The leadership coaching secrets

of smarter organizations

Published on: March 2019

Written by: Jerry Connor

One-size-fits-all leadership development workshops are yesterday’s story, and personal guidance provides the personalization workers crave.

The most effective way to deliver on this expectation for personalized growth? Targeted coaching. Neuroscience suggests that coaching is better than other growth drivers. In fact, most executives, both within human resources and other departments, believe that developing leadership abilities and coaching skills to be two of the highest priorities within their companies (Source: HR Magazine, Neuroscience and leadership coaching, 2016).

If companies love coaching because it’s so effective, why don’t we see more success? Unfortunately, businesses often take the easy road and teach generic coaching skills instead of really thinking through how to make coaching work for them. Leadership coaching is still a top approach to developing talent in many organizations, but they can’t win this game by playing the same way as everyone else.

Where coaching shines

We’re about to publish a book on how coaching impacts development, so we’ve done a deep dive. We know that coaching helps companies achieve a variety of goals that other techniques struggle to deliver. Well-coached employees, for instance, are more empathetic and curious than those who haven’t received coaching. They ask open questions and build better relationships through two-way conversations. They tend to perform better in situations that require critical thinking.

One study found that the most effective leaders also happen to be the best coaches (Source: You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach, Harvard Business Review, 2014). It’s easy to draw the connecting line from great coaches to stellar employees to successful companies.

Looking at smarter coaching

In our research, we identified three primary outcomes and benefits of quality coaching: increased performance, higher levels of engagement, and sustainable development.

We also discovered the drawbacks of bad coaching, which mostly affect companies that invest in overly simplistic notions. For example, it is easy to overfocus on the transition from managers who give their employees the solutions to managers who ask employees questions to help them come up with their own answers. Of course, this question-asking is important, but overplaying it can lead to frustration and wasted time when there is a better way to help the employee learn.

Line managers should view initiatives through a lens of measurable performance; otherwise, coaching becomes a luxury pursuit with low returns. Without measurement, we can’t create actual changes in performance. Good coaches have clear goals and know how to reach them. They focus on the strategic objectives of the business first and use that as a platform for their coaching.

Achieving tangible results

Quality coaching improves relationships between employees and managers, helps people develop in their careers, and empowers employees to be mindful in their work. With so much to gain, companies and employees alike should be scrambling to create high-quality coaching environments.

But this can be challenging for both sides. Managers who want to provide better coaching can keep these three rules in mind:

1. Discover individual learning preferences.

Talk to employees about their futures. Give them honest and accurate feedback, practical help, and access to the opportunities they crave. Help employees pursue their own goals within the context of the organization’s needs. In the end, both parties win.

2. Talk daily, not semiannually.

Short and regular is best. It’s not enough to offer feedback and coaching every six months or during an annual review meeting. Great coaching requires great relationships, and great relationships are built upon a foundation of regular, meaningful contact.

3. Provide opportunities to use lessons.

Research from Gallup found that only 13 percent of global workers feel engaged (Source: Gallup, Engaged Workplaces Are Engines of Job Creation, 2013). Besides this, the Society for Human Resource Management found that the biggest driver of satisfaction at work is the opportunity to use skills and abilities (Source: SHRM, SHRM: Job Security Is No Longer Top Driver of Satisfaction, 2012). Smart companies coach their employees first. After, they step back and give them room to flex new skills.

Future Coaching Focuses on Change

Right now, most coaching prioritizes a one-size-fits-all approach. The basic techniques that are used are strong, but they’re inadequate for driving significant performance improvements.

Coaches need to challenge not only what people think, but also the way they draw conclusions. Rather than show employees gaps between an average performer and a great one, for example, coaches of the future will help individuals understand their strengths and become the best versions of themselves.

Old models that assess people against predefined competencies or standards and then seek to use the coach to fill the gap are no longer the most effective. Great coaches work with diverse people to establish the shift that will make the biggest impact to the individual. It’s less transactional and more dynamic, and it provides a meaningful future, career-wise.

In the future, artificial intelligence will also play a major role in the way coaches evaluate, teach, and reinforce their lessons. Technology will make personalization available for people outside the executive suite, and this will allow coaches to engage entire organizations.

Great coaching doesn’t just drive results — it changes people for the better. Conversations and conventions will also change, and it’s up to the coaches of the future to navigate their organizations through this emerging landscape. If you’re looking to help your organization and your teams grow for the better, try resources on leadership and innovative coaching.