Coaching Skills for Leaders

Coaching Skills for Leaders

What it takes to be a coach?

Coaching Skills for leaders is fast becoming one of the critical success factors that create more employee engagement and better performance. Managers and leaders play a pivotal role in the performance of their teams and so does coaching skills. How do you know that you are coaching well? This article helps you with 7 tips for being a good coach.

Why has Coaching Skills for Leaders gained so much importance of late?

There was a time when professionals grew by virtue of functional expertise. Having the right answers came from experience and that was a valuable commodity. Becoming a manager of people was all about directing your so called ‘subordinates’ by telling them what to do. That time is gone. Coaching skills has now become germane for leaders across the globe.

With the millennials entering the workforce that landscape has drastically changed. Add to this the availability of information with a click of the mouse, the game has seriously changed. Agile leadership is the order of the day.

Managers are no longer required to know all the answers, simply because the answers are redundant. No two business problems are the same today with the exponential changes we have seen in the business environment. Disruptiveness is the new norm. Even the way we have managed change has changed.

So how does a business with its team of managers and leaders really lead today? How does one engage the workforce, when so little is known about what’s next. How do leaders inspire their teams and achieve growth and sustained performance amidst such ambiguity?

What causes Poor Performance?

With repeated research over the last 2 decades, I have found that there are 3 primary causal factors that contribute to poor performance viz.

In most cases the bulk of poor performance comes from points 2 and 3. In fact, I have noticed that when employees experience point 3 for a long time, they eventually graduate to point 2.

  • People don’t know how to do their jobs (knowledge & skills are missing)
  • People don’t want to do their jobs (lack of challenge or job mismatch)
  • Someone or something is preventing them from doing the job (barriers)

Well, its quite clear in such instances that packing people off to a training program blindly is not the solution when employees don’t want to do a job or when someone or something is preventing them from doing it. The answer lies in coaching them.


So, what is Coaching?

ICF (International Coach Federation) defines coaching as partnering with a client (coachee) in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.


  • Coaching is about partnership. Ergo, forget your organisational designation and position.
  • Coaching is a process. Ergo, its not a one-time event but an ongoing dialogue.
  • Coaching is about inspiring. Ergo, catalysing people and helping them find their own solutions.
  • Coaching is about unleashing potential. Ergo, making people the best versions of themselves.

7 Tips to Coach Effectively

  1. Showing up at the workplace as a coach: As leaders, showing up ‘coach-like’ at the workplace is all about the mindset they carry. Believing that your people are trustworthy, prudent, capable and good. With a coach-like mindset, you eventually get to trust your people as their leader/manager. In many instances micro-managing too goes away. Managers that believe in ‘progress’ over ‘perfection’ find it easier to wear the coach’s hat. This is starkly different from ‘doing coaching’ which many a times may get clinical.
  2. Exercising Choice: every manager has a set of tools in their toolbox that helps them with people-management. Some of these tools include training, coaching, mentoring, feedback, feedforward, directing, etc. Using one tool too often may spell disaster. Certain cultures have a propensity for overusing feedback and directing. In such cultures, be it country or organisational culture, employee development and growth is seriously hampered as they are constantly being told what to do. Managers too are over-burdened as they are doing not only their own jobs but that of their team’s too. Coaching is a choice one needs to exercise when the situation demands it. You may have the answer – however, its about helping others find their own.
  3. Water-cooler Moments: Watch out for the water-cooler moments. These are times when your people are taking a break and talking about things. These are moments that are not formal. These are moments when you can coach. Simply because coaching is not always about having long-drawn conversations. Coaching is, most times, about listening and questioning and leaving people with through provoking ideas that may help them solve their problems.
  4. Listen to Understand: good coaches listen with the intent to understand what is being said. This requires capturing the ‘content’ as well as the ‘context’. Most times managers are busy collecting content, if at all. Getting the context right requires you to not just gather the words but also be a keen observer of body language. Watching out for the ‘unsaid’. Unless you do not understand fully what is being said, you will not be able to ask catalysing questions to your coachee. Also, beware about your own biases in listening and the filters you use. Listening to respond rather than understand is a skill that requires practice and mastery.
  5. Ask Catalytic Questions: When humans were nomads many centuries ago, they keep moving from place to place looking for food and water. The question was – where would we find food or water next? We became a civilisation because someone asked a question – ‘how do we get water to us?’ This is the power of one thought provoking, catalytic question. By its very nature, a catalyst speeds up any process that it’s a part of without interfering in the process itself. Your questions must be of the same characteristic. It must speed up the process of helping your coachee achieve their goals without actually telling them what to do.
  6. Make it on-going: Remember, coaching is a process. Its an ongoing dialogue. Depending on the nature of the problem your employees bring to you, coaching may take weeks or months in most cases. Reviewing progress regularly tells your coachee that you are invested in them as their manager. This means 2 things:
    • At the end of every coaching conversation, agree on what your coachee will do specifically. Make it SMART.
    • Agree on when to meet next so you can review the progress.
  7. Celebrate & Acknowledge: Coaching well requires a balance of challenge and acknowledgement. If your coaching conversations are completely focused on what’s not working and what the employee has to do to change, that’s not motivating. Acknowledging your coachee means identifying what they have done well, reflecting that behavior back to them and helping them find ways to repeat it. Positive affirmation has always known to be a great way to enable your people achieve their potential.


  • The role of a manager/leader is not to do things. Its to get things done. Coaching is a critical tool to help you do this.
  • How can your organisation grow if your people don’t? AND how will your people grow if you keep telling them what to do?
  • Coaching is one of the many tools you have at your disposal as a leader. However, your discernment on when to use which tool, will be key.

Nikhil Maini - Leadership Coach

Nikhil K Maini

Nikhil Maini is the founder and Managing Director of Seven People Systems Pvt. Ltd. – one of the leading consulting services company across South Asia, South East Asia and the Middle East. Nikhil has consulted more than 400 organizations globally in areas of strategy planning & execution, culture transformation, agile leadership and organization development. He brings nearly 25 years of experience across 20+ industry sectors and is a behaviorist and coach by profession.



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