Coaching Tips for Managers
by Kathleen Robinson
coaching tips
One of the fastest growing areas of leadership development is the utilization of executive coaches. While the potential benefits of executive coaching are significant and compelling – retaining top talent, building management bench strength, achieving higher levels of business performance – executive coaches are only part of the system of support needed to ensure desired behavioral change.

High potential leaders need the ongoing support and coaching of their managers
Executive coaches can powerfully intervene when managers have plateaued or when they are in danger of derailing. They are often the catalyst to jump start or accelerate a development process that enables managers to take their leadership game to the next level. But in order to achieve sustainable behavioral growth and change, high potential leaders who work with an executive coach also need the ongoing, day-to-day support and coaching of their managers. Senior level managers often have the heart for coaching – really wanting to help their direct reports optimize opportunities for their professional growth – but lack the confidence and coaching tools to support positive and productive coaching conversations.

Here are a few tips that will help managers boost their confidence and effectiveness in a coaching role:

1. Offer yourself as a coach
Proactively show interest in your employees’ continuing development and success by offering to meet periodically for development purposes. Most managers confer regularly with employees about their work, but only talk about professional growth goals and plans at their annual review meeting. In theory, employees know that they need to take responsibility for their careers and professional development and be proactive in soliciting input from their manager, but in reality, many employees feel reluctant to ask for their manager’s time to discuss career hopes and plans. Your employees may be sensitive to the demands on your time and hesitate to fit themselves into your busy schedule. They may be assuming that their development is not a priority for you. As their manager, you need to extend yourself and initiate the conversation.
 
2. Clarify coaching roles and expectations
Don’t assume that everyone knows and understands how the coaching process will work. For example, coaching is not an extension of the performance review. Your role as coach is different than that of supervisor. As a coach, you are offering to provide guidance and support that will help employees clarify their goals, sharpen their knowledge and skills and capitalize on opportunities for their continuing professional growth and development. In the coaching relationship you are offering to be a sounding board, motivator, consultant, facilitator, teacher, counselor, and mentor—whatever combination of roles is most helpful and needed. Everything that is shared by an employee must be held in strictest confidence, unless the employee agrees to have you share it. Well-defined roles, expectations and agreements are essential for building and maintaining trust—the basis of a positive coaching relationship.
 
3. Learn what’s important to the coachee
Coaching works best when it is driven by the coachee. As the manager, you may have some great ideas regarding possible growth opportunities for an employee. Or, you may have some helpful feedback on his/her performance or suggestions for desired behavioral change, but that is not coaching. Coaching answers the questions: What do you want in your career? Where do you see yourself in the future? What do you need to do to achieve your goals? How can I help you get there?
 
4. Build on their strengths
The compelling Gallop research that was presented in the book, First, Break All the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, showed that good managers know that it is easier and more productive to capitalize on an employee’s strengths, interests and talents than to focus on their deficiencies. As a coach, your job is to help the employee discover their strengths and leverage them to achieve their desired results and increase job satisfaction.
 
5. Ask good questions
One of the most essential tools for good coaching is the ability to ask good questions. A powerful question is one that stimulates curiosity, encourages deeper reflection, invites creative solutions and new possibilities and generates energy and forward movement. Generally speaking, powerful productive questions are open-ended and are begun by asking why, how, what, when. It is helpful to prepare for each coaching session by formulating powerful questions and perhaps encouraging the coachee to reflect on the questions before your session.
 
6. Listen well
One of the biggest pitfalls for the manager coach is to believe that they must be ready and able to say all the right things. Certainly, it can be helpful to share your opinions and experiences with the coachee. We all can learn from those who have achieved higher levels of success in their career or who have more experience. But, remember, if you’re the one talking you’re not learning. And, getting back to tip number three, it’s the coach’s job to learn what’s important to the coachee and to discover what they need and want. Practice active listening techniques that convey to the individual that you’ve really heard and understood them and where they’re coming from. Paraphrasing, reflecting the emotional as well as factual content, maintaining good eye contact, eliminating distractions/interruptions, asking probing questions, are all good ways to show your genuine interest and intention to be of service.
 
7. Build forward momentum
Coaching conversations unfold over time. Once you’ve helped the employee articulate his/her goals for the coaching work and a plan for moving forward, it’s important that you continue to check in and support them so they stay on track. Throughout the coaching process, perhaps you can facilitate some professional connections or recommend other resources (books, articles, workshops, conferences, etc.) that may be helpful. You might offer to be a sounding board as they undertake new projects or take on new roles in the organization, or offer tips for navigating the political landscape.

To ensure positive progress, it is often helpful to schedule meetings on an agreed upon basis. In the beginning of the coaching process, you will probably want to meet more frequently, perhaps once a month. Once the coachee is engaged in moving their plan forward, you may only need to meet quarterly or two or three times a year on a formal structured basis. Outside of structured coaching meetings, you can continue to reinforce and support the changes the employee is trying to make by giving them special projects, offering positive and constructive feedback and giving praise and recognition for good work.
 
8. Work with a shadow coach
If the thought of coaching others makes you feel a bit overwhelmed or uneasy, you might want to consider having a professional external coach in your corner who can guide you through the process. This shadow coach would be available as needed to answer questions, help you strategize approaches, and provide coaching tools on a just-in-time basis. By working with a shadow coach, you would not only be supporting your commitment to improve your management effectiveness, but you would also gain deeper appreciation for the coachee experience and the courage it takes to allow others to support the changes we want to make.
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