How great leaders empower people with a coach approach

Many leaders are aware of the concept of using a ‘coach approach’ yet research shows that it is the most challenging style of leadership for people to put into practice. Many leaders say they don’t have time to lead this way; however a coach approach requires a shift in mindset, not additional time. We believe that this disconnect stems from the fact that leaders don’t really know what using a coach approach means. 

Using a coach approach is a foundational element of leadership.

 This is our third post in our series about the foundational elements of the SupportingLines High-Performance Framework™️ –  four things that explain 90% of leadership effectiveness:

What is a coach approach?

Coaching is something that every leader can do without formal training. It requires you to be present, ask open-ended questions, actively listen, respect the confidentiality of the conversation and help the other person set clear objectives and actions. The core elements of using a coach approach really come down to three things:

  • Who is talking more – the manager or employees?
  • Is the manager asking open-ended questions or making statements?
  • Is the manager steering the conversation or listening with an open mind?

The best leaders have more questions than answers.

In a world of increasing change and complexity, leaders must let go of the notion that they are supposed to have all the answers. Managers are much more effective when they ask open-ended (ie: “what” and “how”) questions and then listen to the answers. It is critical to understand that while managers have a solid grasp on ‘what’ needs to be accomplished, the team usually has a better understanding of ‘how’ to achieve the goal. 

Research validates the power of a coach approach.

Research from HBR says the role of the manager is actually becoming that of a coach. We agree. Our research clearly shows that leaders with the highest scores in on High-Performance Leader 360° Reviews use a coach approach. According to our data, the best leaders:

  • Encourage people to share differing opinions or propose alternative courses of action
  • Demonstrate an appreciation for the knowledge and resourcefulness of others
  • Ask great open-ended questions and then truly listens to their answers
  • Ask about career goals with genuine interest and co-create development plans to get there
  • Ask questions to understand challenges and co-create solutions
  • Ask for employee feedback on how they can better support them

When using a coach approach, managers ask more questions and speak less than the employee. Managers follow the employee’s lead, as opposed to asking leading questions that take the conversation where they think it should go. They ask questions from a place of service. The best managers help people find their own solutions instead of providing advice.

Increase your impact across the organization.

Perhaps it is obvious that this approach works well in 1-on-1 meetings, but the impact of using a coach approach doesn’t end there. A coach approach is scalable, and can be used to ask powerful questions in many situations, for example when:

  • Soliciting input from people before finalizing goals or making key decisions
  • Exploring the perspective of others when providing feedback for growth
  • Exploring the ‘other side of the story’ when holding people accountable
  • Identifying the root cause of cross-functional collaboration issues instead of jumping to conclusions and acting upon assumptions
  • Understanding operational constraints on a deeper level before creating solutions

Make common sense, common practice.

While this approach may seem like common sense, it is definitely not common practice. Since this is a very different approach for most leaders, it is important to practice the approach a few times to gain experience. 

As you begin to use this approach, you will likely notice that a coach approach helps you deepen your relationship with employees and add more value to all conversations. Humans feel valued when people ask for their perspective and listen to what they have to say. 

Perhaps the next time you are in a situation where you are tempted to be directive or think you have all the answers, you’ll try using  a coach approach. I think the results will surprise you. 

Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith

Jeff is the Founder & CEO of SupportingLines. He is also a certified Master Corporate Executive Coach, seasoned C-suite business leader and yoga instructor.

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