Coaching is a leadership skill. If you think about it, getting the best out of people is fundamental to make a business fly.
Coaching is a leadership skill. If you think about it, getting the best out of people is fundamental to make a business fly. So stop thinking about coaching as external professionals coming in to offer their expertise. Instead, think of coaching as a collection of vital skills that can be quickly learnt and put into practice immediately. Especially for SMEs and start-ups where every “body” counts, coaching will save you time and significantly improve your outcomes. It should even make it less likely that you have to pay those high fees for an executive coach! Here are our top ten coaching skills and why they will make a difference to you. Note that learning these takes practice – as with all skills. Yet, crucially, they do not require age or experience to learn. Whatever level you are working at, from your first job to CEO, you can and should start now.
If your first reaction in reading this is to think, ‘Oh no. Not another softy telling me I don’t listen properly’ we ask one simple question: Have you ever practiced listening? If not, how do you know you are any good at it? (and by the way, our own business experience suggests we were hardly softies!)
We advocate generative listening. The point is that a skilled listener allows the speaker to notice what they are saying more clearly, to think more clearly, and to find their own way forward. In this way the listener has a role in generating better outcomes from simply listening. Equally important for a leader is that you are tuned in sufficiently to hear what is being said. To avoid your own assumptions (I know the solution, we’re going to do this my way anyway) that get in your way. The result is that you will learn more. And be able to delegate more.
As with listening, there is a skill to effective questioning. Think of those people who seem to be able to get underneath the topic and discover the hidden truths. Not in an investigative way or through trapping someone, but through constantly maintaining their curiosity. Showing deep interest to understand more. Asking innovative, unusual and exciting questions, ‘what would your pet cat do if faced with this dilemma and what do we learn from that?’ ‘what else are you thinking?’ ‘what would your favourite superhero do?’. You know you’ve hit the spot when someone stops and says ‘great question’ make it your goal to get people to say that to you.
Contracting is the term used to establish the purpose, context and requirements of any conversation or meeting. It comes at the start, but also continues to have a role throughout an interaction. For example, when a colleague asks if you have a spare moment consider, ‘How long do you need (I have a meeting in 14 minutes)? What outcome do you want? What role do you want me to play? Shall we turn our phones and laptops off? Are we in the right location (this is the corridor after all)?
This process brings focus, certainty and confidence to all parties and ensures a greater likelihood of success. If you have ever tried to sell something in a meeting booked for 60 minutes only for the potential buyer to announce they have to leave after 30 minutes just before you’ve reached your critical point, this should ring bells!
- Being Present
When other people are speaking do you find that you have half your attention on them and the other part of your brain is thinking of something else? This affects the speaker’s thinking and trust in you (you know when other people are not listening to you, so the opposite will be true). You are multi-tasking. All research shows the outcomes of multi-tasking are worse than if you undertake the same tasks sequentially. You must practice being present, to give other people and the specific tasks you are working on your full attention. There are techniques to help you focus in this way.
- Using Pause-Points TM
Pause-PointsTM represent a couple of different concepts. Here we focus on just one – the use of silence when listening. Remaining silent when others are thinking or speaking brings out useful details. Your team will offer ideas, ideas they may not have realised they had, simply because you offer them the space to speak. This is known as a great negotiating skill for the same reason. People will fill the silence. As a leader this provides vital information and helps people think and move forward. Ironically, pausing often means you go faster in the long run.
- Creating awareness
As a leader-coach you need other people to notice what they think and know. Often in the hectic world people fail to realise they already know what to do when faced with difficult issues. Draw their attention to it, ‘I think I just heard you suggest we should offer a 2% discount?’ ‘A moment ago you said you had no idea what to do and yet you’ve offered four ideas already.’ This will also build their confidence and awareness – and they will need to rely on you less and less.
- Building Trust and Rapport
The greater the trust and rapport you have with people, the more they will share. The more ideas you will hear, the more problems you will discover and the more solutions you will hear. All from other people. Building trust requires that you share some of your own vulnerabilities and uncertainties. As a leader of others, you have to take the first step. Be authentic and honest so that others can learn from you. Building rapport involves many steps, including the other nine in this list.
- Giving Feedback
Raise your hand if the very idea of feedback makes you nervous? Well, that’s most of us then. And yet giving and receiving feedback is critical to performance. There are models and techniques out there. Find them and practice. Start by giving easy positive feedback, ‘well done today. Thanks for hitting that deadline.’ And learn to do this on-the-go and in the moment, do not save it up for later when it’s too late. Your other coaching skills including being present, building trust and creating awareness will help you. Eventually it will be just part of your daily life. And everyone’s performance will benefit.
- Changing Perspectives
When faced with a dilemma it is often helpful to take a different perspective. Coaches use this technique all the time to help people realise what they already know and yet cannot see. ‘How do you think the CEO would deal with this?’ ‘Imagine you were in our clients’ shoes, what would this look like?’ Using your listening skills to help them generate their own solutions.
- Creating Actions
This one may sound odd as most start-ups and SMEs suffer from having too many actions and not enough time. The skill we’re talking about, however, is helping others to notice when something is an important action for them to find their own personal way forward to achieve the goal that has been set for or by them. ‘What you just said sounded like an important first step. When do you want to do that by?’ You are empowering them and moving work away from you.
As a busy entrepreneur or leader, coaching is an important tool for you to bring out the best in people. Like anything new it takes a little practice to make the execution of these skills flawless. But, like going to the gym it gets easier and the rewards are greater.
Coaching on the Go is a new book by Phil Renshaw and Jenny Robinson that provides techniques to improve your capabilities in all these critical skills