What Excellent Leaders Do (Part 1)

Excellent Leaders Are Also Excellent Coaches

“People are best convinced by reasons they themselves discover.” ~Benjamin Franklin

Welcome to my blog, The Leader’s Playbook and my inaugural blog post! The purpose of The Leader’s Playbook is to share what I have learned over the past 20 years as an executive coach and leadership development leader. It is an extension of my clients’ discoveries from their coaching and learning sessions.

An executive coaching client of mine recently told me that she wished she could “bottle” the coaching questions that I ask during our sessions, so she could unleash them during her meetings with her leadership team.

I thanked her wholeheartedly for this lovely endorsement and, after sending her a list of coaching questions, I decided to share them in my blog here with you, so you can benefit from them as well.

To start, here are few ground rules to keep in mind when coaching your team members.

Coaching is an Investment

Let’s face it, simply telling someone what to do saves you time. You don’t have to explain yourself, nor debate the merits of your reasoning. Your employee will do their job the way you want them to (which is the right way, anyway) and you, as the leader, can spend time doing your “real work”. Right? Wrong!

The number one quality of effective managers is being a good coach. And, coaching takes time because it is an investment in high-quality conversations.

“Coaching is an investment in high-quality conversations”

Coaching is a development tool that enables your employees to confidently pursue new ideas and alternative solutions to workplace challenges. When you ask someone to share what they think, instead of telling them what to do, it instills resourcefulness and resilience because they are using their own mind to come up with ideas.

It establishes ownership over challenges and tasks and it inspires them to take action towards achieving goals. And here is why it is worth your investment — It enables your team members to become more self-reliant because they are not relying on you to solve their problems!

This time will pay off in dividends because they will come to you less asking for solutions because you have instilled a sense of self-reliance, trust and creativity in them.

Know When to Coach – And When Not To

Despite all its merits, there are times when coaching is not the right approach.

Some examples are: when you and your employee are in a potentially dire situation and someone’s safety is at stake. Or, it is a highly-charged situation where you, as the leader, need to make a unilateral decision.

Finally, when your employee is brand new to the role or a project, a more directive approach may be warranted. These are times when you need to “tell” rather than “ask”.

Be Curious

Excellent leaders are genuinely curious. The point of coaching is to deliberately engage in simple, direct, open-ended questions that prompt your employee to think and come up with their own ideas. And, asking powerful questions is also something that takes practice.

“The point of coaching is to deliberately engage in simple, direct, open-ended questions”

If an employee comes to you and says, “I’ve got a problem, what do you think I should do?” After asking them to briefly describe their problem, start coaching by asking:

  • What approaches come to mind?
  • What has worked effectively in similar situations in the past?
  • What do you see as your options?

As they talk through the possibilities, to help them weigh their decisions, ask:

  • What would be the advantages or benefits of that approach?
  • What is the biggest unanswered question about that decision?
  • Where else can you look to find out the answer?

Asking “What else?” throughout the conversation will help prompt them to cover all their bases until they’ve reached a solid next step and action.

Create a Dialogue

Coaching is a two-way conversation. Don’t simply lob questions at your direct report until they come up with the solution.

Coaching isn’t something you do to someone, it is something you do with someone.

As you engage in conversation, let your organizational knowledge, work experience, past achievements (and failures) help guide the conversation. And actively listen to your employee. Effective coaching creates guardrails for your employee to solve their own problems. So, share your opinions and insight.

Effective coaching creates guardrails for your employee to solve their own problems. 

End with Action

If you have coached them to a point where they have come up with a solution or a next step, close out the conversation with:

  • How will you move forward with what we’ve discussed?
  • What is your plan?
  • Who else would benefit from knowing this?
  • What can I do next to support you?

Finish your coaching conversations with a way forward, asking your team member to clearly outline the next steps they will take. Talking about next steps deepens their accountability and ownership.

If they have not come to a decision yet, that is OK. Continue to support them in coming up with a solution by asking them:

  • What next steps will you take to determine the best solution?
  • Who else can help you figure this out? And when will you discuss it with them?

Tell me how you coach your direct reports in the comments below!