When you consider your role as a leader, what springs to mind?
Perhaps you think first of your responsibility to motivate and engage your direct reports. Perhaps you consider the role you play in decision-making and delivering the company’s strategy. Or perhaps you see yourself mainly as a communicator, making sure everyone knows what they need to do and why.
All these things are part of being a manager. But there’s another role too that leaders play within their teams – and often separates a leader from a manager. And that’s the position of coach.
In technology-driven modern workplaces, employees are often expected to master a wide range of skills. As well as the expertise they need to do their core role, they’ll need to develop their competency in various IT systems, time management and organization, problem-solving, project management, communication, teamwork, and more.
In order to develop all those skills, employees need the support of their leader and a team atmosphere that encourages learning and development.
Of course, training others has always been a part of leadership. But the days are gone when “being the boss” meant telling them exactly what to do and how to do it.
Great leaders understand that they have a responsibility to help their team members grow and develop. And the best way to do that isn’t by telling them what to do, but by taking a coaching role.
In this blog post, we’ll focus first on leaders as coaches and consider what this looks like in practice. Then, we’ll discuss how using assessments can help you coach your team members more effectively.
Why Should Leaders Be Coaches?
At their core, leadership roles are all about getting the best from the people you lead. So, it makes sense that part of your job is making sure your employees are growing their skills so that they can perform their tasks more effectively and contribute to achieving the company’s aims.
However, there is a big difference between teaching someone to do something and supporting them to learn. This is what determines whether you’re acting as a coach or not.
During a busy working week, it can be tempting to opt for the first option. After all, it is generally quicker to just tell someone what they should do than to support them as they figure it out for themselves.
However, managers should be wary of falling into this habit for a few reasons.
Firstly, in order to tell your employees what to do in every situation, you’ll need to be an expert in every aspect of their job. With the vast range of roles and skills required by most modern workplaces, it’s fairly unlikely that you’ll be able to maintain such in-depth knowledge of every task of every member of your team.
Second, taking the top-down approach to training prevents employees from fully taking ownership of their own area of work. Instead of having the opportunity to develop their problem-solving skills and creativity, they remain locked into doing things the same way they’ve been taught.
So, what does it look like to take a coaching approach instead?
The classic definition of coaching is given by Sir John Whitmore, a leader in this field. He defines it as “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.?It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”
When you take a coaching approach, you start with the assumption that the person you’re coaching is capable, resourceful, and able to figure out their own solutions. As you might already have guessed, this approach can work wonders for your relationship with your employees, who feel empowered by your trust in their abilities.
Instead of handing your team members the answers or giving them advice and suggestions, your role as a coach is to listen, ask questions, and provide feedback for employees as they come up with their own solutions.
This isn’t to say that you can never share your own knowledge and expertise with your team. Providing mentoring to others is also part of being a good leader and there’s definitely a time and place for being more directive in your approach. Knowing when to do that and when to take a coaching approach instead is a tricky balance to strike. However, many of us are more naturally drawn to teaching than coaching, so we need to be mindful that there are likely more opportunities to act as a coach than we’re currently using.
As we’ve already discussed, coaching can be a slower and more time-consuming approach than teaching. And it requires patience too, especially since you may well feel like you already have the solution and want to bring your employee to the same conclusion.
However, research shows there are many benefits to taking the time to coach your employees in this way.
A couple of these benefits we’ve already looked at. Coaching strengthens your relationships with your team members because they know you believe they are capable of finding their own solutions. And it helps people develop their creativity and problem-solving skills when they are given support to learn instead of just having the answers handed to them.
Coaching also helps people find more satisfaction and fulfillment in their jobs. Because they are given ownership of their areas of responsibility and know they’ll have support in coming up with solutions when needed, they feel trusted, empowered, and engaged with their work.
Plus, taking a coaching approach can help your team collaborate and communicate more effectively. When they see you modeling coaching, your employees are more likely to adopt the behavior themselves, creating an environment where people feel encouraged to bounce ideas off each other and brainstorm creatively.
Of course, seeing yourself as a coach also helps you foster an environment where your team members feel empowered to focus on learning new things and developing their skills. When you make being a coach a fundamental part of how you approach leadership, you’ll naturally start to seek opportunities to allow your employees to upskill and take on new responsibilities.
How Do Assessments Help You Coach Employees?
We’ve hopefully convinced you that coaching is a vital part of being an effective leader and supporting your employees to grow.
However, this isn’t an approach that comes naturally to many of us. In fact, research indicates that many people overestimate their ability to coach others effectively.
Don’t be disheartened by this though. Like any skill, coaching is something that can be learned. Most managers find they pick up coaching fairly quickly once they understand what it is and how to do it.
There are also tools available to help you coach your employees more effectively. A vital part of successfully coaching someone is understanding where they are right now, where they are trying to get to, and what methods they respond to best.
As a leader, you hopefully already have some idea of what makes your employees tick. However, it is easy to make assumptions about people that might not be correct, or miss some of the nuances that would help you understand the full picture.
This is where assessments can be such a useful tool. By helping you learn more about your employees – their personalities, their preferred ways of working, their strengths, and where they need further development – an assessment can help you successfully connect with each individual and support them as a coach.
Taking an assessment can also be valuable for helping employees get the most from the coaching support you’re offering. It provides an opportunity for them to increase their understanding of their own personality, communication style, motivators, and abilities, as well as a starting point from which to increase their focus on their development.
So, one reason to use assessments is to increase your understanding of your employees and their understanding of themselves. Assessments can also provide a useful baseline from which to start further coaching conversations.
Once you know where your team members are currently, you can identify where they might need some support in developing their skills and confidence. The results of the assessment can provide a catalyst for further conversations, providing you with a framework to work from.
What Insights Can Assessments Give You About Your Employees?
It’s important to note that the assessments used to understand people better in a work environment aren’t like the tests we all had to do at school. These aren’t exams that can be passed or failed.
There are different types of assessment available, depending on what you want to discover. Some give you insights into your employees’ personalities, others look at communication style, and others consider what behaviors someone can adopt to increase their competency in certain areas.
Exactly what you learn from the assessment depends on which tests you use. However, some of the insights assessments may provide that can help you develop your coaching relationship with your team members include:
1. Understanding motivators and values
We’ve explored before how helping your employees find a sense of purpose and meaning at work can benefit performance, engagement, and retention. Assessments can help you here by increasing your understanding of each person’s core motivators and values.
Then, you can go into coaching conversations with this understanding of the person you’re supporting in mind. When you know what drives them, you’ll have a better idea of how and why they approach different situations.
2. Identifying blockages
Another way assessments can be useful is in identifying factors that are preventing your employees from developing as they should. Perhaps their confidence is low, which holds them back from speaking up or taking the lead even when they are capable of doing so. Perhaps their communication style doesn’t gel with the rest of the team. Perhaps their interests don’t fully align with their tasks.
When you know what is holding people back, you can find ways to support them in overcoming these challenges and approaching work from a different perspective.
3. Uncovering goals and ambitions
Setting career development goals should be part of your appraisal process and revisited regularly during one-on-ones. But assessments can also help you and your employees get clarity on where their ambitions lie and where there are gaps to fill before they can meet their aims.
With this structure in place, you can ensure you’re providing opportunities for each person to work on getting their skills and experience where they need to be to take their desired next step in their career.
4. Establishing shared understanding for considering development
When your employees have the chance to see and understand the results of their assessments, it can provide an incredibly valuable jumping-off point for you both to continue discussions about their development.
Assessments help your employees increase their self-awareness in a way that feels objective and non-judgmental. This should leave them more willing to work with you to increase their learning, overcome their weaknesses, and utilize their strengths.
As a result, assessments can save you time by making sure everyone is on the same page about what the starting point is and where there is room for improvement. When you follow through on the findings by making yourself available as a coach, your team members feel supported to take charge of their own learning and proactively seek opportunities for development.
How Can You Use Assessments Effectively?
There are lots of different types of assessment available. Your in-house HR team may have some they already work with. But, in most cases, assessments will be chosen and conducted by external consultants.
This means you’ll have expert advice on which types of assessment can best help you understand your employees and support your coaching. You’ll also have help on hand to decode the results and decide how to implement them effectively.
At Bartell & Bartell, we have numerous tools available to help you gain valuable insights into your individual staff members and your team as a whole. And we also offer leadership coaching that will support you in developing your own skills as a leader and as a coach.
Explore our services to find out more about how we could help your organization thrive.