3rd August 2020

Coaching as a leader: mastering the essentials

By Dr Caroline Horner

Think back to your most rewarding learning experiences. What made those moments most powerful?

I learnt the most when a teacher understood my own interests and strengths and catered to them, finding the ‘hook’ to get me interested and encouraged me to keep going.

As an adult, I enjoy the kind of learning gained from first hand ‘on-the-job’ experience.

I think it’s a universal experience: when the atmosphere is open, relaxed and supportive, we thrive.

We can draw parallels with coaching as a leader. When you’re a leader in an organisation tasked with getting the most out of staff, it isn’t about taking someone into a room, closing the door and ‘coaching by numbers’ to a strict formula.

Coaching isn’t something that is ‘done’ to a person. It’s not a ‘one time event’, handing over knowledge. Nor is it about finding an immediate solution to a problem. It is a learning conversation.

To have those effective learning conversations, and for coaching to be a success, leaders must look to develop their own learning mindset and develop their foundation coaching skills.

A key aspect of the mindset is about power. Historically managers have relied on hierarchical power and their own expert knowledge to support others to be more effective, perform and learn.

The world of work has changed so much. We work in organisations with much flatter structures. You can’t just dominate people and get them to do what they’re told because you are the boss (not least because staff often know more of the specifics, will be closer to the detail and be the ones who possess subject expertise).

So developing this mindset, in which leaders can still support and coach those they lead, means leaving ego at the door and having the confidence to let go – which, without support, is a really hard thing to do.

But it’s totally necessary. People aren’t drones to be controlled. Everyone is unique, they get different things from work and find their motivation in different areas. For some, work constitutes a huge part of the meaning in their lives. For others, it provides creativity, creation and inspiration, for others it’s a means to an end.

But to get the most out of everyone you lead (and indeed, yourself) developing those coaching essentials as a leader is vital. Let’s not forget that evidence suggests that people leave leaders and managers, not organisations.

Coronavirus has put even more burdens on leaders. The interactions they are having with those they lead are more emotionally charged, more reassurance-seeking, more complex.

It’s really important to work on yourself so that you know your triggers, communication and learning style and how this impacts others. It’s important to pay attention to how you make them feel that what you say to them. Empathy is one critical skill among others in one’s coaching repertoire as a leader.

It’s also important, even when you’re at the top of your game, to build your confidence to understand your worth as a leader beyond your technical knowledge and experience.

Those in leadership positions have a privileged opportunity to have impactful conversations, improve relationships and add value to different types of people doing different types of work. But to do that, leaders must support themselves first, polish off their own learning mindset approach and commit to continuous improvement.

Leaders can then apply the mindset whenever they are approached, in the way they delegate work, in the way they run meetings.

We can support you as a leader through our Coaching Essentials programme. It is a 10-week blended learning programme that instils the principles of a coaching mindset and helps you put them into practice. It lays the foundation for effective conversations which enable performance across the organisation and unleash the potential of both individuals and teams.