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Q :: From Michael Lutkus
What competencies are critical areas of focus when developing coaching as a core leadership skill across multiple levels of leaders?
A :: Being About Them
This is a great question! Coaching is one of the foundational skill of highly effective (what I call Remarkable) leaders. As such, there are many competencies and skills that are a part a coaches toolkit. My list of coaching competencies would include:
- Being other focused – because coaching isn’t about you, but about the other person and their needs.
- Understanding personal change processes – because no coaching is successful without change taking place.
- Asking great questions – because great questions prompt personal discovery.
- Understanding how people learn – because coaching always has a learning component.
- Listening – because without listening communication will be incomplete.
- Being accountable – because those we coach need you to hold them accountable.
- Being a great role model – because leading by example is a powerful way to coach.
- Having high expectations – because when we believe in others it drives them to greater achievement and productivity.
- Being goal focused – because well set goals drive performance and success.
- Caring about others – because we learn more when we are learning from someone we know cares about us and is willing to invest in our success.
This isn’t a complete list, perhaps, but it is a list of competencies that you can build expectations, training and practice around. When you (or anyone else) consciously works to build these skills in the context of being a better coach, their future success as a coach is virtually guaranteed.
If you are looking for a workshop or other services to help you build these skills for yourself or others, email us ([email protected]) and we’d be happy to discuss your specific needs and see how we can help.
A :: It’s About Listening
I believe one of the most critical and often overlooked competencies is “listening.”
Often times a leader is too quick to offer advice, a solution, or remedy without fully listening to the person they are coaching.
Listening goes beyond word, but also is conveyed in body language.
It is a critical coaching skill to learn because when done effectively, you will learn what the true challenges are, what motivates the person you’re speaking with and where the blockages in communication are.
All of these are clues and prompts in the way to be a more effective coach and leader. Read “7 Steps to Mastering the Art of Listening…Beyond Your Ears” for more specifics.
A :: Teaching Them to Fish
Leadership and coaching go hand-in-hand. All great leaders view coaching as a key responsibility. The most difficult part of teaching leaders to coach is having them understand that coaching isn’t synonymous with telling people what to do, even when they can. Therefore the biggest hurdle in training leaders to become skilled coaches is to have them get outside of themselves, shut-up and listen. Let me be as blunt as I can – coaching is not about the coach, it’s about the client. It’s not about the process, it’s about results. It’s not about definitions, it’s about people. Coaching is about delivering what the client needs, and in the case of your question, the clients will likely be composed of peers and subordinates. You see, when it comes to leaders being better coaches, the key to success lies in questioning, listening, and understanding – not talking.
Great coaches are great listeners, and my answer to your question is a simple one…talk less and listen more. The best coaches are proactive, strategic listeners. Being a coach should not be viewed as a license to increase the volume of rhetoric. Rather astute coaches know that there is far more to be gained by surrendering the floor than by filibustering. In this age of instant communication, everyone seems to be in such a rush to communicate what’s on their mind that they fail to realize the value of everything that can be gleaned from the minds of others. Show me a leader or a coach who doesn’t recognize the value of listening to others and I’ll show you a train-wreck in the making… My advice – develop a framework for questioning, listening, processing, and refining before dispensing advice.
Great leaders, especially those who have a coaches perspective view each interaction, question, or even conflict as a coaching opportunity. Don’t answer questions or solve problems just because you can, rather teach your team members how to do it for themselves. If you make it a habit of solving problems for people, you simply teach them to come to you for solutions at the first sign of a challenge. Great leaders don’t allow themselves to be placed in this position. They don’t allow employees to leverage them, they leverage the employee by serving them by coaching them, and in doing so, it’s a win for the executive, the person being coached, and the enterprise as a whole.
The trick is to meet questions, challenges, conflicts etc., with intelligent questions of your own. You need to meet question with questions. Questions allow you to direct the conversation and not be sucked into it. By redirecting the flow of a conversation, you elicit critical information and show that you care about what the other person is thinking. The following 5 tips will allow you to ask effective questions:
- Be sincere in your questioning. Forget about what’s in it for you, and think about how you can help the person you’re communicating with. Do not manipulate or control the other person, but make an honest effort to find out how you can help them achieve their objectives by coaching them and not just serving up a solution on a silver platter.
- Learn to ask effective questions. Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Use questions that begin with who, what, where, when, why or how in an attempt to enable dialoging. If the other person is doing all the sharing of information, you will find yourself in the enviable position of being able to assess, evaluate, and synthesize the information being shared. While the other party is talking…you are learning. Once you understand what the issues are you’re now in a better position to coach and teach.
- Use questions to stimulate and challenge. Ask questions that are insightful such that they require thought to be answered. Help people understand how bright they are and where their talents and gifts are by setting a high chinning bar. When you engage people with stimulating and probing conversation they learn and grow.
- Get personal in your questioning. Use questions that encourage the other person to reveal their thoughts and emotions. These questions will help you truly get to know the other party and to build common ground and rapport. If you can move beyond the analytical to the personal, the other party is much more likely to reveal their bias or agenda.
- Demonstrate your competency without giving the answer away. Ask questions that reveal your subject matter expertise, and that demonstrate your ability to provide meaningful solutions without actually doing so. These types of questions should engender credibility, and therefore provide the other party with confidence that you can handle the situation in a manner that is in alignment with their best interests. Force people to move beyond surface level discussions by taking them past their comfort zones with intelligent questioning. Never settle for the general, ambiguous, vague, or standard answer. Continue probing until you are satisfied with the answer.
If you to improve leaders, teach them to master the art of teaching and coaching through the application of astute listening and skillful questioning. Have your leaders work on developing a list of well thought out questions that are situational, industry specific, product specific, market specific, positionally specific, etc., and use them to put your leaders in a position to help others, not by feeding them, but by teaching them how to fish…
I hope these thoughts have helped.
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