Leaders are Coaches


So far in the “Leaders Are…” series, we’ve built the trust , learned through curiosity , and exercised our infuence… now, we’re coaching.

A wise leader early in my career shared the words with me, “Coach to success.” I remember him asking me a lot of questions when I came to him with challenges. And I remember thinking, “Jeez, doesn’t this guy know the answers—why won’t he just tell me what to do?”

But as it turned out, I learned how to answer my own questions over time. He listened, posed questions, and helped me self-discover the path forward. Leaders who believe their team has the answers within themselves, ask instead of tell, and coach to success win in the long run.

A quick lesson on coaching: Coaching in a nutshell is actively listening, asking questions, and refraining from giving advice. It requires a leader to resist the urge to tell and to patiently ask and listen. To coach to success:

  1. Promote self-discovery
  2. Focus forward
  3. Gain the “will” commitment

Promote self-discovery

When we self-discover our path forward, we are far more likely to commit to it. Remember when you were a child and your parents told you to do something or gave you advice on how to handle a situation? How likely were we to commit to their idea?

The same applies for leaders. We are far less likely to commit to someone else’s idea than our own. As leaders, it’s our job to coach our team through situations, asking questions like, “What do you think?” It drives accountability back to the individual. It leaves less room for procrastination.

The “what” and “how” questions from Leaders are Curious get people to self-discover. The difference with open-ended questions is that the person articulates the problem, situation, or opportunity according to their own point of view. In turn, they brainstorm solutions or ideas based on what they believe. Remember the adage, “When we believe, we achieve”? It may sound cheesy, but our brains are wired to believe what we tell it. If we internalize a belief, our brain is programmed to make it happen.

I’ve had leaders tell me they tell their team, “I don’t know” when they ask for advice. That’s hard. When you have mastered coaching, you will feel comfortable saying this because you will have seen the results from self-discovery. When people self-discover their path forward, the results are far more sustainable. And over time as a leader, your job is easier because you are not in firefighter mode or having to “babysit” your team. They know what to do without you being there.

Focus forward

Leave the past in the past. What happened six months ago is irrelevant. It just doesn’t matter. If we choose to focus on the past, we will not move forward.

Notice a key word here—choose. We have choice when perceiving the world around us. For those pessimists, a rainy day is a bad day. For optimists, it provides an opportunity to get things done inside. It’s all a matter of perception. When we choose to focus forward, we achieve the results we will achieve.

I often remind clients to focus on what we will do versus what we could have done in the past. Asking, “What is possible?” is a great tool to gain commitment to focus forward. Another favorite is asking, “What do you want?” Simple, but powerful. When you really focus and listen to what the person says, the answer may surprise you. Help them remove the obstacles and assumptions based on past experiences, and focus on the future. Ask, “Based on what?” to challenge assumptions and, “What if that were not true?” to overcome obstacles. Focus on what we have the genuine possibility to influence, and we move forward.

Gain the “will” commitment

The will versus the want. There is a big difference between wanting to do something and saying you will do something. When I ask leaders this question, they often say, “I want to do a lot of things, but when I say I will do something, I actually commit to doing it.” There are a variety of coaching models that all conclude with a “will” or commitment—see GROW or TIPS  models for more information. Both models provide a proven process with the structure to get there.

Help your team commit through encouraging an affirmative statement using “will.” The level of increased commitment is resounding. Better yet, have them write it down and display it somewhere in their workspace.

When you hear phrases like, “I will try to do that” or “I want to do this,” coach them. Repeat “want” or “try” to the team member, and they will correct it to “will.” Soon these words will disappear from their vocabulary. Make it a regularly used word in your team meetings and touchpoints, and commitment will grow over time.

Leaders that coach see better business results. How will you coach your team?

Julie Kratz is a Certified Master Coach and owner of  Pivot Point, which exists to develop leaders and coach high potential women in career transition through building winning career game plans. She’s also the author of Pivot Point: How to Build a Winning Career Game Plan.

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