Thursday, December 5, 2019

#GreatLeadersCoach – 5 Coaching Skills Every Leader Should Have

Guest post from Phil Renshaw and Jenny Robinson:

For many years now there has been increasing recognition of the value professional coaches bring to managers and leaders in business. Given the power of coaching, it can benefit everyone. Both the supply and the demand for such coaches continues to increase. However, it is our belief that we are all missing a vital fact.

It is simply untenable to think that we can give a professional coach to everyone who would benefit from it - organisations cannot afford to give everyone a professional coach. And yet they can, and in our view should, give everyone a leader-coach.

Theories and leadership advocates have been arguing for decades (if not millennia) that the most effective leaders are great coaches because they use these skills to harness the potential of the whole team, not just the super stars.  These leaders recognise that they cannot lead alone.  

The first five fundamental skills of coaching can be learnt by anyone.  As you read the list take note if you are mentally yawning because you think “they’re not rocket science” or “these are obvious”.  It’s important to spot if you do this. Many do, and it means they fail to develop the nuances of these fundamentals. All skills require practice – we are not born with these skills!

1. Generative Listening
We need to hear the concerns of our colleagues, understand their issues and give them time to think if we are to be most useful. This is not simply listening. Rather it is giving your full attention, listening out for what is not said, the tone and language used, such that it prompts great questions and hence great thinking in your people. It is generative because it helps the speaker to generate their own solutions. This empowerment is the core to great coaches. Having the belief that your people will be able to find their own way forward is what generative listening demonstrates.

2. Questioning
Banish boring questions.  This is how you will bring alive your curiosity and help someone to see a new perspective.  It also makes it FUN!  We advocate left-field questions like: if you had a magic wand, what would you wish for? What would your kids say? How will you see this issue in twenty-five years-time?  Imaginative questions help to break old assumptions and are a powerful gateway to change.

3. Giving Feedback
Leaders who coach do not turn into “softies”. Coaching skills allow for more direct and straightforward conversations about performance and behaviour.  Key to this is establishing a relationship of trust, so that both people feel they are respected.  In this context, giving feedback becomes a gift because it now comes from a place of helpfulness.  When you are a leader who coaches, you hold the belief that people absolutely want to know if they are failing or acting in a way that is not helpful to others.  Notice now what happens for you, when you make this assumption. And now think about giving someone feedback. 

4. Changing Perspective
Have you ever had the experience of listening to a friend as they tell you a problem and from your point of view it is obvious what they should do?  Welcome to a new perspective.  Of course, your “obvious” might not be theirs, nor may it be right for them.  But the point is, there is always a fresh way to see things.  Leaders who coach help people to find that new perspective.  Ellen Langer, a Professor of Psychology at Harvard, says that new perspectives help us to break categorical thinking.  Categorical thinking is all about “right” “wrong” “should” “must” “ought”.  This is not helpful and not true. There is always more than one way.  Your job is to help your coachee find new ways.

5. Using Pause-Points™
We use the term Pause-Points to represent several related and yet crucial skills. For yourself, as a leader, Pause-Points are the brief moments that you take to notice what is happening around you. When you metaphorically step back, and reflect – what important things have happened today? What did I miss in the whirlwind of meetings and conversations today? For others around you, Pause-Points represent when you pause in conversation, when you use silence to encourage them to think more deeply and to draw out what is happening at a deeper level. Do it now – what has surprised you so far in this article?

Being an effective leader-coach requires awareness and practice – it’s a skill so this should be no surprise. The components of coaching often appear easy – and like the great sportsperson whose ability seems effortless, they are easy (or at least straight-forward) … provided you practice. If you’ve never been trained at these things, or never given them attention, why should you be any good at it? Being senior does not mean you can do these things, after all, as someone significant said: What got you here won’t get you there! (thanks Marshall Goldsmith).

And as Marshall also said, ‘Successful leaders achieve lasting change through effective coaching.’

PhilRenshaw and Jenny Robinson are leadership development experts and co-authors of new book, Coaching on the Go.

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