Enlightening Principles, Skills and Tools
How do coach-like leaders motivate, empower and inspire their people through coaching? Before learning or using particular skills, coach-like leaders shall embrace the coaching mindset and spirit, which is the core and foundation of coaching-style leadership.
I have summarized the following 7 enlightening principles of coaching-style leadership based on the work of other coaches and my own years of experience in corporate management and leadership coaching.
7 enlightening principles (coaching mindset and spirit)
People have great potential; the belief in it is the key to unlock it.
To tell denies or negates another’s intelligence, to ask honors it. (-John Whitmore)
People are not their behaviors; accept the person before trying to change the behavior.
Use influence rather than position; it’s the far more lasting way to lead.
An organization outshines not in control of everything, but in the capacity of supporting its people to learn from whatever happens.
Leaders are not those who hold the power in hand, but those who use the power in their hand to empower others.
Genuine leaders make decisions based on how they can grow their people, which is also the way they grow the organization and themselves.
9 Key Coaching Skills and Tools
With the coaching mindset and spirit, coach-like leaders use the following coaching skills and tools to bring the best out of people, team and organization.
Goal setting and clarifying
The ability to elicit clear, well-defined and emotionally engaging goals from a person is one of the most important skills for a coach-like leader to possess.
On the formal side, a leader needs to know how and when to introduce goal-setting into the coaching process, and will usually be familiar with models such as SMART goals. On the informal side, a coach will typically have the habit of thinking and asking questions from a goal-focused mindset, for example ‘What would you like to see from the team at the end of the year? What difference do you want to make in this position?’The conversation with a coach-like leader can begin with a problem, but as quickly as possible the leader will support people to work on what the solution will look like. Coaching then focuses on how to reach that solution. This can take a bit of getting used to – our habitual tendency is to spend a lot of time analyzing problems to work out what caused them and who was to blame. A coach-like leader does not assume this is necessary – often all you need to do is clearly define what you want to happen differently in future and work towards that.
Active listening is to be genuinely interested in and fully attentive to the person. For the person being coached, this can be a powerful experience – partly because it’s so rare. Being the focus of attention in this way can make a refreshing change – it also makes it clear that the person will be expected to deliver on the commitments he or she makes during the conversation.A leader with good listening is attentive to not only what people say with their words and voice, but also what they ‘tell’ with their body, tone and energy. The ‘3F listening’ below is what can be listened for in order to have in-depth understanding and then influential communication.
The key and most difficult part is putting aside your own concerns, ideas and judgment while you listen. This doesn’t mean you cannot have your own ideas or judgment, but means to ‘put them in a box’ for a while and don’t have them hinder you in listening for the real – genuine listening happens when you are fully present with the person with your mind, body and heart. It can be challenging for those managers who are quick in judging and responding, but for them this is the skill that really worth developing.
Coach-like leaders differentiate themselves in their preference and approach of asking powerful questions, rather than giving out answers. At the heart of coaching is a willingness to put aside one’s own ideas about the ‘best/right/obvious way’ to do something, and to ask questions to elicit someone else’s ideas about how to approach it.This can be difficult for those leaders who have a lot of expertise in the area in which they are coaching – the temptation to tell someone how to do it or even do it yourself can be irresistible. However, the ability to act as a facilitator rather than a performer or instructor is one of the hallmarks of an outstanding leader. Questions support people to focus attention, elicit new ideas and foster commitment. There is a huge difference between doing something because someone has told you to or suggested it, and doing something that you have come up yourself. Even if a person comes up with the same idea the leader had in mind, the fact that he has thought it through himself means he will have a much greater sense of ownership and commitment when putting into practice.
Empathy is the ability to accurately put yourself “in someone else’s shoes” – to understand their situation, perceptions and feelings from their point of view – and to be able to communicate that understanding back to the other person.That kind of understanding builds rapport and that sense of rapport is what allows people to feel connected to each other. For leaders, empathizing contributes towards accurate understanding of people, their concerns, perceptions and insights.
Generally, here are three ways to develop empathy:
- Experience and respect the major differences among people.
- Learn to identify your own feelings.
- Regularly ask people for their perspectives and feelings regarding a situation.
Giving effective feedback
The key to delivering effective coaching feedback is that it is observational and non-judgmental. If you provide clear, specific feedback about the person’s actions and their consequences, then the chances are the person will be perfectly capable of evaluating his performance for himself.Giving ‘negative or constructive feedback’ is often a delicate process, but if you have a track record of giving open and honest feedback to someone, the negative or constructive feedback becomes far more acceptable. Another two guidelines of giving feedbacks are:
- Appreciate the person – deliver feedback on specific behavior.
- Avoid blame, make request. Faced with blame, all we can do is defend ourselves. Faced with a request, we have the options of accepting, rejecting or negotiating. One keep us stuck, the other may get us unstuck.
For example, a coach-like leader would be unlikely to say, “You didn’t handle that meeting very well” – this vague judgement could immediately put the person on the defensive. Instead, the leader might ask “What did you see on people’s faces when you announced the new rules in the meeting this afternoon?” – Which draws attention to awareness and consequences, and invites reflection on possible improvement in future.
Many people associate coaching with supporting, which clearly it is. At the same time if the coaching never rocks the boat it just becomes another nice chat. Playing back contradictions is a great way of constructively challenging. For example: “I hear that you want to get your priority work done by this week, but at the same time you seem to be resisting the assignments. How do you look at it? What is your perspective?”Genuine leaders provide their followers with the right balance of support and challenge to motivate them to outperform and be the best they can be.
A conversation which is both supportive and challenging should be one in which all parties are fully engaged. Individuals who are challenged but feel supported at the same time will be more committed to achieve. Challenging in a supportive way gives the individual confidence that you have faith in their abilities and motivates them to be their best.
Perspective is a point of view, and the secret is – it is people’s perspective that determines their experience of life, not the circumstances.A great value of coaching is to support others to explore different perspectives, so that they can choose those that are most useful for them. This is one of the reasons why people feel re-connected with resources and possibilities to move forward after being coached.Coach-like leaders help people see things positively and strategically and subsequently come to different conclusions. Their ability in reframing perspectives also support people come to the state that impossible things may now be possible to them. Reframing isn’t about pretending that everything is wonderful. Instead, it provides more and varied ways for people to consider and to find the best solutions that work for them. Here are some useful reframing questions as reference:How would you deal with it if you were the Managing Director / customer / etc.?
- What other perspectives can you take now that could be helpful?
- What if the problem is not the task, but the way people feel about the task?
- What might be useful about this experience?
- If you were an observer watching the event/discussion, what would you notice?
- If you can decide, what kind of job do you want to do? How about after 5 years?
- What needs to happen before you can do it? What are you waiting for?
Acknowledgement is not praise or commendation – it refers to recognizing a reality. It shows your recognition of people’s contributions and strengths. Broadly speaking there are acknowledgement of existence, actions, results and growth. For example: You have achieved your first goal within the time limit. (existence) You took extra efforts to prepare the report for the meeting under time pressure. (action )The customer said they were satisfied with our report and I was also glad. (result) Last week you were concerned with the new assignment not knowing how to do it. This week you already got a good start with positive feedback from the team. (growth) Acknowledgment serves a double purpose. On the one hand, it helps the people. They get the recognition they need, and it boosts their self-confidence and motivation. For leaders on the other hand, using acknowledgments and seeing people’s reactions to them provides valuable feedback.
The art of using acknowledgments in coaching might seem simple but its key lies in using it at the right intensity and at the right time. It takes time and practice. To acknowledge people with impact, leaders need to listen and observe as much as possible.
Accountability is important for putting words into results; to “do what you say and say what you mean”. It determines whether the discussed is being done or just being said.It has been suggested that people have a 95% chance of achieving an objective when they have accountability in place. When someone gives a commitment to doing something and they know that they will be held to account, it drives them forward.Here is a “simple” six step method to hold people accountable:
S = Set Expectations
I = Invite Commitment
M = Measure Progress
P = Provide Feedback
L = Link to Consequences
E = Evaluate Effectiveness
Coach-like leaders demonstrate accountability in themselves first. They also use every possible chance to motivate and empower people and hold them accountable. In doing so, they raise the engagement, commitment and momentum in the organization.There are other skills such as building trust and rapport, visualization and using metaphor. However, skills are not the core of coaching. They are like the “branches” of a tree, which can only be strong when they have the solid “root” of coaching mindset and spirit.
As coaching usually takes place in conversations, a model or structure can help both parties have focused and productive coaching dialogues, especially for formal coaching sessions.
There are a variety of coaching models that offer different structures and contents to facilitate balanced coaching conversations. Extended from the classic GROW model, I have developed the GROWTH Coaching Model which is very simple and effective, and with long term perspective embedded in it.
The GROWTH model offers en effective framework supporting both parties in coaching sessions to see the wood for the trees and keep the conversation on track. The simple questions in it provide an example for leaders to generate other powerful questions relevant to the specific situations.
Note that coaching conversations can begin at any point and journey through any direction. A model is like a compass for orientation rather than a rigid sequence of steps to be followed. It is usually a good idea to follow the other person’s lead initially by asking a few questions to elicit more details, and then move onto the other steps.
As a matter of fact, the experienced coach-like leaders do not limit themselves with a certain tool or structure. When they embrace the coaching spirit, and coach with their mind, energy and heart, they could be very creative, freestyle, deeply connected with others and evoking transformational growth in others.