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  • Writer's pictureJill Hauwiller


For some, coaching may bring back memories of standing at the plate in Little League or running laps on a track in high school or college with someone on the sidelines shouting instructions, feedback or encouragement. You may be wondering how that experience translates to the office and asking, “Why would I want to bring a coaching culture to work?”

Twenty-first century leadership requires managers to bring something different to the table. Leadership is not, and has never really been, about having all the answers. Instead, leadership requires emotional intelligence. Self-awareness, empathy and stress management are a few of the emotional intelligence skills that leaders as coaches develop and display. Depending on your experience as a leader, you may be most familiar and comfortable with coaching for performance improvement — that coaching is a technique you use when something is going wrong. But what if you flipped that idea around and used coaching as a technique to foster development and growth for your employees?

Being a manager as a coach requires a different mindset. It frees managers from solving everyone’s problems— and that’s a pretty great feeling for most managers. In a rapidly changing business environment, tapping into the wisdom and knowledge of the team is powerful and engaging for everyone. Similar to a mentoring relationship, both the leader and the employee can experience tremendous benefits during coaching.

Organizations that operate with a coaching culture tend to have empowered employees who feel an authentic connection to their work, leader and organization. Empowered employees are engaged employees, and engaged employees are more likely to stay with an organization to build their career. According to a global survey by the International Coach Federation (of which I am a member), “80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence, and over 70% benefit from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills. And 86% of companies report that they recouped their investment on coaching and more.”

Easy Ways To Get Started

Sometimes the quickest way to get started is to adapt one’s own behaviors. Managers who want to build a coaching culture can start with one simple change: Ask better questions. What’s a better question? Open-ended questions, rather than yes or no questions, give the employee the space to share their thinking or concerns. Aim for questions that start with “what,” “why” or “how.” Or turn to the quintessential coaching question “and what else?” to help the conversation unfold. What is presented at the beginning is rarely the whole story.

A book club is another way to build a coaching culture at your organization. It can be formal or informal, and membership in the book club may depend on your organizational culture. A successful company book club has regularly scheduled gatherings, takes a structured approach to discussing the reading and actively works to answer “How could this be applied here?” There are many great coaching books to start with. Here are a few: The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More and Change the Way You Lead Forever, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter and Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

If your organization is ready to invest in leadership transformation to build a coaching culture, external coaches can help bridge the skill or time gap. Finding a cadre of coaches that you can draw from and use on an ongoing basis can increase the effectiveness of the coaching engagement. These coaches will learn your organization’s culture, industry, leadership style and common challenges. Because coach-employee fit is also important to a successful coaching experience, it is best when the employee receiving coaching has a say in coach selection.

Similarly, peer coaching can help a group of employees develop together. Peer coaching typically involves the participants working on a personal/professional challenge or a challenge facing the organization. It is an opportunity for the group to build strong relationships across the organization and to develop essential leadership and emotional intelligence skills, including self-awareness, authentic expression and courage to act. During peer coaching, employees also have the opportunity to sharpen their coaching skills and learn from each other. The key to success for a peer coaching group is identifying the right problem for the team to work on.

In the end, all effective coaching comes back to the idea that the person with the problem is the expert on the problem. Book clubs, peer groups and executive coaches can provide support and tools to encourage, develop skills and build confidence. But just like the kid up to bat in Little League, the power to hit the home run is in the employee’s hands.

*This article first appeared on Forbes.


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