Coaching: How Leaders Unleash Talent

by Demetra Anagnostopoulos

Being a leader is a complex job. One of the subtleties that takes time to master is knowing when to manage someone to ensure they produce an immediate result, and when to coach someone to help them solve a problem on their own. The reality is that you as a leader live in a world with less and less discretionary time, and where you can't afford to let talent and potential go untapped. Coaching is, therefore, a unique type of working relationship that can have significant impact on developing the independent problem-solving capabilities of your direct reports and peers.

If you've ever asked someone about a leader who made a difference in their life, 95% of the time you will hear about someone who was a great coach. These individuals are often described as people who listen, who ask thought-provoking questions, who inspire with well-timed stories about their own life lessons, and sometimes even their failures.

Interestingly enough, you almost never hear about coaches who just provide all the answers and tell their coachees what they have to do to succeed. The great coaches we hear about have the ability to guide their coachees to their own answers and solutions — developing those independent problem-solving skills mentioned earlier.

There is no denying that a good coach needs to be able to give advice and feedback. Sometimes people really don't know what they don't know. But a balance between providing direction and exploring ideas supports the ultimate goal of coaching, which is accurately stated in the Chinese proverb: "Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime."

Don't forget that, as a leader, you are also a teacher, and through coaching you can use your skills and knowledge to provide focused and thoughtful guidance to assist the success of another. Consider this: if, five years from now, one of the people you coach described you as a leader who made a difference in their life, what would you want them to say?

The Characteristics of Powerful Coaching

People are often unaware of the subjective nature of their own thinking. They see the world through the meaning they make of their own experiences and the environment they have lived in — their "boxes" — sometimes accepting these as "truth."

These boxes can create worldviews that are self-contained and self-limiting. To help someone truly develop his/her potential, a coach first needs to understand the worldview that the coachee has:

  • What meaning is he/she making of the issues at the heart of the coaching?
  • From what angle could he/she be viewing this situation?
  • What "map" is he/she using to navigate his/her way through this dilemma?

Examples of common "box creators" include class, gender, ethnicity, age, nationality, education, politics, geography or economic status, to name a few. Or specifically within an organization: function, role, department, business unit, experience, level, or tenure in the organization.

The power of coaching is embedded in this concept of "expanding the box" of someone's thinking. If, as a coach, you are able to help someone "expand" his/her box relative to a challenge or opportunity, you immediately become a catalyst for innovation, creative problem-solving and even breakthrough thinking about business results.

You know that you are "expanding the box" and coaching (not managing) when three things are happening:

  • First, you are having a goal-based conversation to help your direct report or colleague succeed at something they value.
  • Second, the goal is at least as much theirs as it is yours, meaning coaching can't be imposed. It must be agreement-based.
  • And, third, you know you're coaching when you are making conscious and strategic choices about your own actions based on an intention to support the coachee's development of his/her own insights and actions.

Powerful Coaching Supports Organizational Performance

An organization's competitive edge is its people. An organization's ability to compete and grow depends on its people's capacity to learn and adapt to the rapid shifts in markets, economies and technology. Coaching is a key management tool for organizations to employ to increase the pace and volume of learning. Coaching yields learning. Learning yields performance.

Turn Mediocre or Borderline Performers into Excellent, Highly Leverageable Human Resources

Managers and supervisors often fail to distinguish "coaching" from negative performance feedback and management, severely limiting their ability to maximize the productivity potential of their employees. Powerful coaching reframes individual performance management, and creates a productive learning environment for performance development through effective coaching partnerships between managers and those who work with them. Coaching is a preventive process for performance development and maximizing potential rather than a disciplinary discussion to legislate performance improvement.

Organizational Excellence Requires Leaders Who Are Free to Lead and Teach

Under the pressure of time and change, many leaders feel compelled to know and do everything, leaving little discretionary time for planning, strategizing, and teaching. The skill of coaching can free leaders up to teach others what they know, pass on the organization's investment in their developed experience, and thus free them to move on to greater challenges that demand their expertise.

Tags : coaching employee engagement leadership development