Leader as a Coach

The Leader as a Coach; 5 Attributes of a Coaching Mindset

I don't have time to coach people... It's easier if I tell them what to do... It's quicker if I do it myself... You can't coach people who don't know what they don't know... If I don't provide the answers they will think I don't know... It's my job to solve problems...

Sadly, these are comments that I hear all too often from leaders as they struggle to come to grips with the transition from a manager mindset to a leader mindset.

 

What is a manager mindset and how is it different from a leader mindset?

In order to answer this question, it's important that we are clear about what a manager actually is, and how it is different from leadership.

Management is the process of planning, organising, directing and controlling people and resources towards the accomplishment of a task. The mindset associated with this is centred around being in control:

  • The manager should be the subject matter expert.
  • The manager should know all the answers.
  • The manager should solve every problem.
  • The manager should be in control.
  • The manager should be focussed on getting the job done.
  • The manager should be accountable.

In contrast, leadership is a process of influence that enlists the support of others towards the accomplishment of a task. The mindset associated with this is centred around enabling and empowering:

  • The leader doesn't have to be the subject matter expert. They need to enable and empower others to become subject matter experts.
  • The leader doesn't have to know all the answers. They need to enable and empower others to find the answers.
  • The leader doesn't have to solve every problem. They need to enable and empower others to solve the problems.
  • The leader doesn't have to be in control. They need to enable and empower others to be in a position to take control.
  • The leader is still focussed on getting the job done. They also need to enable and empower others to get the job done.
  • The leader is still accountable. They also need to enable and empower others to share accountability.

So how does a leader make this transition from a manager? They need to adopt a coaching mindset which is focussed on enabling and empowering people to become the best version of themselves.

 

5 Attributes of a Coaching Mindset

Whilst this is by no means the definitive list, here are 5 attributes that you should focus on when developing a coaching mindset:

Get Curious: What do you really know about the people around you? What do you know about the innate gifts they possess that make them unique? What do you know about their actual job? What do you know about the challenges they face? What do you know about other parts of the business? What do you know about your competitors?

Curiosity may not come naturally to some people, so here is my challenge to you... Write a list of all the things you would like to know about the people around you and put aside some time to find the answers. Here are some possible questions:

  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
  • If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be and why?
  • If you could change one thing about me, what would it be and why?

The better you know the people around you, the better equipped you are to enable and empower them. A better understanding of the people around you leads to increased rapport and trust.

Stop Telling. Start Asking: Getting buy-in and commitment is a challenge that every leader faces, and given the directive leadership style that so many leaders use, it is no wonder why. So stop telling and start asking.

  • Rather than telling people what to do, ask them what they would like to do.
  • Rather than assigning roles to people, ask them to define their roles.
  • Rather than setting KPIs for people, ask them to define their own KPIs.
  • Rather than setting stretch targets for people, ask them to define their own stretch targets.
  • Rather than telling people where they need to improve, ask them to tell you where they need to improve.
  • Rather than solving the problem for people, ask them to find a solution.

You don't get buy-in and commitment from telling people what to do... They have to create the idea to own it.

Listen Listen Listen: Contrary to popular practice; listening is not the space in between talking. Real listening involves making a conscious effort to be present to the here and now without making assumptions or jumping to conclusions.

  • Make the Time: Don't start a conversation you can't finish. Allocate an appropriate time and amount of time.
  • Remove Distractions: Don's start a conversation if you know you are going to get distracted. Chose an appropriate venue. Phone on silent. Close laptop.
  • Sit on your Hands: Focus on what the other person is saying - not what you are thinking. Listen to what is being said, how it is being said and how the person feels while saying it.
  • Question: Ask questions to clarify what you heard and understood. This will help to ensure that you are both on the same page.

Ask yourself this simple question, how would you feel knowing that the person you were talking to is really listening to you? Conversely, how would you feel if you know that they were not really present?

Dig Deep: Go beyond the surface to gain a better understanding of the person or issue. What really happened? Why did it happen? How could it have been avoided? How did the person contribute? How does the person really feel? Here are some possible questions:

  • What's the issue and why are we talking about it?
  • How did this become an issue?
  • If you could do it over, what would you do differently?
  • What can we learn from ...?

Assumption is the mother of all screw-ups. By spending some time to better understand the person or issue you minimise the risk of making ill-informed decisions.

Challenge Thinking: Why do people think or act the way they do? What possible assumptions are people basing their thoughts and actions on? What potential biases are influencing how a person thinks or acts? What might people learn by exploring different points of view? Ask questions like:

  • Why do you think ...?
  • How else can we look at ...?
  • How might other people look at ...?
  • What are the possible consequences of ...?\
  • What can we learn from ...?

When you challenge a person's thinking you are challenging their assumptions and beliefs. This helps them to extract new meaning by exploring different perspectives.

 

In Conclusion

As you might have realised by now, a coaching mindset is very similar to that of a leader mindset, as they are both centered on recognising and developing the potential in people.

There are coaching opportunities around us... We just need to open our eyes and make some time for them.

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