How to Make Leadership Coaching a Management Practice (And Why You Should)

Leadership coaching is traditionally geared toward managers because they lead teams. The problem with reserving leadership coaching only for people who are already in higher-level positions is that aspiring leaders don’t get the coaching they need to move into management. In the US, 98% of managers are disappointed in the training they receive, and many say managers in their companies were unprepared for management when they moved into their roles.

Why You Should Practice Leadership Coaching with Your Team

According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), “70% of employee learning and development happens on the job, not through formal training programs.” Practicing leadership coaching on a daily basis with your team members gives them more chances to develop their own leadership skills. Plus, it’s what your team wants (and needs) from you.

Millennials are estimated to be 50% of the workforce, and this generation is all about coaching in the workplace. As the younger generations rise up in the ranks, they’re looking to their managers for feedback and guidance. If you want to build a stronger organization, you need to give your direct reports the coaching they need to move up.

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Management training isn’t a priority in many organizations. By making it a priority in yours, you improve your company’s growth potential and increase your chances of holding onto your top performers.

How to Make Leadership Coaching a Part of Your Management Strategy

Leadership coaching does not have to involve lengthy or expensive trainings. You can integrate coaching tactics into your interactions with team members every day.

Encourage Team Members to Get Involved with One-on-One Agendas

HBR’s studies have shown that “managers tend to think they’re coaching when they’re actually just telling their employees what to do.” Sharing ownership of one-on-ones is a great way to avoid this misstep because it empowers employees to take charge of their own professional development journey. When team members have more control over the agenda, you can act more like a coach rather than a micromanager.

Let your team members dominate the conversation. It’s their one-on-one time with you, so they should have the time and space to discuss their professional goals. Once you know where they want to go, you can help them figure out how to get there. Much like a sports coach, it’s your job to narrow in on what your team members do well and make sure they’re put in the right position to succeed. According to HBR, “recognizing and pointing out strengths” is one of nine key leadership coaching skills. Use one-on-ones to listen and learn about your team members’ strengths, then coach them on how they can use those skills to grow.

Imagine that one of your senior graphic designers, Ramy, aspires to be a creative director. He’s crushing it at work—always meets his deadlines, wows customers with his attention to detail, and works well with his teammates. But he’s not sure how he can transition from the role of graphic designer to a position that involves managing others. You can give him the leadership coaching he needs to leverage strengths such as working well with others to build up his people management skills.

Ask Questions to Help Your Team Member Find Solutions

Another of HBR’s nine leadership coaching skills is “letting the coachee arrive at their own solution.” Telling people what you already know is easy. Showing them how to find answers on their own is more difficult, but much more valuable in the long run.

Ask questions during weekly one-on-ones. What if you had two hours to explore a new skill every week—what would you focus on? How can the team work with you to get you those two hours?

Make sure you listen more than you speak. Let your team talk through challenges so they can discover their own solutions. Managers tend to jump into problem-solving mode too quickly, often sharing what they’ve done in the past. But you need to remember that your way might not be the best way. Leadership coaching is about guiding, not directing.

Continually check yourself—nearly a quarter of executives overestimate their own leadership coaching skills. Managers tend to start with open-ended questions but quickly switch to leading questions so they can get the response they believe is correct. Sometimes, the best way to coach someone is to start the discussion, then sit back and let your team member ruminate. This may mean getting comfortable with sitting in silence and resisting the urge to direct.

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Let’s say Fatima has been a team lead for a while and aspires to move into a general manager role in the future. When you ask how her direct reports are doing, she mentions that Brian is struggling with his time management skills. Now, you could jump in and tell her exactly how to handle the Brian situation, but that wouldn’t prepare Fatima for a general manager role. Instead, ask questions such as “What do you think Brian needs right now?” and let Fatima work through it.

Remember: Leadership coaching should result in more leaders. If you train your team members to solve problems, advocate for themselves, and bring value to the company, your entire organization benefits.

Encourage Your Team Members to Coach One Another

Knowledge sharing is good for the whole company. Plus, peer-to-peer coaching gives your team members a chance to practice their own coaching skills.

Create opportunities for stretch assignments—tasks that stretch just beyond an employee’s comfort zone and current role.

Use one-on-ones to identify possibilities. For example, “Ashé, you are truly the master of customer management. All of your clients love working with you. Is that an area you’re particularly interested in?”If the answer is yes, ask Ashé to coach a couple of teammates.

In this situation, your role as a manager would be to coach Ashé on how she can put together presentations, create training resources, and work closely with her teammates to help them improve their customer management skills. You’re not telling her what to do—you’re helping her create a structure for sharing her knowledge.

Managers who embrace leadership coaching enjoy helping people develop. So, if your team members have their eye on a management position, they need to be comfortable coaching. Challenging your up-and-coming leaders to stretch themselves is a powerful way to prepare them for leadership.

Continuously Work On Your Leadership Coaching Skills

Leadership coaching is not an achievement you can unlock; it’s something you have to continuously improve upon. Be sure to regularly seek out additional training so you can become a better coach for your team.

HBR’s study had managers rate their coaching ability before and after receiving training. After the coaching skills training, managers knocked down their personal assessments of themselves by 28%. So even if you think you’re crushing it, you can always benefit from some extra guidance.

In between trainings, lean on tools such as our Decks feature to coach your team during one-on-ones. Our professional development Deck offers some great conversation starters that will encourage your team members to explore their career goals and open up opportunities for you to coach them on how to achieve those goals.

Ready to start having better one-on-one conversations?

Learn how with our free guide to improving your one-on-ones.

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