Leadership Coaching: Help Your Supervisors Coach Employees to Higher Performance

We tend to think of only executives and senior managers as candidates for learning employee coaching behaviors. In today's work environment, that perspective should change. Managers at all levels – from executives to frontline supervisors - need to know how to coach their employees to higher performance, and each leader can learn how to shift from a command-and-control style to a leadership coaching style that promotes employee growth and success.  

The coaching leadership style is a better fit for a business environment that is subject to rapid disruptive change. Giving employees instructions implies the manager has all the answers and discourages employees from exploring their own abilities and competencies. Coaching employees on an ongoing basis is an employee engagement process in which the manager asks questions and guides and supports employees to facilitate their development and success over time.  

Leadership Coaching is a Discovery Process 

Managers want to achieve business goals, and the easiest way to do that is to tell employees what to do to meet expectations. Giving direction is not coaching and not a path to employee engagement. When a manager gives direction or tells an employee what to do, he or she is not developing the employee's skills, abilities, or knowledge. The skills, abilities, and knowledge reside in the manager and are expressed through directives to the employee. Coaching happens when the manager or supervisor helps the employee discover their own skills, abilities, and knowledge and how to apply them to succeed on the job.  

Marcey Uday-Riley is a Senior Consultant at IRI Consultants who has worked in leadership development for decades. She has a deep understanding of how managers and supervisors develop their people skills and how they can adapt. "Leaders who coach are better able to connect with employees, express compassion, and build respect while staying totally focused on operational success." Leaders who coach are not sacrificing their ability to direct employees and give advice on the best way to complete tasks. They are collaborating with their team members, helping them discover the best way to complete their tasks in the most efficient, effective, and satisfying way in order to achieve operational and business goals. This is a discovery process for both the trained leader and employee, which can unleash human potential, energy, and innovation.  

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Attributes of the Leader as Coach 

So what exactly is leadership coaching? It's a leadership style characterized by the following attributes. The manager, director, or supervisor:

  • Strives to meet the emotional needs of employees. 
  • Has a growth mindset; not afraid of challenges, with a desire to improve.
  • Asks employees structured questions so the employees discover for themselves the appropriate behavior to succeed on the job. 
  • Recognizes when giving advice rather than coaching is the appropriate behavior given certain circumstances. 
  • Helps the employee walk down the path they want to go but may not know how to get there. 
  • Focuses on developing positive employee relations
  • Sets employees up to succeed based on knowledge of their needs, personal characteristics, and goals. 
  • Develops employees' ability to think for themselves rather than waiting for advice or commands. 
  • Gains deep insights into their team members' behaviors. 
  • Uses coaching leadership skills like active listening, feedback, empathy, and questioning to build rapport. 

The leadership coaching style is the best fit for today's workforce and business environment. The challenge is moving both senior leaders and those at all levels to the coaching style. It doesn't happen with a one-and-done training workshop because it's a cycle of performance, practice, and success or even failure, followed by more practice in real-world scenarios. The leadership coach learns from the process, relying on employee improvements and objective performance data to determine progress and make adjustments as necessary.  

#Leadership coaching uses #skills like active listening, #feedback, #empathy, coaching conversations, and questioning to build rapport. #leadershiptraining #leadershipcoaching

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Receptive to Learning Leadership Coaching? 

Change can be difficult. So what about the managers and supervisors who really aren't receptive to leadership coaching? Marcey tells the balking leaders they have a choice. "Your choice is to spend the time and money to continue training replacements or continue to manage employees you wish would leave for one reason or another." The first step in developing coaching skills is helping leaders understand the many advantages that coaching as a leader delivers to the leader and their employees and how it can enhance performance for their teams as a whole.

The natural inclination is to keep using directives. A research project on coaching found that many managers asked to coach provided the other person with advice or a solution. The managers continued saying things like, "First, you do this." They didn't understand workplace coaching but thought they did. It's challenging to teach leaders the difference between coaching employees and directing them with orders or advice. Sir John Whitmore, a pioneer in coaching leadership development, said, "We must see people in terms of their future potential, not their past performance." So the coaching leader sees potential and not just current performance. Directives are focused on current performance.  

Quite frankly, current performance could be a result of poor or weak leadership skills. The employee is not motivated to succeed. The ideal time to begin coaching employees is on their first day of work because that's when the person is most motivated.   

Exploring the Myths of Leadership Coaching

There are some myths about leadership coaching. One myth is that transforming from a leader who only commands to a coaching leader is asking the leader to give up their right to tell their employees what to do. It's not true. Any business leader's responsibility is ensuring employees get their work done correctly and on time and in a way that achieves operational and business goals. Sometimes, the leader may have to issue a directive and has the right to do so. However, that directive will be received better when communicating the reasoning behind it.  

A second myth is that older managers can't or won't learn the coaching leadership style. That's simply not true too. "Your home environment and how you were raised contributes to the skills you bring to work," says Marcey, "but whether you are a millennial or a baby boomer, an employee shapes their behavior based on how he or she is measured. The differences between generations are too often over-rated because people of all ages are motivated by similar things." These things include having a sense of autonomy, feeling respected and valued, and believing their supervisor or manager cares about them as a person. Any leader from any generation can learn coaching skills that motivate employees."   

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Taking Ownership of Behaviors 

Leadership coaches develop critical skills. Leaders, as coaches, observe the employee and listen to what the person is saying. They ask good questions, listen to the answers, give feedback, assist with goal setting and show empathy. Instead of handing an employee a solution, the coaching leader helps employees arrive at their own solutions. It's a learning experience for both the supervisor or manager and the employee. 

Many managers don't practice coaching because it takes longer. Marcey explains that coaching is a process. "It requires knowing if the employee has been trained or had the opportunity to learn how to do the job. It requires the manager to take the time to carefully phrase coaching questions, to ask them, to listen carefully to the employees' answers, and then guide or coach the employee to discover for themselves what the right behavior is to meet the manager's expectations. When the employee discovers the right behavior for themselves, they own the behavior."  

Taking ownership of the behavior makes it more likely the employee will develop a habit and consistently meet manager expectations. Neuroscience/brain science tells us that the more somebody thinks about or owns the solution to any problem, the more likely they are to follow their own advice and perform a task well.

The more a person thinks about or owns the solution to a problem, the more likely they are to follow their own advice and perform a task well. #leadership #training

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"Once managers believe that coaching will create more sustainable behavior change, are willing to learn the skills to genuinely coach, and are willing to take the time to coach, they will find their employees learning more quickly, remembering more often, and doing their job more effectively," explains Marcey. Learning coaching behaviors takes some concentration and effort, but the payoff is big in terms of increased employee engagement, lower turnover, and creativity.   

Developing Coaching Skills 

Becoming an effective leader as a coach takes skills development. The IRI LEAD Academy provides 22 half-day modules in specific content areas designed for maximum engagement. These in-person sessions include a skilled facilitator, participant workbooks, and supporting materials and engage your leaders with role-play scenarios, job aids, videos, self-assessments, and sustainability pieces to create a memorable learning experience. For more information on LEAD Academy leadership development training, click here.

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