Coaching is a conversation. It’s about asking questions, listening, and being thoughtful about your responses with the goal of learning and development for the person or team being coached.

Here are a few things all managers should know about coaching.

Effective Leadership Requires Coaching Conversations

Coaching isn’t just something specialized professionals do. Many outcomes and benefits can be gained when you learn to have coaching conversations with your direct reports and people on your team.

“Coaching is a certain kind of relationship, worked out in certain kinds of conversations, that has value far beyond what takes place in formal or professionalized sessions,” says Doug Riddle, CCL’s global director of coaching services and the editor of Handbook of Coaching in Organizations. “The most powerful coaching conversations with the greatest impact on leadership challenges are often the ones that take place in the hallways, cafeterias, offices, and other organizational workspaces in the process of everyday work.”

3 Facts about Coaching Conversations

Through coaching conversations with their managers, direct reports can learn and grow in important ways. Coaching can help people gain greater self-awareness, increase their autonomy, reinforce strengths and skills, and take more responsibility for their own development and career path.

Direct reports will also be more likely to agree with and implement their individual development plans, value time spent with their manager, and be more engaged in their work.

Leaders develop their direct reports through specific actions. Specific behaviors include building the relationship and trust, setting clear and measurable goals, asking rather than telling, listening and confirming understanding, challenging, giving feedback in an engaging and inspiring way, and leaving the responsibility and accountability for growth to the direct report.

Leaders can learn to be both coach and manager. Many leaders struggle to separate the roles of coach and manager. Don’t try, Riddle says — coaching is part of leading.

“You can have a conversation in which you don’t answer questions or instruct,” he says. “You can ask your direct report to stretch their thinking: What else could you do? What else occurs to you? Who else have you talked to about this? These are coaching questions that you can ask as a manager.”

5 Tips for Better Coaching

Our coaching framework can help you learn or improve coaching skills.

It includes 5 elements — Relationship, Assessment, Challenge, Support, & Results (RACSR) — to guide your coaching conversations and to pay attention to over time.


1. Invest in the relationship. Coaching requires you to pay attention to the relationship between you and the person you’re helping to develop.

You need to get to know them well, build trust, and establish boundaries. Show patience, lead by example, and express genuine interest in their learning and development.

2. Provide assessment and foster understanding. Coaching conversations might be informal and in-the-moment, or they could be planned discussions.

In both cases, you create awareness of behaviors through feedback. Allow for reflection, self-discovery, and insight by asking questions such as, What do you think about this feedback and what do you want to do with what you learned?

3. Challenge thinking and assumptions. Don’t give all the answers to your direct report. Question their current constraints and help explore new possibilities or new behaviors.

Try asking questions such as, How could you look at the situation in a different way? What would happen if you made a change? What other alternatives can you think of?

4. Give support. Ensure that your direct report has the resources and support needed to make changes. They may need to draw on other people or find new systems for support.

Figure out how you can best offer support, too, but remember you are still a manager. Coaching isn’t about being permissive or kind. If somebody doesn’t follow through, they will face consequences — that’s reality, says Riddle.

5. Insist on results. Outcomes matter. Coaching conversations should tie to goals and desired individual and organizational results.

Help your direct report set goals and clarify what success would look like. This allows them to track and see progress, build on it, make adjustments, and sustain motivation.

You can learn more about CCL’s RACSR coaching model and how to put it to use with your direct reports and members of your team in our guidebook, Becoming a Leader-Coach: A Step-by-Step Guide to Developing Your People. If you’re an HR leader, take a look at our book, Handbook of Coaching in Organizations or learn about our range of coaching services.

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