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Six Skills Leaders Can Master To Become Better Coaches In 2021

Coaching in 2021 is going to be vastly different than in years past. Leaders must show empathy, yet employees also need to be resilient. So what is an organization to do? Coaching has never been more needed during and certainly after the pandemic crisis.

For years, as coaching has grown in popularity, organizations have taken a training approach to this challenge. As I have said many times during webcasts and public speaking events, training has never been the problem. Anytime somebody is trained in something, we must apply and practice what has been taught. Let me share a quick parallel with another area that helps illustrate this point. Recently, sales organizations have become more accustomed to using video as a tool to truly ascertain salespeople’s strengths and opportunities to improve. One company that I partner with, Allego, has created a video-based platform that helps sales organizations practice and provides reinforcement through feedback. We need to do the same thing with leadership coaching.

Coaching skills really encompass a wide array of imperatives. The following list does not encompass every skill required to be a great leadership coach yet certainly depicts some of the most valuable:

1. Questioning

Coaching, to a certain extent, is like a foreign language. We don’t go home after work and ask our spouse or family members, “What are your thoughts around going out for dinner?” We simply ask close-ended questions such as, “Do you want to go out for dinner?” The key to coaching is to help people become self-aware, and when we give people the opportunity to answer close-ended questions, they will cut themselves off from that opportunity. It is imperative that leaders become accustomed to asking good open-ended questions.

2. Active Listening

Active listening is the ability to paraphrase and state back to somebody what they have said and meant. This is such a great way to build trust between a coach and an employee and cannot be understated. Yet so often employees will later share they felt like they could not say anything without their boss interrupting them. The way we interact and certainly the way we listen can absolutely erode trust in a person’s willingness to be coached. A great leader of coaching Dave Stevens from the InPro Corporation shared with me how he literally would practice with leaders on turning off their phones and their monitors to demonstrate and to condition themselves to truly be ready to listen to their employees who they were about to coach. The results were dramatic.

3. Focus

Focus will always be a challenge as many leaders wear many hats. You could say the same thing about employees. Now that many organizations live in this new virtual world, we are visually stimulated by things in our home that can often distract us, and we must demonstrate and mentally prepare ourselves to truly be focused.

4. Conversational Capacity

Conversational capacity is one’s ability to maintain a conversation by conversing, asking questions and demonstrating active listening while resisting the urge to always give the other person part of the answer or tell them what to do. That is not to say that providing someone an answer is a bad thing, but doing that exclusively will prompt a coaching session to quickly transition into a management feedback session.

5. The Ability To Understand Motivation

Often, leaders will share that they have an employee who is lacking motivation. When prompted, many of these leaders will share that they do not know what motivates these people, yet they just do not seem like they want to do their job. It is incumbent upon every leader to understand what truly motivates every employee versus assuming what motivates them — or worse — trying to motivate the employee based on what motivates you.

6. Empathy

Empathy is one of the core tenets of emotional intelligence. To demonstrate empathy, we must adopt language that is empathetic, thoughtful and professional. Coaches must also be aware of how someone else is emotionally feeling and adjust our approach to provide a sense of sensitivity.

These six skills require practice. In my experience, very few people demonstrate active listening. I often hear employees say, whether fairly or unfairly, that their boss just seemed like he was someplace else due to a lack of focus. In 2021, the stakes are high, and we must position our leaders in such a way that helps them to adopt coaching skills so we can hit the ground running after the pandemic subsides. As I see it, any training initiative or program must be followed by reinforcement courses as well as scheduled practice sessions. In addition, leadership coaches should be paired with other coaches, whether inside the organization or outside the organization, to assist them in the process of not only becoming better at coaching but better at applying coaching to their specific workplace challenges.

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