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Coaching Skills for Leaders in the Workplace

By Betterworks
October 13, 2021
4 minute read

Executive coaching isn’t limited to the C-suite anymore. More and more companies are beginning to embrace a coaching culture, all the way down to frontline employees. When you implement coaching in the workplace, you maximize your chances of capturing the full potential of each individual member of your workforce. And that adds tremendous value to your company.

The benefits aren’t just for you: when employees perceive their supervisor as a coach or a mentor, they tend to feel more confident in their work. Having a coach by their side to provide ongoing support helps employees find their niche in the company, and produce better outcomes.

Here’s why coaching and mentoring are important in the workplace, and how you can get started implementing them at your company.

Understand the Difference Between Mentoring and Coaching

The terms “mentoring” and “coaching” are often used interchangeably. While they share significant similarities, each relationship also implies distinct differences. 

According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF), mentoring tends to be driven by the mentor’s expertise and advice. In most cases, the mentee already has a strong sense of what direction they want their development to take.

Coaching, on the other hand, doesn’t rely on advising or counseling. The role of the coach isn’t to share their expertise; rather, it’s to help an employee identify their individual strengths, options for development and the direction they ultimately want their careers to take.

Both relationships benefit your employees, and you can train your managers to play both roles. Generally speaking, all mentors at your company can also serve as coaches, but not all coaches can be mentors. 

Here’s an example: An employee benefits administrator can mentor an employee who wants to become an employee benefits administrator as well (or a similar career). The administrator would not, however, be an appropriate mentor for someone who wants to specialize in people analytics, since that is not their field. The employee benefits administrator could serve as a coach for either employee since coaching isn’t dependent on a shared career path.

Coaching’s flexibility can make it useful in a way that mentoring is not. For instance, it may turn out an individual in your company excels at mentoring, but rarely gets to do so because employees simply aren’t following that career path. By coaching, their talents can be utilized by a much wider potential group.  

The best candidates to become mentors or coaches are direct managers since they have the most contact with frontline employees. 

Benefits of Coaching and Mentoring in the Workplace

The International Coaching Federation’s 2020 Global Coaching Study found that the biggest obstacle to companies implementing coaching in the workplace is a lack of support from senior leaders. In fact, 38% of respondents also reported a limited budget for coaching activities, a significant issue since building a coaching culture requires managers and supervisors to learn coaching skills for leaders in the workplace. To overcome hesitancy from the C-suite and get the required financial support, you need to demonstrate the business case for coaching and mentoring in the workplace. 

It’s a demonstrably worthy effort. Organizations that foster a strong coaching culture report higher revenue than their industry peer group (51% compared to 38%). Organizations with strong coaching cultures tend to see higher employee engagement and job satisfaction, which leads to higher retention and better productivity. So while there may be a reluctance to make the investment, you can demonstrate that the commitment will be repaid.

Hire and Reskill Leaders to Become Good Coaches

In order to coach and mentor employees effectively, existing supervisors and managers must be trained to have coaching conversations with their reports. Qualities that make for a good coach include curiosity, humility, a positive outlook, and effective communication.

In general, coaching relies on soft skills, like emotional intelligence and teamwork. Leaders can learn examples of behaviors and the larger concepts behind each soft skill in the classroom. To really master them, however, they need to put them into practice. You should provide them chances to do so.

Build opportunities for leaders to practice coaching skills in the flow of work. Create some guidelines or suggested coaching questions they can begin asking reports during performance management conversations. Have managers practice their skills on each other, too.

As we embrace coaching, we should also reconsider what makes someone a good leader. After all, most leaders aren’t promoted because they have leadership or coaching skills; they’re promoted for being high performers. The skills that enable someone to excel in a particular role may not assist them when it comes to working with others, much less coaching them.

If we want to move towards a strong coaching culture, we can’t continue promoting leaders just based on who our highest performers are. We must assess leadership candidates for the traits that make them effective leaders and coaches. Audit the job descriptions for managers and supervisors, updating them to include coaching skills for leaders in the workplace. These soft skills are the traits you need in the next generation of company leaders.

Implement Mentoring and Coaching in the Workplace

Training leaders to become better coaches is a positive step, but real progress requires a supportive infrastructure. Obviously, many companies do not currently offer this, as legacy performance management processes are designed to look backward. 

Ideally, you should update performance management processes to allow managers to coach their reports. Implement a frequent feedback model, where managers empower employees with feedback in the flow of work. This helps team members solve problems they encounter on a daily basis, and helps managers turn specific events or circumstances into coaching moments. 

This model also sets the tone for more frequent conversations, which help managers build better relationships with and become better coaches to their employees. 

Measure the Impact of Coaching Skills for Leaders in the Workplace

The ICF report noted one challenge of coaching in the workplace is an inability to measure the impact of coaching programs. So Before you implement any new coaching-related workplace programs, collect data on performance, engagement, and experience. This will serve as a baseline from which you can measure your growth in these areas.

As you implement coaching training and programs, conduct surveys to gain a sense of what’s working and what needs improvement. Are your initiatives reaching your goals as expected, or do you need to revise your plan? Conduct focus groups to learn what’s working for employees and gather input for continued program improvements.

Whether you’re operating a small business or a multinational corporation, coaching skills for leaders in the workplace can help employees improve their performance and find a greater sense of purpose in their professional lives. Beginning the effort can be a big step, but it’s one worth taking.