Do you have a coach? If not you may be in the minority. It seems like everyone has a coach today – a business coach, executive coach, fitness coach, wellness coach, spiritual coach, life coach, speaking coach, parenting coach – the list goes on and on. Just think of something you’d like to do better and my bet is you can find a coach to help you.

I have nothing against coaches. In fact I am one and I believe coaching is a great way to learn and grow – personally and professionally

My concern is that, in the business world, those who could perhaps benefit the most from coaching and where organizations could most benefit from providing coaching – the individual contributors and front-line supervisors and managers – rarely get it. I’m not suggesting that organizations go out and hire coaches for every single employee. That would be great for coaches but not so viable for the organization.

Here’s what I am suggesting. Most organizations already have a structure in place through which to provide coaching – the manager or supervisor – it just requires a tweak to culture and mind-set, as well as a refinement of skills.

Before we go on, let me define coaching, and more specifically the coaching dialogue or conversation, as I am referring to it here. I am referring to an interaction or conversation between two people where one person (the coach) asks questions, listens and provides feedback (and occasionally offers suggestions or guidance) in order to help the second person (the coachee) gain insight, identify gaps between actual and desired performance and develop a plan for improvement. These conversations can be formal or informal and can occur between any two people at any time.

Imagine what your organization would be like if every single supervisor and manager focused on developing the talent of their direct reports through coaching. What would happen to engagement, productivity, competency, retention, moral, motivation and the ability to attract more talent? Research suggest all would improve. Imagine what your team would be like if you became a coaching manager.

The coaching conversation has a structure. It is in implementing this structure that the magic happens – coaching occurs in the conversation. There are a number of coaching conversation models. The one I outline below is adapted from several models including one put forth in The Coaching Manager by Hunt and Weintraub and Quiet Leadership by David Rock. Both excellent books if you are interested in pursuing this topic in more depth.

  • Define the desired outcome
  • Identify a coaching opportunity
  • Request permission
  • Ask thought provoking questions and listen
  • Allow the coachee to come to their own conclusions and gain insights (this is where the learning occurs)
  • Determine areas for growth or development
  • Develop a plan of action
  • Follow-up

This is not necessarily a linear process and all of the steps may or may not occur in one conversation.

Here’s an example to illustrate.

You are Jill’s manager. Jill is a talented young lady who has aspirations of becoming a manager. (The desired outcome.) You believe Jill has the potential to do this, but she is hesitant to share her ideas in a group setting and gets flustered when presenting. (Areas for growth and development.)

As a coaching manager, you meet with Jill ask her questions about her goals and identify her desire to be a manager. You ask her questions to help her gain insight into what strengths will support her in achieving that goal and in identifying skills and behaviors she will need to develop in order to achieve the goal. (Asking questions and listening.) You ask her if she would like some coaching from you to help her move toward her desired goal. (Asking permission.)

Later in a team meeting you notice that Jill is hesitant to share her ideas for the direction of a new project (coaching opportunity). After the meeting you ask Jill if she would be open to discussing the meeting and her participation with you (asking permission, again). She agrees. You ask her several questions and listen for her response (Questioning and listening, again.)

She acknowledges that she had some ideas that she didn’t share and she is disappointed in herself. (Gaining insight.) You ask how you can support her to share her ideas in the future. Together you develop a plan. You then follow-up to see how it is going.

Does it seem almost too simple? It is that simple but it is not that easy. Many managers have a habit of telling rather than asking, of directing rather than developing. It is the ability to ask questions and listen – allowing the coachee to gain insights on their own that makes coaching conversations work.

You want to be a coaching manager. How do you get started?

You just did, by identifying the desired outcome of being a coaching manager. The next step is to look at your own strengths and areas for development… You get the picture. It might be helpful to have a coach – your manager, colleague, friend or professional coach – to help you.

It’s not necessary to find a coach to get started though. Set an intention of asking more and listening longer. When an employee comes to you with a problem or question instead of telling them what to do ask them questions and then be quiet. Let them gain some insights on their own.

Here are some of my favorite questions:

  • What are your thoughts?
  • If you were me, what would you do?
  • Is that true?
  • What else could be true?
  • How are you feeling about the situation?

It’s not as easy as it sounds. I’m trained in this with many years’ experience and I still catch myself starting to tell someone what to do. I simply stop mid-sentence and say, “Let me ask you a questions first.” You can do the same thing.