The coaching style of leadership is one among many. Colene Rogers presents its ability to unlock a person’s full potential and 3 conversations where that can happen.

My father-in-law, Bob Rogers, has told the story of when, as a young boy growing up in Detroit, Michigan, he was sitting around the dinner table with family. They all grew quiet when Bob’s dad, a factory machine-operator, said he had some news. He then told how the boss of the entire factory came to his station that day and had a conversation with him. Bob recalls how much it meant to his dad and how they were all so impressed.

This simple act of conversation was transformative. For Bob’s dad, the routine of working at his machine each day for 20 plus years, was suddenly imbued with importance.  He felt his own value.

How meaningful it is that when Bob grew up, he became a plant manager. And guess what he did. He made it a practice to walk through the factory every day and talk to the people who operated the machines.  

Bob describes these conversations as very informal. He said, “I would allow the men to guide the conversation.” By getting out of his office and talking with these men, on their turf, Bob was communicating with more than words. His action said: 

  • I’m interested in what you have to say and what I can learn from you.
  • I value you and want to know you as a person.
  • I am available if you need anything.
  • We are in this together, if it wasn’t for the work you do, I wouldn’t have a job.

If having informal conversations is truly valuable, are there more intentional conversations leaders could be having with their direct reports?

The coaching style of leadership is one of many

Mary Parker Follett, one of the most influential experts in the early days of classical management theory, said a leader’s challenge is to get work done through others. Easier said than done. Therefore, many styles of leadership have developed over the years. i.e. Authoritative, Transactional, Delegative, Participative, etc.

Which leadership style is the best? I explore the answer to this question in my blog on personality types and their influence on leadership styles. But one could generally answer by saying the style that is needed in the moment. Why? Because all styles have a particular situation or environment where they work the best.

That said, for an everyday approach to leadership, the coaching style of leadership is being utilized more and more for its focus on making every player on the team better and stronger.

The coaching style of leadership focuses on every employees development

Many traditional leadership styles, characterized by command and control, do not focus on employee development.

It is just the opposite with the coaching style of leadership. Sir John Whitmore is a leading voice in the field of coaching. He said that skilled coaching involves “unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance.”  

When perfectly executed, the manager-as-coach invests in the growth of their employees. They provide a balance of support and challenge, without ever judging them.

When perfectly received, employees are genuinely interested in the feedback they receive. It’s a culture of give-and-take where all staff are open to honest and constructive critique, including those in positions of authority.

Asking questions is what releases self-discovery

The supervisor is in charge because they typically have the knowledge and experience. So, aren’t they supposed to impart that knowledge to their direct reports? Yes, but that’s not all.

Supervisors with a coaching style of leadership spend as much time, if not more, creating an environment where employees can make their own discoveries. So how does a supervisor go about helping others make discoveries for themselves? They must learn to stop telling people how to do it all the time and start asking more questions.

Specifically, it is the art of asking a sequence of open-ended questions. When a person participates in finding the answers, it generates self-responsibility and self-belief, a deeper level of learning.     

3 High Value conversations supervisors can have with their direct reports

So much of how a supervisor gets work done through others is through the medium of communication. Supervisors who practice the coaching leadership style can implement 3 types of conversations that foster feedback and self-discovery that is characteristic of the coaching culture.

The first type is what I will call feedback. Supervisors must give feedback so that their employees are equipped to keep the promises made to customers. It is also important for keeping employees interested in wanting to work for you.

It is within this conversation where the coaching style of leadership, less telling and more asking of questions, can really be practiced. Using the GROW model developed by Sir John Whitmore, employees can achieve more lasting performance improvement.  

The second conversation type is what I call retention talks. This is a scheduled one-on-one conversation that a supervisor has with each one of their direct reports, one to two times per year. This is where much of the discovery, development, feedback, and support, characteristic of the coaching style of leadership can take place.  

In this high value conversation, the supervisor is mainly asking questions and actively listening. Questions like how am I doing as your supervisor? Is there anything I or the company can do to make your job work better for you? The skill comes from listening intently and knowing how to ask meaningful follow-up questions.

The third conversation type is what I will call Team Huddles. Some people take too limited a view of this opportunity and only report information related to the task at hand.

This is an opportunity to inspire and to encourage the ideal behaviors you desire to see in your team members. The GROW model can be applied in this setting also where the supervisor asks meaningful questions that improves team performance as they come up with their answers,

coaching takes more time up front but pays off in the end

The Coaching Style Of Leadership: 3 High Value Conversations Supervisors Can Have With Their Direct Reports Colene Rogers Support Image

Some leaders and organizations may feel they don’t have the time to practice the coaching style of leadership. Sometimes it is all we can do just to get the work done that we have promised our clients and customers. It is quicker just to tell employees what to do rather than ask questions.

But one would do well to track time across the whole equation. The coaching style of leadership will require more time up front, but it will equate to more equipped, satisfied, and productive employees; employees who will stay with you longer.

That means less time finding, hiring, and training new employees to take the place of the ones who left.