How and Why the Best Leaders Coach Their Teams

One of our TRIPSTank™ coaches worked with a group of leaders recently. Each heads up a highly specialised team or division within a globally renowned investment bank.  They shared a common challenge. 

They’re not connecting with some of their talented team. The standards of some are vastly different from others for reasons unknown to the leaders.   

Here was one example given: 

“Could you please review this prospectus and make note of comments you might have before we get back to the client?” Kate (name changed) asked one of her team the day before. 

The following day, nothing. So Kate asked him if he had reviewed the 180-page prospectus, which was drafted by a third party and needed to be sent to their client with their comments that day. 

“Yes I did, no comments to add.”

We’re not talking about some kid straight out of school. We’re talking about a highly qualified,  skilled and intelligent individual. He had been employed by the bank for over two years. 

So how can this bloke think this is an appropriate response? 

Was he deliberately resisting authority? Was he way out of his depth but afraid to ask for help? 

What would you do in this situation? 

You might be tempted to fling the prospectus at his head. Or conversely, you might wonder why you didn’t just do it yourself given this guy’s previous track record. But neither extreme responses are productive. 

Try this. Understand where his response is coming from first. Depending on what is discovered, help him see things from a different perspective, so that…

  1. He can choose a different path in a similar situation next time, and 
  2. He gets to appreciate (making him more accountable) the standards required, without having received a finger-wagging lecture that may alienate him further. 

How do you achieve this positive result? 

As a leader, you develop people, process and performance. This differs to a manager who measures people, process and performance. If development is the priority over measurement, then adopting a coaching style to your conversation is the best option. 

A coaching conversation empowers your team member to improve their performance by facilitating in him: 

  • an awareness of the impact of previous actions taken
  • an understanding of his own feelings that may have led to the actions taken
  • the identification of more options going forward
  • a sense of control in seeing new choices and making decisions
  • more confidence
  • a better connection with you, his leader.

Why is coaching a desirable skill for leaders? 

To progress beyond where you are today depends on your ability to get the best out of yourself and others – your team as well as your peers, your boss, your board, your investors, your clients and your suppliers.

That’s what leadership is. It’s about coaching. It’s about influence. If you can bring someone around to their truth, not yours, then you’re leading and influencing them effectively. You’re equipping them to grow. You’re developing them. You’re engaging them.

Emotionally intelligent leaders thrive in this regard. They’re not attached to being ‘right’. Instead, they embody a growth mindset. They see their challenges, and those of their team members, as opportunities to improve.  

The traditional command and control leadership style is archaic and no longer fit for purpose. These leaders will struggle to retain staff. They’ll struggle to maintain engagement, connection and empowerment. Those who stay onboard are unlikely to do much more than contract obligation. Why would they if they’ve no autonomy, no personal accountability, no freedom to think for themselves?

Instead of removing the need for people to think, help them develop their thinking, potential and creativity. That’s what coaching does. 

When you engage others in the coaching process, you give them control. They choose their preferred path forward, so that they can learn more effectively from the experience. 

You help them use their past for context in order to see challenges from a different perspective. Coaching is future focused – you help your team move forward on their terms and at their point of need. 

Fundamentals of successful coaching

There are Five Fundamentals of successful coaching: 

  1. Self-awareness – Knowledge and experience are useful, but if not applied with awareness of the situation and the people involved, they’re useless. You cannot manage or improve anything that you’re not aware of. 
  2. Presence – be a part of their world so that all of your focus, attention and support is on them. The words they’re saying and the ones they’re not. The nuances of their body language, pace of speech, tonality, eye movement. Watch and feel the conversation instead of simply hearing it. You can’t build rapport without being present. 
  3. Listening – it’s incredibly empowering to be truly listened to. Normally, one person speaks and the other thinks about his/her reply. Listen without prejudice or judgement. Try this with friends and family, it takes a lot of practice. 
  4. Curiosity – without this, how can you truly help the person self-discover? Without helping them to self-discover, you can’t help them explore untapped potential and alternative perspectives. Without it, you can’t fulfil the next fundamental.
  5. Effective Questioning – a coach has questions, not answers. When you coach, it isn’t about you, your life, your experience or expertise (that’s more like mentoring). So you have to help them make the unconscious conscious with open-ended and exploratory questions. 

Of course, the more direct communication of advice and instruction have their places in a leader’s toolkit, but in today’s world coaching skills are the most lacking and therefore most critical to develop. We can all improve as a result.  

At TRIPSTank, we practice what we preach. We work with our own coaches.

You can’t give what you don’t have. You have to continually raise your awareness if you’re to help others do the same. That’s how you unlock your potential; no one else can do it for you. No book will do it for you either. It’s a process. So get a coach if you don’t yet have one. 

If you can’t do it for yourself, how do you think you can do it for others? 

By coaching her team member, Kate will empower him to be more engaged with his work and activities, his team, and ultimately his own growth. She will receive more in-depth feedback than “no comments to add”! And critically, she herself won’t become the bottleneck to performance. As leader, it is her responsibility to develop herself and her team.