The best way to strengthen your coaching muscle

My 9-year-old son Alex had his first 2 night away district Cub Camp last weekend. About 90 cubs went on nature walks, made flags, played games, and, by all accounts, had loads of fun. I offered an extra pair of hands on Sunday morning – folding up tents, working in the kitchen and cleaning toilets. It was neat to be part of it all and I take my hat off to the Cub Leaders and assistant leaders who volunteer their time to provide a safe learning environment for kids to explore and learn – about themselves, others, and the world they live in.

Just as kids need investing into with great learning experiences, so do people within our teams.

Directing people (through a ‘results’ focus) as well as empowering people (through a ‘development’ focus) with the right level of guidance, support and coaching is a tricky balancing act for leaders. The balancing act is getting harder. Work is fast paced and complex, and our working environment is filled with constant change. There’s often no one right answer which means we’re leading in the shades of grey.

Growing your thinking capacity as well as that of your team should be at the top of how you benchmark your leadership.

What is your balance of directing (telling) versus coaching (questioning)?

Taking time to pause and to ask yourself: am I directing the way forward here to meet my need for certainty (and to make me feel better) or am I directing because it’s the best way to lead my team right now? Answering this question accurately takes self-awareness.

Being too reactionary and results focused comes at the expense of investing time into people.

Soft skills like communication, teamwork, and problem solving, as well as emotional judgement will form the most valued jobs in the future. According to Deloitte, two thirds of jobs will be soft-skill intensive by 2030¹. Your coaching muscle is reflected in all these soft skills.

How you take the lead creates the environment around you that others step into. How aware are you of the environment you create around you? Every interaction with others creates an experience of your leadership. Are you shaping the environment you think you are?

Let’s take this conversation a step further:

What are the most important or valuable conversations you have? Why do you say that?

Teaching people how to do their job has been replaced by showing people how to succeed.

Coaching is becoming integral to the fabric of a learning culture. Your curiosity and questioning teaches others how to improve and expand their thinking and adaptability – as well as your own. Co-created conversations allow learning on both sides and your listening tells people they matter. Coaching isn’t a hat you put on when it suits you – it’s one you never take off.

How would your team rate your ability as a coach? Research shows leaders often overrate their ability². Growing your coaching muscle involves overcoming these barriers:

I don’t have time – we’ve just got to get it done
I’ve already decided the direction/decision I want to proceed with or idea I want to pursue
I’ve tried already and they just weren’t getting it
These reasons not to coach make it convenient for you to assert authority and ‘tell’ rather than ‘ask’, but it’s really just another way of making it about you.

The next time you go to give someone direction or an answer, ask yourself instead: is there a question I could ask right now that could help someone define and progress their own path forward?

Bringing it all together

Knowing when to share knowledge and when to help others discover it for themselves is a muscle well worth building over time. Through the process, you might find an even better answer. Plus you’ll find out what your team are really made of. The best leaders I know believe that empowering others into their potential is at the core of their legacy. Is it the same for you? I’d love to know.

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