As if the job of managing people in the workplace isn’t difficult enough, add in the recurring need to coach them through challenges and issues.
The skill of coaching others is not one that comes naturally to most of us; in fact, during my experience coaching within organizations, I’ve found leaders who are downright plagued by the idea of coaching! Here are a few typical comments I’ve heard:
- “I’m uncomfortable coaching others. I don’t know what to say.”
- “What kind of questions should I ask?”
- “How should I get a coaching conversation started?”
- “I always want to solve the problem right away.”
Although the idea of adding coaching to your leadership skill set may seem daunting, it’s a competence most leaders can learn and master. The art of coaching involves the use of the following tools:
- Active listening: listening with the intent of learning more
- Asking open-ended questions to help uncover the issue
- Starting questions with words or phrases such as how, when, if, what, tell me more, or what else
- Being mindful that coaching is about leading the coachee to their own conclusions, not giving them answers
- Getting curious
- Honoring personal intuition
The last tool, personal intuition, is a powerful coaching skill but you must nurture it to keep it at peak efficiency. It is similar to flexing and strengthening a muscle – when it is underused, it is hard to access maximum performance.
Years ago, as my coaching abilities began to grow, I became aware of my intuitive skills. I started to experiment with sharing intuitive thoughts with clients during coaching sessions. During my coaching training, this was known as throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if it would stick. When I would experience an intuitive thought or nudge about what might be going on with a client, I would say something like “I have a thought about this. Would it be okay if I share it with you?” Most of my intuitive pings had to do with people stepping into a new leadership role, feeling fearful, lacking confidence, or being in denial. After I would express my thought, clients would often say “How did you know that about me?”
The concept of tapping into your intuition may seem simple, but for me, it was powerful. It gave me joy to know that my gut reactions could change the coaching conversation by uncovering vulnerabilities or blind spots. I believe utilizing personal intuition can be a valuable asset for coaching in the workplace setting.
Imagine that as you listen to your coachee, you sense that something is unsaid. It’s as if you can hear a note that is out of tune. You might say “Something doesn’t sound quite right here. Help me out if I’m getting this wrong, but it feels like you may be holding back something important. What’s your sense of this?” (You are trying to see if the spaghetti sticks!)
The person you are helping may be holding something back intentionally or they may not realize they are holding back. That’s why it’s important to check in, get curious, and ask the question.
- I have a sense…
- May I tell you about a gut feeling I have?
- I have a hunch that…
- See how this lands with you.
- My intuition tells me…
- Can I check something out with you?
- I am curious about…
Curiosity is essential for effective coaching. In her book Dare To Lead, Brené Brown introduces the concept of the knower in all of us and contrasts it with the concept of curiosity:
“The knower in us (our ego) races to beat everyone with an answer that may or may not address the real issues, or thinks: I don’t want to talk about this because I’m not sure how it’s going to go or how people are going to react. I might not say the right thing or have the right answers.
“Curiosity says, No worries. I love a wild ride. I’m up for wherever this goes. And I’m in for however long it takes to get to the heart of the problem. I don’t have to know the answers or say the right thing, I just have to keep listening and keep questioning.”
When coaching others, the skills of listening, questioning, and paying attention to intuitive thoughts are key to a successful outcome. Achieving mastery of these skills is worth the practice it takes.
Leaders who are great coaches are catalysts for positive change in others. They are courageous because they know how important it is to say what others cannot.
About the author
Patricia Sauer is a coaching solutions partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies Coaching Services team. Since 2000, Blanchard’s 150 coaches have worked with over 14,500 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. To learn more, visit www.kenblanchard.com.
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