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Coaching leadership is becoming increasingly important. Themes like sustainable employability, vitality, and innovation are playing an ever-more prominent role in organizations. Employees are supposed to work longer, to remain healthy, to respond flexibly to change, and to resolve matters from a different perspective.

This requires quite a lot from managers in their support role. Whereas the performance cycle that consisted of a few discussions used to be sufficient, contact now between managers and their employees is often much more intensive, simply because more is now being asked of employees.

In practice, many managers struggle with their various roles. On the one hand, as managers they are supposed to chart the course, delegate, monitor progress, make minor modifications in how they steer their employees, and to report. On the other, they have to be able to listen as coaches, give their employees space, and most of all, not to rush to judgement or put solutions forward too quickly.

In the past, there were large HR departments to help employees, but now an employee’s first point of contact is their manager. From steering, assessing and solving in a task-oriented way, there has been a shift towards supporting, listening, and giving employees greater freedom. And in this era, in which change, targets, and meeting deadlines have become the norm, it is not easy to find peace and the space for a good discussion with an employee.

How can you deal with these different roles and develop coaching leadership?

  1.  Becoming aware of the various roles
    First of all, it is important that you learn very deliberately to deal with the various roles that you, as a manager, have. When should something be organized, corrected, or decided, and when is there more space? By space, we are referring to the space to think about different solutions, with the employee taking responsibility for subsequent stages. This sounds simple, but in practice, matters often overlap automatically. You should therefore allow moments of reflection to decide which hat you will be wearing, as a manager.
  2. Clear vision
    Good coaching is impossible without a vision. Where you as an organization, department, or team want to go determines the coaching process. Setting out a strategy on the basis of a vision is usually accompanied by behavioral change in the work context. The manager can then approach this proactively or reactively. An employee may have a coaching question himself in order to be able to develop within the context of the strategy. We call this reactive coaching. Alternatively, the manager initiates a coaching process. This is referred to as proactive coaching.
  3. Clearly defined process
    Do not make the coaching process too open-ended. Otherwise, before you know it, the coaching discussion will end up as a relaxed chat over a coffee. Agree beforehand how many discussions you will be holding (this can always be increased, of course) and together establish the learning objectives. What themes will feature? Which coaching method are you going to use? How are you and the employee going to ensure that the results will be achieved? The clearer the agreements, the easier it will be to put on or take off your coaching leader hat. We sometimes refer to this as a coach contract (see below).
  4. Coaching skills
    As a coaching manager, you are responsible for running coaching processes with employees and for ensuring the correct focus during the discussions. For this, it is important that you possess coaching skills. There are dozens of discussion models for coaching, from solution-oriented to provocative coaching. Being able to listen properly, summarizing, and asking additional questions is a basic skill in this context. The major pitfall is often your own inclination to find solutions. In the role of manager, you are continually engaged with the task of solving problems and dilemmas, while as a coach you provide much more support and grant employees responsibility for their own actions and solutions.
  5. The right place
    The environment has a great influence on the atmosphere of any discussion. You should therefore deliberately choose a different place for coaching discussions. Preferably a neutral location away from your own office. If you stay in the room where you always carry out management tasks, it will be very tempting to remain in that role. Make sure, too, that you will not be disturbed. After all, coaching requires maximum concentration and presence of mind. The more you are in the ‘here and now’ with your employee, the more he will feel as though he is being listened to and supported, and the easier it will be for him to get to the heart of his problems and make a plan of action.

Coaching managers experience the more intensive contact with employees as particularly enriching. Coaching can improve the relationship between manager and employee on a long-term basis and provides a powerful boost!

Coaching contract checklist between manager and employee

  • Situation at the beginning: Describe the background
  • Aim of the coaching is: State the learning objectives
  • Plan of action: Work method, number of discussions, frequency, and location
  • Reporting: Reflection reports and/or homework assignments – yes or no – method of recording
  • Confidentiality: Agreements on confidentiality of the discussions
  • Evaluation: Method for evaluating coaching process

By: Cornelie de Winter, trainer on our Coaching Leadership training course

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