Managers can Develop and Engage Employees by Learning Coaching Skills
When people present a problem to you as a manager, how do you respond? Picture this: You have an employee who comes to you with a problem. They got stumped in the middle of a task or they ran into a difficulty with another employee.
As leaders, we recognize the importance of being supportive and helping that employee get a solution right away. Oftentimes our natural tendency is to solve that problem right away, to respond with the answer, and to take quick action.
But is that really the kind of support we should be providing? Is solving that problem for them right then or telling them what they should do really the best leadership approach? Let’s put on our manager-as-coach hat to answer those questions.
When to solve a problem right away
In some cases, it makes sense to solve a problem right away. If there’s an emergency or a policy violation is a possibility, a leader has a responsibility to take quick, decisive action. But in many cases, you have a choice. A choice to answer the questions and solve the problem right then, or to ask a question back…even if you know the answer. And the decision about that choice happens right at the point the question is asked.
Questioning skills are one of two most important skills a leader or manager can possess (the other is listening). And one of the best ways to develop this skill – and subsequently strengthen your skills as a leader – is this quick leadership tip:
When someone asks you a question, that is your trigger to ask a question back.
It’s not always easy, but it’s super effective. When you default to asking questions, you create engagement in others and develop them to operate at a much higher level.
Four Benefits of using a Coach Approach
Consider the following benefits when you use the “coach approach” when answering questions:
- You provide an opportunity for people to contribute. Oftentimes, people have ideas and they’d like to contribute. When we ask them their thoughts, we give them encouragement to share those ideas and contribute. When people feel their ideas are valued, they are more likely to be engaged in their work.
- You create innovation opportunities. Just because someone has a title doesn’t mean that leader has the best ideas, or even feels obligated to have the “right” answer. When we ask others their opinions, we create an opportunity for more innovation, better ideas, improved processes, and more. Asking questions allows us to find out other solutions we may have not even considered that could, in fact, be the better solution.
- You help people become more self-sufficient. When people anticipate they will be asked for their thoughts, their answers, their solutions–especially on a regular basis–they are more inclined to think through some potential answers before they even come to you.
- You have more time to focus on building the business rather than firefighting. As people become more self-sufficient, they don’t rely on their leader to make all the decisions. You have time to focus on priorities in the business, while at the same time strengthening the capabilities of your team.
Just using questioning in your daily interactions – and remembering to ask a question back when someone asks you a question – is an important skill as a manager-coach. AND this will most likely provide some or all of these benefits above.
But there is so much more to learn!
How you can gain coaching skills
So what can you do to adopt the “coach approach”?
Start by deliberate practicing the skills. Let others know of your commitment to asking more questions and being more contextual in your listening. Seek out feedback on how you are doing. Set up some intentional moments with others where you’ll commit to being curious and asking more, with the intent to learn.
Devote time to reinforce your skills through books or blogs, such as The Coaching Habit, by Michael Bungay Stanier. Subscribe to blogs (such as our FlashPoint blog here) or a coaching forum on LinkedIn. And it pay it forward, but sharing what you learn with others.
As you continue to use coaching methods, you’ll soon realize how your curiosity leads to such a richer conversation with others, how it creates this space where others are more willing to share, how it percolates new ideas, and how it impacts engagement in the work, for not only individual employees, but the entire organization.