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Becoming a Coaching Leader

The Key to Building a Vibrant Organization and a Success-Driven Team

Guest article authored by Ellen Cooperperson, President/Chief Learning Officer/Leadership Coach of Cooperperson Performance Consulting.

An owner of a small to midsize company, an executive within a large corporation, or a middle manager directing people to get the work done, all want the same thing: people consistently delivering high levels of performance and cooperating with each other to achieve team objectives. They want employees who can solve problems, implement solutions, and not cause more problems in the process.

And yet, despite their best efforts, most managers experience this as an elusive goal. The reality is most executives and managers I’ve coached begin by saying they are “down in the weeds—putting out fires—cleaning up unnecessary messes people make because they won’t follow simple instructions” and that “having too much to do, and not enough time to do it, is preventing them from working on their business instead of working in it."

If ever there was a time when even the toughest among us would admit to feeling pressured, it’s now. At all levels of organizations, people are experiencing stress, dealing with big life changes, lacking control of situations, worrying, being tasked with unfamiliar or overwhelming responsibilities, and generally uncertain about what to look forward to in the future. 

Management is about relying on others to get the job done. Yet, in these unprecedented times, the level of disengagement on the part of employees is staggering.

According to recent surveys, 73% of employees are disengaged; are less likely to work hard, feel motivated, or meet expectations of their role and they are causing 60% more errors and defects in work performance. These employees are costing companies hundreds of billions of dollars per year and most of them are on the lookout for new jobs and opportunities. 

Becoming a Coaching Leader is the key to transforming organizations into thriving communities of committed people who produce extraordinary results. Skillful coaching can impact the way people think and work together and, in the process enhance engagement, retention, individual and organizational performance.

According to a wide-ranging Gallup study of 1.2 million employees in 22 organizations across the world, great leaders aren’t managers in the traditional sense. Instead, they are coaches who “focus on individual and team engagement, seeing their role as what employees need to succeed.

Gallup states that 7 out of 10 leaders and managers see developing talent as one of their primary tasks. And increasingly, managers are opting for coaching to pave the way for positive employee growth.

  • What are some things we need to know about moving from traditional managing to masterful coaching? 
  • When should a leader manage and when should they coach? What’s the difference? 
  • What are the benefits and challenges of coaching?
  • How can an organization better support coaching (rather than managing) of teams? What kinds of skills do organizations need to offer?



Moving From Manager to Coach--  What are the big Differences? 

Managing is about getting things done through other people. It’s about establishing goals, communicating expectations, delegating and directing tasks, administering processes, evaluating performance, and making sure people do the right things right. New Generation Leaders can learn more here.

Coaching is about developing people to become more talented at performing and guiding people to change habits that keep themselves and their organization stuck. Low performers not doing their jobs often prevent the top performers from doing their jobs as well. Frequently, using traditional management techniques, performance issues survive longer than the number of managers who try to change them.  

Managers have the impulse to tell people what to do. Coaches know it’s better to teach people to think and do for themselves. Managers focus on quick fixes and short-term benefits. Coaches believe that long-term benefits are more useful.

The difference between management and coaching can be summed-up in this well-known proverb: “Give a person a fish, and you feed them for a day. Teach them to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime” (Matthew 4:19).

Coaching isn’t an addition to a leader’s job, it’s an integral part of it. Developing people to be accountable, resilient, and resourceful requires skills like

  • Creating a psychologically safe environment
  • Listening to understand
  • Asking Questions to Help Others Make Better Decisions
  • Teaching people to think for themselves
  • Guiding learning from experience
  • Getting buy-in for expectations
  • Offering Encouragement
  • Giving constructive feedback
  • Engaging in dialogue
  • Resolving Conflict creatively

What are the Benefits of Coaching? 

Relieves pressure from the manager to be the expert and the answer person about everything

Brings out the abilities and enhances the confidence of employees

Help managers to know more about what development is needed

Managers learn and grow by developing and helping others

The Manager is role modeling how to coach so these skills can be used throughout the organization

Treating people as human beings, worthy of development, enhances engagement, motivation, and retention. It’s not a tactic, it’s a way of being an effective leader.



What are the Challenges?

One of the big challenges, according to Meredith Bell & Dennis Coates, Ph.D., authors of two excellent books, “Connect With Your Team” & “Peer Coaching Made Simple,” is to “Recognize Coaching Moments;” that is, to raise the manager's awareness that there are ideal situations to use coaching skills.

You overhear an employee be short-tempered with a customer. Traditional managers would tell the employee “This is not the way we do things around here.”

A coaching moment is giving the employee an opportunity to realize the impact of what they said on that customer. “I noticed when the customer left, she looked upset.” Have them describe what happened; ask more questions to get at the impact—"Let’s look at another way you could have responded?”

The strongest objection to coaching employees is the managers’ belief that they don’t have time to “walk an employee through to get to an answer.” They say, and rightly so, we have deadlines, demands, and urgent needs. It’s true that a dangerous situation or a real emergency is not a coaching moment. Taking charge, directing, and controlling is exactly what’s needed.

But just how much time does it take in everyday situations to help people learn? The truth is your perception that it takes longer than just telling people what to do is only in your mind. Getting someone to come up with an answer may take five minutes. Giving them the answer may take two. Which one gives you the best return on investment?

How long does it take to ask, “what have you considered so far?” Which one produces long-term learning—your answers or the simple, efficient questions you ask that guide people to discover answers on their own? 

To build a success-driven team, people must be treated with respect. That begins with really listening to their thoughts and being curious about their point of view. To be an effective leader, one that people want to follow, requires self-awareness and the humility to get our ego out of the way.

Ask yourself, do you always need to be right? Must you be the expert who has all the answers? Do you need to be the smartest one at the table? It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.

How can an Organization Better Support Coaching Rather Than Managing of Teams?

A coaching culture starts at the top with leaders using coaches the way great athletes do to achieve their own higher level of performance. Companies like Chrysler, Xerox, IBM, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, ADP, and many others are training thousands of managers to be coaches.

Managers apply the coaching techniques they learn to encourage employees to think better and work better together.  Peer coaching can be cascaded down to gain greater commitment, creativity, and flexibility in the organization. 

People being coached must be safe to tell the truth. If they are uncomfortable, you will not hear about important things until it’s too late to effectively address them. Hiding what’s really going on under the umbrella “we didn’t want to bother you” is cause for alarm.

Managers need to be asking how are we doing? What do you need from me? And they need to stand still, listen and be receptive to hearing the answer—without “killing the messenger.” J Edward Deming, the founder of the quality movement, in his 14 Point essay, emphatically encourages managers to “drive fear out of the organization.”

When you ask a question, be quiet and listen for an answer. It forces employees to consider possibilities.  Even if they say, “I don’t know” I’ve found it extremely helpful to ask “what if you did know, what would be one option?” …and to add “I’ll wait.”

We jump in attempting to be helpful, rescue them from the anxiety that is palatable for you and them. Giving them the answer is not the answer. It creates dependency.  

To stay on track and master a skill, people benefit from having accountability, reminders, and encouragement. Knowing that a coach will be checking in on their progress can motivate people to do the work consistently and well.

The key to your success is to surround yourself with outstanding performers. Great coaching leaders inspire others to become the best version of themselves. This is the competitive edge that builds a vibrant organization and a success-driven team.

Looking for more insights on coaching and nurturing a coaching culture?

Our team brings 30+ years of success in helping thousands of leaders and their teams enhance their performance.

Browse Cooperperson Performance Consulting courses

About the Author

Ellen Cooperperson is the Founder, President, and Chief Learning Officer of Cooperperson Performance Consultants, Inc. As a best-selling author, bold thought leader, communications consultant, and trusted advisor to family businesses, Ellen has moved and inspired thousands to change, grow, and succeed. A pioneer in executive coaching, she has been instrumental in boosting employee effectiveness and maximizing individual, team, and corporate performance from entrepreneurial companies to multi-national organizations.

Last updated: 17 Nov 2021

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