One the most important responsibilities of any leader is to bring out the best in each team member. To do so, you have to foster and build a coaching environment within the organization and within your team. By focusing on developing others, you encourage team members to feel more engaged about their careers, working relationships, and performance. Ultimately, they will feel empowered and deliver results with confidence and competence.
In many work environments, daily demands force leaders to focus on products and processes rather than on people. Thus, “fitting in” coaching-and-development time can seem overwhelming. If this describes your work setting, it’s even more important that you revise your priorities so you don’t end up with disengaged, unproductive team members. But how do you get started? Here are three tactics to creating a coaching environment that empowers your team:
1. Believe in the Value of Coaching
If time is keeping you from having meaningful coaching conversations, then rethink coaching as a ‘must have’ component of your culture rather than a ‘nice to have’ component. Simply put, employee development is essential for retaining talent, building skills, and driving business results. Remember to take advantage of coachable moments, when an individual is open to taking in new information that helps shift knowledge and behavior in the desired direction.
2. Focus on Relationships
Many leaders tend to develop management styles based on their own preferences. If it works for them, why wouldn’t it work for the team, right? In reality, every employee’s motivators are different and are just as powerful in driving behavior as those of the leader. As a leader interested in empowering team members, it’s important to be flexible in recognizing different styles and adapting your style to the needs and style of the people you are leading. Take time to put yourself in their shoes and understand their perspective and experiences. Do they prefer a direct approach from you, or do they need time to process and draw their own conclusions? A relationship built on trust and open communication will foster awareness and enable you to gauge the right approach to take as a coach.
3. Be Curious
While no one can flip a switch and instantly master the art of leadership, there is one key leadership skill we all already possess: the ability to ask questions. As an empowering leader, start by asking lots of questions, and make sure they’re open-ended questions that encourage team members to generate ideas and solutions on their own. Their answers to your questions will, in turn, guide your next questions, until you find out if they have the information and tools they need. Be curious about what kinds of problems they are facing, what the gaps and opportunities are, and what needs to be done better or differently.
Questions to get you started
Two-way, meaningful communication is critical to effective coaching and development. Empowerment includes getting team members actively involved in their own development. If we help them create a solution, then they are more apt to own it and act on it. With that in mind, be sure to incorporate these questions into your next coaching sessions:
1. What is the outcome you are looking to achieve here?
This is a great question to get the conversation started, so you can focus on what success looks like for the other person. Where are they now compared to where they need to be and what will they need to do differently to get there? Your goal is to ask the questions to help set expectations for your coaching conversation, so you can help your team member focus in on the result they are looking to achieve. Asking these questions will help support development of problem solving and decision making skills, while challenging people to bring out their best.
2. How can I best support you?
Learn what you can do to remove obstacles. This is the most common step for leaders to miss and the most critical step for enabling team members to move forward faster than they ever have before. Clarify what action is needed to clear any barriers and what you can do to assist. If some employees feel comfortable with frequent check-ins to track progress and discuss project status, then perhaps a sense of structure is important to them. Others might be more motivated by autonomy. The objective is to learn what resources and adaptations they require to be productive.
Coaching is ongoing
“Coaching and development” isn’t a check box on an HR form. You have to provide development that matters. To that end, coaching is not a one-time event; behavior changes take time, practice, and reinforcement. Some ideas to consider:
- Align your development efforts to the business strategy. If you want people to apply learning, put it into a real-world business context. A study by the Corporate Leadership Counsel found that on-the-job training has three times more impact on employee performance than classroom training.
- Employees have unique strengths, developmental opportunities, and motivators, so it makes sense that they will need specific and customized coaching.
- Encourage peer-to-peer learning so participants can practice and reinforce what they learn and have the opportunity to share best practices. In turn, new knowledge will cascade to the rest of the organization.
Karen Triola is an Organizational Development Consultant with Caliper, an employee-assessment and talent-development firm located in Princeton, New Jersey. She has extensive experience in leadership development, team building, and coaching.
Hear more from Karen at the PWH Leadership Summit!