So often when I am running a coaching skills workshop, a manager will say to me: “I don’t have time to coach. Using a coaching approach takes longer and we are all so time pressured”. I empathise with them. Our working world becomes increasingly pressured and in my own coaching practice I see managing this pressure as a regular topic.
However, by not using a coaching approach we are also not solving the pressure problem. If we don’t focus on helping employees to learn to solve their own problems, and if we let opportunities to help them be independent and capable individuals go by, then the questions, advice-seeking and requests for help in problem-solving will come back to us as managers, keeping us in a circle of busyness.
So what happens if we take a different approach? See a coaching approach as a mindset shift rather than something extra to do. Taking a mindset shift is not something extra in the long run, although in the short term we might have to notice our own tendencies.
There are two main shifts we can make to help become coaching managers.
More asking, less telling
Firstly, we can simply choose to move from ‘tell’ to ‘ask’. In their research Losada and Heaphy (2004) found that teams which had a balance of telling vs. asking performed better than teams who took a more telling approach. Note the balance between telling and asking - this is not to say that managers should move completely to ask. When someone asks us a question at work, simply holding a habit of mind to ask first, before telling, we are already employing a coaching approach. To do this will simply involve noticing our inclination to ‘tell’. To see telling as quicker.
For example, we talk about “corridor coaching”
A colleague: “I don’t know what to do about this new client.”
Manager: “What do you think you could do?”
Secondly, we can change the way we think about our employees. In her book “Mindset”, Carol Dweck (2006) describes what she calls Growth Mindset as the belief that our success is based on hard work and learning – the more effort we invest, the more we will succeed. For example, this goes together with the belief that intelligence can be developed. Another type of mindset is Fixed Mindset, the belief that no matter how hard you work, some things cannot be learned, and so there’s no point trying.
To use a coaching approach as a manager means to see your employees as capable individuals, whose ability to learn is even greater than what they believe for themselves. It means making a perspective shift, see questions not as problems that need to be solved, but as opportunities to help someone grow and develop.
This is beneficial not only to the individual, but also to the team and the organisation. People who are learning and growing will be able to contribute more to the organisation's performance. One of the characteristics of the “Learning Organisation” (Peter Senge, 1990) is continuous individual and team self-improvement. Especially today, to stay competitive in business means to foster innovation and continuously transform.
Managers have a responsibility to help their team develop and grow at work – and a coaching approach is an essential ingredient in that journey.
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