Years ago, I followed Tiger Woods for several holes at the Buick Invitational Tournament in San Diego, and I marveled at his concentration and skills. I asked myself: “Does Tiger Woods need a coach to be a great golfer?” The answer: Probably not, but he has become a better golfer by working with one.
In Tiger’s case, coaching helped him succeed beyond his then current level of play and elevated his game. His coaching wasn’t intended to fix a problem, and likewise a qualified coach can turn excellent employees into true powerhouses.
Coaching is one of the most important leadership duties and responsibilities. When leaders take the time to coach, people become more confident and motivated, which leads to higher performance and productivity.
One University of Pennsylvania study found that spending 10% of revenue on capital improvements boosts productivity by 3.9%. A similar investment in developing human capital increases productivity by 8.5%, more than double the gain. So, if leaders spend time coaching people, there are obvious benefits to the organization.
To make this investment worthwhile, you need to first master these three skills:
Effective questioning opens the door to understanding what‘s on people‘s minds. When you‘re coaching somebody, ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no. You want the person you’re coaching to think about the answer.
Coaches ask the right questions to move people to what I call the “Ah-Ha” moment. This occurs when people being coached figure something out and realize they have found the answer. The leader didn’t give them the answers, but asked leading questions to help them find it. This is what makes coaching so powerful.
Great coaches get to know their people through active listening. This means giving your total attention to the person you’re coaching, and it’s vital. You need to hear what the person is saying and not saying. This skill may prove difficult for some leaders because active listening requires them to suspend judgment and carefully tune into what the other person is saying and feeling.
Once you master this skill, you can understand what your people are good at, what they’re not so good at, what’s their potential, what their limitations are, and most importantly, where they want to go in their careers.
Armed with that knowledge and understanding, you can structure jobs and work environments that allow each individual to flourish. Effective coaches provide resources and training. They continually monitor progress and provide feedback, knowing when to encourage, but also when to be brutally honest.
When you catch people doing something right and share that with the organization, this is a huge self-esteem boost and motivator for your people. Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their employees. If people believe in themselves, it‘s amazing what they can accomplish, so give them well-deserved praise and help them move forward.
Coaching needn’t take a lot of time, and it doesn’t always have to be conducted in formal sessions. It may be as simple as walking to a person’s desk and asking how things are going or having a short chat in the hallway.
Organizations invest millions of dollars in equipment, hold weeks and months of meetings, and spend an inordinate amount of time making a decision, but they’re being shortsighted when they don’t invest the same time and money in coaching their people.
This article is adapted from Seven Disciplines of a Leader (Wiley, 2014) by Jeff Wolf.
—Jeff Wolf is founder and president of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC, a premier global consulting firm that specializes in helping people, teams and organizations achieve maximum effectiveness.