5 Tips to Help Leaders Become Coaches to Their Teams

The most successful leaders tend to be decisive, strategic, innovative, and experts in key domains required of their industry.

However, the best leaders also understand they cannot do it all alone. In particular, we often overlook the ability of a leader to act as a coach to their team members. In fact, developing your team may be the single most important thing a leader does. Yet with the day-to-day pressures of work, coaching is often de-prioritized, as opposed to an elevated and ongoing activity.

To help address this leadership gap, I spend time coaching CEOs and other leaders to help them become more effective coaches to their team members. Below I am sharing 5 tips that you can put to use coaching your team today:

1. Focus and Be Present: The most fundamental mindset to coaching is being present. What does this mean in the context of coaching? It means giving your full and undivided attention to the conversation at hand. It means removing distractions such as cell phones, tablets, and laptops so that you can maintain a laser focus on the individual and conversation. It means pushing away any thoughts that do not have to do with developing the individual you are speaking with. This trait is so important that real coaching cannot occur without it. Being present will allow you to be a better listener, ask insightful questions, and ensure you are focused on the agenda of the person you are coaching. On the other hand, if you are distracted or uninterested, you are communicating to your team member that “you are not important.” For any human being, nothing is worse than opening up about your career, your hopes and your dreams, and finding that someone who is just not interested. But master this skill and you will gain employees that are more interested and engaged and who will want to work even harder for collective goals. As a side benefit, being more present will offer personal benefits such as lower stress. You can also try it at home with your kids, and you will be amazed how much better your interactions are when you truly focus on spending time with your kids and not glancing at work emails, texts, social media updates, and sports scores.

2. Listen to Nuance: Listening is another critical skill of leader coaches. However, listening is more than paying attention during a conversation. It requires a deeper level of listening focused on nuance and the words that are used as well as the tone, emotion, and emphasis added. In addition, it involves an awareness of body language and eye contact in face-to-face conversations. Another skill of a strong listener is a focus on what is NOT being said as that can often yield the greatest truths from a coaching conversation. Listen for topics that are skipped or glossed over as well as a tendency to blame others while not acknowledging one’s role in a situation or project. While most leaders and people in general view themselves as strong listeners, in reality, most people listen at 25% efficiency. Try using the tips above and see if that helps improve not only your focus during conversations but also the level of insight gained during interactions with your team.

3. Ask Powerful Questions: Another skill that leaders can apply is to ask powerful questions of their team members. A powerful question delivered at the right time is a potent tool to create awareness to new opportunities, perspectives, and solutions to barriers both organizationally and internally. While leaders often ask many questions, many of them are narrowly focused on status updates and “what do you think?” type loaded questions which may or may not be an authentic request made by leaders.  To level-up the questions you ask, try asking open questions in place of “closed questions” (yes or no type questions). On the other hand, open questions allow space for the respondent to think and add their true perspective. For example, instead of asking a closed question such as “Will the plan you presented achieve the target IRR for new projects?” try asking, “What assumptions have you made in your plan that provide risk to the target IRR?” Open questions provide a way to tease out assumptions and biases while creating awareness to new opportunities and alternatives.

4. Be Curious: Another trait of successful leader coaches is curiosity. Being curious goes beyond asking powerful questions to actually being curious enough to want another person’s perspective. To do so, you need to be interested in the discussion and also humble enough to not assume you know the answer. Given the pace of modern business, it may seem unrealistic to be curious as that would imply slowing down.  Rather, being curious requires suspending judgment and pausing before you jump to your own conclusion. Consider taking a step back and exploring another point of view. Being truly curious will foster higher levels of engagement with your team and yield unexpected breakthroughs.

5. Acknowledge Progress: The act of acknowledgement is another tactic employed by leader coaches to support the ongoing development of their teams. Acknowledging goes beyond lauding progress on key initiatives to also acknowledge the difficulty of a situation at hand. To do so, it’s critical to show empathy to your team member and the challenges and barriers they face. It sounds simple, but it’s an incredibly powerful tool to support your team members and to give them the confidence they need to proceed. This is an especially powerful tool to support your team members as they adopt new behaviors and leadership competencies that don’t come naturally.

What are the tools and habits that you employ to be a coach to your team? Please share them in the comments below.