quality coaching skills, flourish. Case study and anecdotal evidence alike show that this is true. Thousands of organisations, from schools and hospitals to charities and insurance companies, are training their leaders to coach. They are ready and they see the benefits. 

Is being a coaching leader what you want? 

This is the key question! If you don’t want to coach, then I can blog all I like but it won’t make any difference! The benefits that leaders see from adopting a coaching approach are significant. They include: 

  • Much more efficient, empowered, responsible and accountable team members 
  • Workload significantly reduced, delegation much easier to implement 
  • Targets and objectives for self and team easier to achieve 
  • Sense of wellbeing, satisfaction and fulfilment in helping others to develop quickly

Final thoughts

Many leaders let a leadership style or approach just happen to them, rather than planning it deliberately in advance. And through their careers the question nags – “is this the sort of leader I want to be? “We have seen thousands of leaders at all levels, transform their approach. They embrace coaching and find all the benefits above, and more. Talk to a leader who has invested in coaching and see what they say. And if you can’t find one, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with one. And then, decide if coaching is the right approach for you. You will be very welcome! 

If you were stimulated by this article and want to know more about how to use coaching for your career, your organisation or your life generally, then get in contact. Email us at charlie@loveyourcoaching.com or book in a time for a 30-minute phone or Zoom call https://loveyourcoaching.10to8.com  

We look forward to hearing from you! 

Charlie Warshawski is a leadership coach and coach trainer. He runs an accredited coach training organisation, Love Your Coaching, offering coaching qualifications. In his coaching, he works 1:1 with leaders, business owners and entrepreneurs, supporting them on topics that are both professional and personal – according to their needs 

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