Do managers really need coaching skills? Or are they just a “nice to have”?

Before answering, I’d like to talk briefly about what coaching is. If you’re already very familiar with coaching, please bear with me. My experience in training courses is that not everyone means the same thing by the word coaching.

So what exactly is coaching?

Coaching is a method of helping people come up with their own solutions to problems. It is not telling people what to do or giving them advice. The Association for Coaching describes it as a “facilitated, dialogic and reflective learning process that aims to grow an individual’s awareness, responsibility and choice.”

Simple, but not always easy

On one level, coaching is quite a simple process. But it’s not necessarily easy to coach consistently, to a high standard.

At its core, coaching can be boiled down to three essentials:

  • Firstly, listening deeply
  • Secondly, asking purposeful questions
  • Thirdly, having a structure for a productive conversation.

So why are these simple elements not always easy to do. What can get in the way?

Barriers to coaching

When it comes to listening, we can get distracted by our own thinking, our own ideas, how we would solve the problem. We may become distracted by thinking ahead, we anticipate where the other person is going, and become impatient to jump in.

Asking good questions can take some skill and practice in itself. Often people think they’re asking open questions, but in fact what they’re trying to do is disguise a suggestion as a question and direct somebody towards a certain way of thinking. This can be hard to notice in ourselves, often easier to observe in others.

When it comes to holding a structure. How can you make sure the conversation allows people to open up their thinking, but also stays focused enough to result in productive learning or action points? And all within an allotted amount of time. These skills all take development and practice and can be continually improved, which is why professional coaches commit to regular CPD and supervision.

So, do managers need coaching skills?

In our opinion, yes.

One reason is that it’s an effective way to help your team members learn.  When people take on a new job or task, they might want quite a lot of direction in the way you manage and lead them. However, if you keep on directing and telling you quickly disempower and demotivate people. You take away their ability to think through problems for themselves. can demotivate.

A skilled manager will recognise when they need to stop giving advice and information, and instead ask questions to help their employees think something through for themselves. If there are gaps in someone’s knowledge, you can fill these in. But rather than jumping to give advice, first ask someone how they will tackle a problem. What ideas do they have? What support or resources would help?

Managing Remotely

When team members work from home, you have less direct information about the context in which they find themselves, for example workspace challenges. At a distance, it’s even easier to lapse into giving advice that’s not relevant. Using coaching skills to help somebody think through an issues for themselves if often far more valuable.

Coaching conversations

Coaching conversations can be in depth, for example as part of a formal one-to-one meeting. Or you can use the same principles in shorter conversations.  Michael Bungay Stanier recommends that managers become more “coach-like”. You can have far more impact if you can be a little more patient. Don’t be too quick to “help” a team member by rushing in with your own perspectives. Instead, listen for a little longer, and ask a few more questions.

Helping people learn

Ultimately, when it comes to change what’s really important is not what you suggest, but what happens in the other person’s head. Even if you’re much more experienced than your staff member, you can’t just download everything you know into their brain.

We learn by relating new information to what we already know, and thinking about how we can apply our expanded knowledge.  As a manager, it’s far better to ask good questions, and potentially give a little information where needed to fill knowledge gaps. You can help the other person think through what they are going to do in practice, including ways to overcome obstacles that may arise.  That way team members learn and grow and develop.

Learn to coach well

Learning how to coach well is personally fulfilling, and it will help you to help your team to perform better.

If you’re interested in improving your coaching skills and achieving a qualification, check out our online ILM Level 3 Certificate in Coaching programme.


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