8 Ways the Best Leaders Coach Their Teams

the best leaders coach

Aside from accountability, I think coaching may be one of the most misunderstood words in the leadership lexicon.

(Let’s be real. It’s been hijacked and given a negative connotation by some bosses out there who’ve decided to hide behind the word in order to do any number of things to people up to and including emotionally abusing them. You’ve seen them and I’ve seen them. That’s cowardly and that’s a shame. That’s also not really coaching.)

Like I said though, coaching is often used in different ways. Sometimes it’s used interchangeably with other words, and other times it’s just used with no discernible or distinct meaning (and by gosh, words mean things).

At the same time, both our gut and research tell us that coaching is a key component of successful teams and organizations, and as such it should be woven into our organizational culture. With that in mind, let’s think this through. And keep in mind as we go that these should be used in concert, meaning that you’ll use each of these at different points and in combination with each other.

The Best Leaders Coach by Setting the Stage

What I mean by “setting the stage” is getting folks to a point where they understand that they might actually want or even — gasp — need coaching or development. This will look different from person to person.

Some people know they need real-deal development if they’re to reach their potential and are eager to get started. Others need to be jolted out of a sense of complacency. Others may need a bit of a reality check — they might need to be shown that they’re not quite as amazing as they may have led themselves to believe they are.

Whatever the case is, until someone actually sees their need for development, coaching efforts are largely in vain because there won’t be any real sense of urgency around them.

The Best Leaders Coach by Gaining Awareness and Insight

This is an ongoing process for both the coach and the other person. As a leader and coach, you’re wanting to gain insight into where the person is right now and where they’re wanting to go, sure; but you’re also wanting to help the other person develop a greater level of self-awareness.

One of my favorite tools for gaining awareness and insight is questions. You see, we want folks to self-discover things if at all possible. Questions are a very effective tool for this (see Socrates), and can be very powerful. Questions can be used to affirm things, and they can also be used to drive home important things that the other person needs to ponder more deeply.

Questions are also fantastic for pointing out gaps. What I mean by gaps (or you could even think of them as inconsistencies perhaps) is stuff like helping folks see the difference between their current actual performance and how they perceive their performance, and further still, their desired performance. Another example might be the difference between what they intended with their words or actions and what the actual impact of those words or actions was.

The Best Leaders Coach by Challenging

This is one that folks who are into “leadership” just to be liked simply won’t do, and that’s a shame, because it’s what great leaders do without exception. Think about it — think about the greatest coaches in any sport. When it comes down to it, it isn’t about them being adored, or loved, or worshipped, or anything like that. They challenge people. That means it won’t always feel like rainbows and unicorns when you’re being coached.

Any former high school and/or college athletes out there? Yeah. You remember all those practices. All the running. And conditioning. And the strength training. And all the…ahempleasant chats you’d receive from your coach during those gut-check conditioning sessions. I don’t know about yours, but I don’t recall mine whispering sweet affirmations into my ear during wind sprints.

Great leaders help people grow in real, concrete, and tangible ways. Anything less isn’t coaching. The best leaders challenge at least a few different things:

  • Assumptions. Everyone — yes, everyone — has assumptions that they bring with them into work, leadership, and every situation; and there’s nothing wrong with that. What’s important is that we learn how to see those things in ourselves. Great leaders and coaches help people recognize those things, and will challenge people to think critically about their assumptions.
  • Thinking. It’s crucial that people think about thinking, especially if they want to lead. So when we coach people, we want to encourage them to think about how they’re thinking. Is it logical? Coherent? Fair? Would it bother them if others employed a similar mindset? Would a team function well if all of its members thought the same way? Does it jive with their stated philosophy of life and/or leadership (assuming you’ve discussed this with them)?
  • Actions. Do their actions seem consistent with how they’ve described themselves? I think one of the most helpful things leaders can do is help folks press into the “why” behind their actions and attitudes. Which leads us to…
  • Motives. Leaders/coaches help people do gut checks related to their motives. As a great philosopher of old once said, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”

The Best Leaders Coach by Connecting Work to Purpose

It’s critical that people understand the broader context and purpose of their work, and that they understand how and to whom it’s meaningful. Great leaders know this, and help people make these connections.

The Best Leaders Coach by Listening

I have to be careful here, because I could (ironically) ramble about this one for a good while, but for more about how huge listening is, check out this post. The best leaders will use listening as an indispensable tool in their development arsenal.

The Best Leaders Coach by Encouraging

Great leaders understand that as humans, we all have down times. Some of us have extended down times. There’s not a human on the planet that doesn’t need encouragement from others. Great coaches and leaders recognize this and are there to offer sincere (I repeat — sincere) encouragement.

The Best Leaders Coach by Motivating

This may seem obvious, but how often do you remember actually feeling motivated by “coaching” you received? The best leaders motivate people to action. They motivate people to change. They motivate people to grow. They motivate people to overcome fear.

Motivation takes work because no two people are motivated in exactly the same way. So it’s a matter of learning about your team (or the person or people you’re coaching) and uncovering what motivates them.

The Best Leaders Coach toward Growth and Results

Coaching and developing people is ultimately about you (the leader) serving them in such a way that they grow and achieve things, yes? So if that’s not really happening, you’ve got to ask yourself if what’s happening can actually be called coaching or developing. Coaching and development, if done well, and if done with a mind toward actually serving the ones being developed, result in meaningful growth and development in the one being coached. The sad truth is that sometimes it can be tempting to rally followers around ourselves for the feeling it gives us. That, sadly, isn’t about leadership or service or coaching or development. That’s about feeding a need we have deep down inside for our ego to be stroked.

The bottom line…

…is that coaching and development, when conceptualized as service to others, will look and feel very different from when it’s conceptualized as something that is more about us. The Mojo Company specializes in coaching for both executives and young professionalsclick here for more info!

4 thoughts on “8 Ways the Best Leaders Coach Their Teams

  • Great Insights that helps to match the best learning at the right time for each leader, whether it’s leading Individual, leading others, leading Supervisors, leading team or leading the Company.

  • Lovely post Matt. You’ve enlisted many points which differentiates leaders from managers when it comes to engaging with their subordinates.

    Getting people to understand why they need coaching like walking a tight rope. Get a little carried away and the other person can get offended. That’s why, as you rightly pointed out, the best leaders make people aware of the need for coaching by asking open-ended questions. It’s also important to ensure that the training programs address the idiosyncrasies of each person to make her/him more capable in future.

    Will return to this blog for more 🙂

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