Improving Your Coaching Skills

By: Jaya Koilpillai Bohlmann, M.A., APR
Jun. 1, 2020
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As I was nervously heading to a new job — the first in which I had a team reporting to me — I had my mother on the phone and asked her for some advice. She thought for a moment and said, “Well, don’t be too bossy.” 

“But,” I bristled, “I’m their boss! Why wouldn’t I be bossy?” 

My mother was onto something, and now, I know she’s right: No matter what title or role you hold, being bossy isn’t what your employees respond to best.  

Today’s managers are coaches. Coaching is the management style best suited to connecting with employees, and we all know that an engaged workforce is critical to productivity and a positive work environment.

Here’s how you can start building coaching skills:

Maintain trust and intimacy.

Coaches create a safe, supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust. This includes demonstrating genuine concern for employees’ well-being at work — the quality of their daily experiences and their professional future at this job or their next. This also includes modeling personal and professional integrity, honesty and sincerity.

Trustworthy managers establish clear agreements with their employees and keep their promises.  Co-create learning or performance objectives with your employee, track these with them and keep your word about promotions, days off, and new projects.

They also show respect for diversity among their employees’ perceptions, learning styles and personalities. Seek those who have different backgrounds and who might disagree with you. This balance can provide richness that enhances creativity and a sense of community.

Be present with employees.

Fully present managers know their employees well, and can choose effective interaction and motivation methods for each situation. This could mean using humor, empathy or maintaining space for different employees. These managers are confident with their emotions and can manage them and those of their staff. 

Communicate effectively.

Effective managers know that great performance is achieved from frequent, meaningful conversations with employees. Managers must understand what their employees are communicating — in context with the employees’ goals, needs and personalities.

Coaches practice active listening, focusing completely on what your employee is saying verbally and nonverbally. This involves summarizing, paraphrasing and mirroring to your employee what they have just told you as well as asking open-ended questions that create greater clarity or new learning.

Facilitate learning and results.

Learning, growing and exploring our capacities at work are top desires of employees. Managers who can foster these are able to gather and evaluate many diverse types of learning opportunities for their employees, make sure their employees are engaged, and offer productive solutions to their organizations. 

Learning opportunities can be formal (workplace training, professional association conferences and seminars) or informal (stretch assignments, mentoring, on-the-job training, temporary job switching). Find methods and opportunities best suited for each employee. 

Design, inspire and measure.

Effective managers do more than hand opportunities to their employees — they empower them to create their own with freedom to solve problems and make decisions on their own. These could be challenging assignments that allow employees to demonstrate, practice and deepen learning as well as contribute to their organizations in ways that are meaningful to them.

Sometimes providing these opportunities is risky for the manager, whose reputation, budget and other assets could be at stake. Managers should craft thoughtful opportunities that are aligned with organizational goals while also promoting active experimentation and self-discovery. Together, these are important to employee well-being and organizational success. 

photo credit: shutterstock