How to be the coach you always wish you had

Written by: the Officevibe Content Team | Illustrated by: Thaïla Khampo
Published on November 11, 2019 | Reading time: 8m

Looking back on your career so far, who was the one person that really made a difference? Whether it’s an old boss, a teacher, or mentor, we’ve all had one – and if we’re lucky, we’ve had a few.

This person did more than teach you how to accomplish tasks and hit deadlines. They taught you how to ask questions and to carry yourself, personally and professionally. They empowered you to think differently, find your own solutions and take on new challenges. They were your coach, and they changed your life.

Whether you’re a senior-level manager or a brand new team lead, implementing a coaching leadership approach into your management style is essential in today’s workforce. Learning to coach, and not simply “boss” or manage your employees is a role with effects so emotionally rewarding, it will give you goosebumps – the good kind.

What does a coaching leadership style look like?

Simply put, coaching leadership aligns each employee’s personal goals with the company’s goals, with the ultimate goal of achieving high performance, from both the individuals and the team. Great leaders and coaches prioritize empowering employees to a sense of accountability and ownership, pushing them to find opportunities rather than acting as gatekeepers who stand between employees and their growth.

The name of the game is performance development, and that’s what employees of the modern workforce truly crave. It’s what attracts them to a new job, and it’s what keeps them around beyond the honeymoon period. Gallup discovered that the number-one reason people change jobs today is “career growth opportunities,” and this growth is directly related to the way a manager leads and coaches their team to reach their potential.

By actively encouraging employees to grow, coaching helps build a loyal, productive, and focused work environment.

But, while coaching allows leaders and employees to work together to identify, understand, and overcome the perceived issues or difficulties that are holding them back, it can only work if everybody involved is on board and willing to embrace this coach/employee relationship.

Managing style

What sets coaching apart from other management styles?

There are many different leadership styles, and we wouldn’t be so bold as to suggest one style is objectively better than another. Each style functions differently based on the team, the circumstances, and the goals, but coaching sits comfortably between pacesetting and affiliative leadership styles:

  • Pacesetting leadership style set goals based on productivity, output, and efficiency for the team as a whole.
  • Affiliative leadership style focuses on creating harmony and peace within the team, prioritizing emotional connections between the team members.

Coaching cherry-picks the focus on productivity and output from pacesetting leaders, along with the emphasis on emotional connections from affiliative leaders. Working on your emotional intelligence is one of modern leadership’s most essential mandates. Soft skills are not only the number one skill gap, but the answer to building successful and lasting relationships founded in trust.

By combining the two leadership styles, coaches embrace collaboration and pushing employees to set and reach their potential, while contributing to the team’s greater goals, creating a harmony of personalized goal-setting and career mapping.

The critical shift from traditional management to coaching and development

Now more than ever, employees crave growth and development. In fact, the opportunity for self-growth now trumps financial growth in terms of importance. That’s not to say that fair compensation isn’t essential to employee engagement – we need to feel properly valued, but having a sense of purpose takes the cake.

This is why we see a shift from traditional methods of performance management toward more strength-based and developmental methods of coaching. It’s more human, because it doesn’t just emphasize goals and numbers, it emphasizes the person.

As Stéphanie Leblanc, superstar Officevibe manager of 17 employees, told us when we asked her what it really means to be a coach, she relates it first and foremost to caring:

My coaching and leadership style is a direct reflection of how deeply I care for the members of my team.

Stéphanie Leblanc

A coaching mindset is a people-first mindset. It’s learning what really drives people, what they’re good at, what they really love to do, and when they feel they have made the most impact.

This all takes a lot of trust building and getting to really know your employees as people. Officevibe helps managers do this by facilitating continuous, honest conversations. Moreover, we help leaders track a specific metric titled “Relationship With Manager,” so you can keep a weekly pulse on how employees are feeling about their connection with you, get feedback on what can be improved, and make changes in real time.

It’s important to note that being a coach doesn’t have to be a distinct, stand-alone leadership style. It can be a trait of any leader, tacked on to any management style at the right moment.

More importantly, you don’t need to be in a leadership role to coach – nor does coaching need to be something that you leave at the office! The skills that make an effective coach deliver tremendous value in your personal relationships and goals, just as they do for working relationships.

4 Expert tips to build up your coaching style

To get you the best tips, we asked our very own Culture & Engagement expert, Julie Jeannotte. She outlines a few key traits, skills and tips to guide you in your journey to becoming the best coach and manager you can be.

1. Build self-awareness: to develop employees on an individual basis, you need to first understand yourself. You might be incredibly positive and optimistic, or need to break things down a bit to find areas to improve on. Neither approach is wrong, but self-awareness allows you to better connect with everybody on your team by first understanding yourself, and how you affect those around you.

Blue star

Try this: First, look inward and learn if you’re a delegator or supervisor, rather than a coach. If you do want to become more of a coach, ask yourself why, then talk to your team to understand how they see you, ask for constructive feedback, and make a plan to bridge that gap between your current management style, and where you want to be.

2. Listen before speaking: For coaching to work, there needs to be dialogue. But before you start ‘coaching,’ it’s important to hear from your employees, while you take the role of listener.

Pink star

Try this: Ask each employee about positive and negative experiences they’ve had with previous leaders, and techniques they’ve found helpful for them personally. This information will allow you to build an action plan to successfully coach each employee based on their respective needs.

3. Offer trust by default: In sports, if a coach doesn’t trust a player, they’ll never leave the bench. And if the player doesn’t trust the coach or their system, they won’t perform. It’s a difficult cycle to escape, but breaking it is crucial. Coaching is all about building a relationship between the leader and employee, and trust is the basis of every successful relationship.

Black star

Try this: Rather than approaching a tough situation like poor performance with a disciplinary mindset, sit down, hear their side of the story and try to understand what happened. They may have misunderstood the request, which led to the breakdown and loss of trust. Open, vulnerable discussions help you both re-establish trust, re-open your lines of communication, and develop a stronger foundation going forward.

4. Play professional matchmaker: a successful team is greater than the sum of its parts, and a successful coach knows how to partner up individual employees who complement each other’s skills and can learn from one another’s weaknesses, strengths, and goals.

Green star

Try this: If you’re building an app, you don’t need a room full of designers. You need designers, strategists, developers, testers, writers, etc. Know who to pair and when to pair them, then empower them to reach new heights – individually and collectively.

Strengths-based coaching (Conversation starters included)

In Gallup’s new breakthrough publication, “It’s the Manager,” they share a list of helpful questions to guide your coaching conversations and to discover and drive your employees’ strengths.

1. What are your recent successes?
2. What are you most proud of?
3. What rewards and recognition matter most to you?
4. How does your role make a difference?
5. How would you like to make a bigger difference?
6. How are you using your strengths in your current role?
7. How would you like to use your strengths in the future?
8. What knowledge and skills do you need to get to the next stage of your career?

Coaching underperforming employees

My experience has regularly demonstrated that value creation and consistent performance is achieved only when passion and skill collide. On more than one occasion, I’ve guided stagnating or poor performing employees towards their sweet spot. How? Genuine and profound interest in people are two musts that will lead you towards the reflections that surface opportunities for improvement.

Stéphanie LeBlanc

If you have an employee who’s struggling to perform, coaching allows you to get a first-hand understanding of their performance, abilities, skills, attitude, and output. You can then use that insight to build a plan that aligns with their long-term career goals, as well as your company’s needs and goals. Take the time to understand why the employee is having a difficult time, where things went wrong, and find a way to resolve and overcome the issue.

To easily set one-on-one agendas collaboratively with employees and follow up on action items, try our new Performance Management Tool, now available in the Officevibe platform.

One last thing: don’t go at it alone

While coaching is different from other leadership styles, there’s one thing they all have in common: even the best coaches need a coach of their own. That doesn’t mean you need a specific manager to act as your coach, but you certainly need a person or group that you can rely on for support. Whether you need a fresh perspective on an issue or want to work through a problem that you’re facing, having somebody or a few people that share your work ethic and values is a great resource to help coach you through challenging or difficult situations. We all need a sounding board.

Happy Coaching!