You may be pretty familiar — and probably fairly comfortable — with the model of the visiting leadership coach. Sometimes it’s easier to dispense leadership advice to an audience you don’t know. So it’s no wonder these leadership pros seem so confident. But what if you’re asked to coach a subordinate or a peer within your organization? Is coaching someone you might work with daily an impossible task?
Actually, whether you’re an outside executive coach, or a leader-coach working in the trenches of your organization, a lot of the same rules of thumb apply, in terms of what it takes to coach your people.
Use these 6 core principles for leadership coaching to coach someone from an office or cubicle near you:
- First, when coaching a peer or a subordinate, you must create a psychologically safe, yet challenging environment. Your coachee needs to feel he or she can take risks, and it’s up to you to provide a space where risk-taking is rewarded and not risky business. Remember, if you are the coachee’s boss or manager, he may wonder if he can reveal vulnerabilities that will be used against him in other aspects of his job. So keep your attitude as open and as nonjudgmental as possible, and let the coachee know you support him, even as you test his knowledge and skills.
- A second core coaching principle: Try to work within the coachee’s agenda. Remember, this coaching session is not about you, so let the coachee decide which goals to work on and even how to go about improving. Sure, it’s great when the coachee’s own agenda aligns perfectly with the organization’s goals, but never impose your personal priorities on the relationship. When it’s clear you need to push a point, put on your managerial hat — thereby preserving the special collaborative coaching relationship you’re trying so hard to build.
- That leads into the third core principle for in-house coaching: Facilitate and collaborate. Like Socrates, who always led his students with questions, the best coaches do not give direct answers or act the expert. To hold a coaching conversation, focus on the coachee’s needs and avoid filling the lesson with your own life stories and pet theories. Although you may suggest several options for responding to a problem, the ultimate choice should rest with the coachee — with you acting as the facilitator and collaborator.
- Advocate self-awareness” You want your coachee to learn how to recognize her own strengths and present weaknesses — a prerequisite skill for any good leader. In the same way, you should understand how your own behaviors as a coach impact the people around you. Demonstrate a sense of awareness in yourself and you are more likely to foster in your coachee a similar self-awareness. You may also want to share ways to boost self-awareness.
- And as you coach someone in your organization, put into practice the fifth core principle of leadership teaching, which is promote learning from experience. Most people can learn, grow, and change only if they have the right set of experiences and are open to learning from them. As a leader coach, always help your coachee reflect on past events and to analyze what went well and what didn’t. Foster experiential learning and using experience to fuel development, and your student will continue to improve long after your lessons end.
- Finally, model what you coach. This, the last of the 6 core principles, may be the most difficult to embody, as it means putting into practice outside of class the leadership lessons you’ve been trying to communicate.
And remember, if you don’t feel you have the capacity to coach on a particular issue, refer your charge to someone more experienced — an executive coach who, we hope, puts into practice the 6 core leadership coaching principles even better than you do.
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