Pragmatic advice for coaches, managers & leaders

Managers: how to adopt a coaching style

If you were my Boss, you wouldn’t tell me what my whole career path should be, down to the detail of timing of the moves that I should make, companies I should to move to, salary I should be aiming for etc would you?

If the fire alarm went in your building now, you wouldn’t sit down and have a long chat with me and ask: “So Glenn, how to you think we should proceed?” … if you did, you’d be on your own and I would be the one disappearing from sight (albeit in a calm and orderly fashion to the nearest muster point of course!).

You would use different styles to suit the situation. Your management approach would be dictated by a number of factors and in order to get the best results for the company, for you and for me, you’re going to need to develop these over time and in order to make them fit for purpose. Choose the right hat for the situation.

And then someone in Human Resources (HR) or Learning and Development (L&D) comes along and tells you they want you to use a coaching style ! Great. Something else to do !

But what does that mean and how can you adapt and adopt this, into your already existing management styles?

Here are three key tips to adopting a coaching approach into your management styles:

1. Not in every situation

What a relief I hear you say! You are unlikely to need to be taking a coaching style all the time. In fact there are a few situations under which it is probably unhelpful: for example, when there is immediate risk: personal, physical, reputational etc. Coaching is perhaps not best here. A clear, well communicated and directive approach, probably works better.

However, there are plenty of opportunities when you can use a coaching approach: Performance reviews; project management challenges; specific KPIs to attain, career discussions: all these would benefit from you asking great questions and paying attention to the answers you get.

2. Not with everyone

I think it can be quite a challenge to coach upwards i.e. to your Boss or their Boss. The culture of coaching within an organisation needs to be pretty strongly established before this becomes an easy, or appropriate, way to manage upwards. It is why when I work with organisations we spend a lot of time working at the very highest level first, in order to ensure everyone is “on message”.

Additionally, some people just don’t want to be coached at that moment. You should know that the coach in my head was screaming at my laptop screen, as I wrote that last sentence: “Ha! If they don’t want to be coached, that is the theme of a coaching conversation right there !!! Don’t let them off the hook !!” and that may be true but I’m not talking about people who always resist coaching, I’m just being pragmatic in acknowledging that at times people just want the solution. Coaching is demanding for both parties: if someone is too tired to engage they may just be happy for you to tell them the answer and occasionally I think that’s ok.

Other than these couple of exceptions I reckon everyone else is fair game. Your skill comes in knowing where, when and about what, you can coach each individual member of your team. I suggest it will be different for each.

3. Not if you aren’t convinced

There will be little worse for your team, your organisation and perhaps yourself, than engaging in coaching without full commitment. You can’t do it well without bringing your whole self to each coaching engagement.

My advice would be try a “little and often” approach. No need to book a meeting room for two hours and attempt a full-on coaching session. You aren’t a coach. You are a manager who uses a coaching style. Look for opportunities to engage in coaching conversations in real time: at the water-cooler, on the walk to lunch etc. Ask. Pay attention to the reply. Repeat. Keep it simple and build on your successes and above all make it work for you. There is no “one way” to coach effectively, so just have a go, enjoy the results and come back here and share your successes ! All the best.

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Glenn Wallis is an experienced Executive Coach and Coach Developer who will help you improve your own results and those of your organisation. When you are ready to  raise your performance to the next level, find out more here.