Organizations are increasingly teaching leaders to coach their subordinates (and sometimes each other). I want to believe that this isn’t a passing fad, because there are good reasons for leaders to learn how to coach others in the workplace.
To be clear, the real definition of coaching has little to do with what many think it is. It isn’t feedback, telling people what to do, letting them know what you think of them, solving their problems for them, or a multitude of other ways to communicate.
Coaching is grounded in a leader’s ability to let go of having all the answers, as well as as ability to listen deeply and ask insightful questions to guide someone to find their own solutions to challenges (you can read more about what coaching is here). For many leaders, it’s a skill that requires training, practice and dedication.
The International Coach Federation defines coaching as “Partnering with someone in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” How could you not want that for your employees?
Partnering is a key word in the definition that indicates you act as an “equal” when you coach someone, rather than their superior. So what might happen when you coach people? They gain:
Clarity of thought. As you use the key skills of focused listening, asking, and letting go of your own need to control the outcomes of situations your employees bring to you, a person being coached is able to think better, perhaps more deeply, and with more clarity about the situation.
Learning in real time. If you’ve ever had the experience of expressing your thoughts out loud and coming to a conclusion you wouldn’t have come to in spinning your thoughts alone, you understand what it means to think out loud and learn as you speak.
The ability to act with improved intention. Because you are gently allowing them to be heard and to find their way through a challenge, as they do so, they can conclude with actions that are better than they might have without you as their coach.
Opportunity to own their actions. This is an important benefit to you and your organization. The people you coach will become responsible for themselves and less reliant on you to feed them the solutions to their challenges. This provides them fuel for continued development and frees you up to do the important stuff you must do as they become more engaged and self-sufficient.
Learn to coach people and you can simultaneously become a better leader. The skill of coaching, for many leaders requires a shift in thinking that others are whole, smart and totally capable of self-development and autonomy. This frees them from being chained to your daily (or hourly) management. It asks a little more time from you to slow down and listen; yet the long-term benefits to you, your employees, and organization have the potential to be significant.
So why wouldn’t you coach others?
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 12 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive consulting firm.