Coaching: A Core Skill in the Manager’s Toolkit
Becoming a manager requires learning, developing and mastering a whole set of new skills not required when working as an individual contributor within the organization. To lead a team, a manager needs to know when to manage versus when to lead, and the difference between the two. New skills associated with performance management, delegation and employee engagement become critical. These are skills that can be learned, but often not in a short period of time.
One skill often overlooked as managers enhance and evolve their skills is ‘coaching’. Coaching is more than a casual development conversation with staff members. It is a thoughtful, structured, collaborative process involving willingness, commitment and accountability by both the manager (coach) and the employee (coachee).
Side note: Coaching vs. Mentoring
We often hear the terms “coaching” and “mentoring” used interchangeably but they are not the same. The goal of each function is help develop an individual to their full potential. Both are grounded in respect, open, honest communication and depend on having a strong, trusting relationship. However, there are significant differences between the two:
Mentoring tends to be a more formalized relationship whereby an individual is seeking to develop and/or achieve a specific personal, professional or career goal. The relationship is agreed upon by both parties and has clearly defined outcomes. For more information on mentoring, visit the CIP Society's mentoringADVANTAGE website of resources.
Coaching in this context describes a manager who is engaged in helping their employees grow and develop to their full potential relevant to their current role. Coaching is an approach and style of working with an employee to identify hidden talents, build confidence, and expand the employee’s capability. Simply put, coaching is a process that enables learning and development to transpire and performance to improve in the role.
Why Coaching is a Core Skill
Coaching is so important because it offers benefits to the employee, manager and ultimately the organization. Here are some reasons why coaching is beneficial:
- Develops and enhances the skills and capabilities of employees and prepares them for greater challenges and potential career opportunities
- Builds confidence and helps unlock and maximize an employee’s growth potential
- Creates a trusting environment where employees feel empowered, trusted and, as a result, tend to be more engaged and productive
- Helps individuals, who may be stuck in their career, to move forward and reach higher levels of workplace performance
- Helps to retain talent within the organization
- Builds strong teams, i.e. managers capable of building strong teams with deep skills are often more promotable because the technical skills and expertise needed for the department does not reside in them alone
The Coaching Process
Trust is the core foundation and starting point for any coaching initiative. Coaching can be part of an ongoing development process or it can be an intervention based on a specific topic or event. Either way it requires a strong relationship and involves casual, yet focused, conversations. A key element of coaching is asking open questions that generate discussion and independent thinking by the coachee. Example questions include:
- What did you learn?
- What would happen if ….
- How would you like to approach this?
- What do you foresee as the benefits and/or risks of your recommendation?
- How else could you approach the situation?
- How do you define success? What does it look like?
- What obstacles will you have to overcome to complete this assignment?
Unlike performance appraisals or general feedback, coaching is about listening, probing, asking questions, challenging ideas and expanding the coachee’s thought processes. Coaching is essential to developing, challenging, engaging and retaining your weaker performers and your high potential employees. The conversations should adapt to the person and the specific situation.
Rarely are managers taught how to coach before becoming a manager. Coaching is a skill to be learned, developed and mastered. Before you begin coaching your employees, do some research. There are excellent tools, books, and resources to help you get started. Learn what coaching is and how to create a coaching relationship with your employees. Take a course and commit to becoming an excellent coach.
While coaching may not come naturally at first, keep practicing. Assess what is working for you and what you can change. Whatever you do - don’t stop trying. Coaching is one of the greatest assets you will have as a leader to help develop all of your employees to their full potential.
Enhance your professional skills with these courses, offered by the Institute's Professional Development program: