July 21, 2023
We teach a course called “coaching skills for managers and leaders”. In designing the course, we deliberately used the words “coaching skills” and not “coaching” because it is difficult for managers to formally coach direct reports. The line manager has skin in the game, they care about the results of the coaching and are much more involved with the performance of their direct reports than any coach would be with their clients. Also, coaches can take 60, 90 or more minutes for an entire coaching session, while managers often don't have the time to engage in these kinds of formal conversations. If this is not common practice in the organizations, direct reports might even feel that having a formal coaching conversation with the manager is a bit weird or embarrassing.
So, what can a manager or a leader do to productively use coaching skills as part of their leadership repertoire? Here are three easy ways to integrate coaching skills into your leadership practice.
1) The classic monkey management
You have delegated a task and your direct report comes back to you asking you for advice. You were quite happy to have given one the monkeys (tasks) on your shoulder to your direct report. In the conversation, when the direct report checks with you or comes back with questions, you are in danger of the monkey (the task) hopping back from the direct report’s shoulder to your shoulder. A great collaborative “defense” against monkey transferal is to ask your direct report questions rather than giving your advice or worse taking on the task yourself. You can use the following coaching questions:
- What have you already tried?
- Where could you find more information?
- What might support you?
- If I wasn't here, what would you do?
Of course, you can still always give your input and help, but not before annoying your direct report with questions that ask them to think for themselves. This can also be very educational because your reports will get used to you asking these questions instead of giving immediate advice and will start asking themselves these questions. This, in turn, results in a reduction of their need for your time and a growth in their own capabilities.
2) Winge, winge, winge
The “winge, winge, winge” exercise is a classic in any Solution Focused coach training. We ask one participant to complain about something that they're passionate about. The person learning to coach then tries to turn the complaint around and transform it into a wish. The complaint about slow and clumsy people in front of you at the security control in an airport turns into a desire to optimize processes and to inform people on how they can prepare. The complaint about unwashed dishes in the sink becomes a desire for collaboration and respect in the relationship. The magic coaching move is very simple, you ask: “What instead?”. So, if one of your direct reports comes to you complaining about something that is not within their control, you can invite them to think about what they would like instead and then how they could contribute to that outcome.
3) Experiments and small steps
When you're deciding something as a team or in a conversation with one of your direct reports, you can use another coaching skill: Frame next steps as experiments rather than deliverables. This allows for more learning and recognizes that our environments are complex, and we cannot really know for certain which action is going to result in which outcome. It also opens the space for recognizing that any given action may not work and thinking about what else can be done to reach the desired goal.
There are many more coaching skills that can be used in leadership and management. I hope these three are useful. If you want to explore more, why don't you come to our weekly free meet up and exchanges? Another good place to learn about coaching skills, obviously is our course “coaching skills and managers and leaders” which we mainly run inhouse for companies – it’s a short 14 hour course leading to EMCC “Foundation” accreditation. Talk to us in an info call if you or your company are interested: www.solutionsacademy.com/info-call.
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