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The Leader as Coach

  • Agile
  • Agile Coach
Created on :
February 27, 2018
Updated on :
November 15, 2021

Do you know when to coach or mentor? Do you know how to use coaching skills to improve leadership skills? Let’s find out how.

We all work with leaders. We all have problems and as subordinates end up going to our leader for a resolution. Here are five typical responses from leaders:

  • Drama: Here the leader talks about the past (‘’you should have…”) and doesn’t really help you solve the current problem. Yelling may or may not be involved.
  • Telling: The ones who tell you what to do and how to do it.
  • Doing: “Ï will take care of it.” The leader takes your work and gets it done.
  • Teaching/Mentoring: They teach you by giving you pointers to help you resolve stakeholder conflict. They teach you skills to handle situations at work. In addition, mentors work with you on the task to provide you on-the-spot advices.
  • Coaching: “How would you handle this problem” – asks you for resolution instead of telling, doing or teaching. Makes you think through the resolution by asking you powerful questions or allowing you to take decisions

Good leaders spend more time coaching and teaching/mentoring.

Now that we have a fair idea on what is coaching let us understand the relationship between coaching and leadership.

What is Leadership?

Leadership is the ability to inspire others. In a coaching world, the below equation from ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’ is popular and interesting:

Performance of an individual or a team

Potential is the capability of individual or a team

Interference is mental block (“I can’t do it”)

A good coach focuses on removing your interference rather than improving potential. Decreasing the interferences automatically improves performance. For e.g., the CEO can improve company performance by believing in the potential of his employees and coaching when needed to remove interferences.

Since removing interference is key, let’s look at how to reduce it and improve coaching:

  • Believe in potential: Leaders who give advice are actually telling and don’t believe in one’s potential.
  • Respecting: Respect the individual and do not undermine the criticality of problem or situation requiring discussion.
  • Listening: 50-60% of the problem is known to be solved if one listens to the subordinate explain the situation.
  • Make them think: Help them think rather than solving the problem for them. Phrases like “I can show you how to do it, you want to give up,” “don’t you want to try more” motivate the subordinate to solve the problem.
  • Direct communication: Do not confuse the subordinate by speaking jargons that may not be relevant to the subordinate. Be direct.

Leadership Style

Leadership style may require changes. As your team becomes more capable, you as a leader need to move towards coaching. As you move from doing to coaching, you lose management control because you aren’t giving instructions. Coaching helps your teams decision making capacity to increase. When you direct and advice, ask yourself “is it blocking my subordinate from growing.”

Finally as you move towards your coaching journey, here are some resources to help you improve coaching:

  1. Our Three Days long Certified Agile Coach program
  2. One Year long ICF program
  3. Some helpful books:
    • Coaching for performance by John Whitmore
    • Quiet Leadership: Six steps to transforming performance at work by David Rock
    • Humble Inquiry; The Gentle Art of Asking instead of Telling by Edgar H. Schein

You may also like to explore recording of webinar done on this topic