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Leading like a coach – turning your team into leaders

June 28, 2016 by Jackie Lauer

Just like leading, coaching is about helping people find their own way. As a leader, your most important role is to remove the barriers that get in your team’s way. Leading like a coach involves asking questions and drawing out facts to help people recognize their obstacles and understand how to overcome them on their own.

This is the first step in building others up to be great leaders.

The opposite approach is to direct people on the action to take. This makes it virtually impossible for your team to think for themselves, creating codependency. Instead of enjoying a high-functioning team of independent problem solvers, you’ll be faced with a group of individuals who can’t and won’t make a decision without you.

A team that doesn’t feel confident to make decisions becomes disengaged. Their productivity plummets and projects come to a complete standstill.

Coaching builds leaders

To lead effectively as a coach, you need trust. Generally, people need to feel comfortable to be open and vulnerable. They need to trust before they can feel heard. However, in some cases, they will need to feel heard before they can trust. No one said leading was easy.

Leading as a coach is all about communication. Not guessing and assuming but taking the time to learn what is truly driving an action or inaction. If you see an employee struggling with a decision, the first step is to clear out your own assumptions by separating fact from fiction.

Talk about what you’re observing and share your interpretation of what’s going on and ask if you’re right. Being open and ok about being wrong shows that you are comfortable with being vulnerable. That’s a good step for creating trust.

The conversation can go something like this:

“I can see that you’re really stuck on deciding which candidate to hire. I’m guessing that there are a couple of strong candidates, and it isn’t an easy decision. Am I right?”

At this point, listen to the whole story. Resist the urge to jump in impatiently and tell them that their struggles are wrong. Now is the time to dig deeper by asking clarifying questions. Listen with genuine curiosity.

  • Tune in to their answers and look for key words that reveal if they are acting on assumption or fact.
  • Point out what you’re hearing and ask them to clarify.
  • Repeat their words back to them so they can hear how it sounds. Check out your understanding to keep on the same page.
  • Challenge them about their own assumptions and whether it’s getting in their way.

Talking about where they are struggling will help them see their barriers they may be putting in their own way of making a decision. They may realize that they are not operating with all the information they needed, but didn’t have the experience to know what to ask.

The next time they are faced with a difficult decision, they will have a better understanding of how to ask questions and not operate on assumption. They will turn to you for guidance instead of direction. You are modeling the behaviour you need to see from them.

It’s critical that you make it very clear what decisions they can make on their own and where they need your approval. Confidence is fantastic, but everyone needs to know the exact types of decisions they are allowed to make.

When you coach instead of direct, you build a team that is confident and able to come up with solutions. A team that acts instead of dithering. As a result, you won’t be stuck doing all the work.

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