Using coach-like skills to lead with impact

Sara Knapp

Post by Sara Knapp, Executive Coach

Humans are strange, stubborn creatures. Let someone try to give us advice or tell us to do something, and our inner five-year-old surfaces in a second. We roll our eyes (at least to ourselves) and dig in our heels. But smart parents use a little psychology. They help us kids come up with solutions ourselves, and we get right on it.

Coaches know this. And good leaders, who take a coach’s approach to managing people, are masters of this kind of strategy. They empower people and get their commitment and support willingly. 

How? They listen. They toss out their assumptions about the person or the situation. They really concentrate on what’s being said, rather than try to plug the problem into some preconceived framework, or think of answers or solutions while the other person is talking.

They ask more questions than they give answers. They use powerful questions to unlock the other’s thinking rather than provide solutions. They’re patient with people and their problems. They don’t try to do the fixing for them.

They focus on the other person. They frame things and look at situations in terms of the other’s strengths, challenges and attributes.

They make talk “intentional”. They don’t just have conversations. They structure discussions in ways that let people become more aware of themselves, and their untested assumptions. They help others see possibilities and opportunities that they otherwise couldn’t see. And they tap into others’ strengths and innate motivations to take action for growth and change.

They give regular feedback. Good, bad or neutral, it’s less threatening when it’s put in proper context and can be recognized for what it is: information.

They don’t sweep problems under the rug. They deal with things as they come up, and as they are. Counterproductive behaviour, sketchy thinking patterns and faulty assumptions don’t have time to become ingrained.

They encourage deep, reflective thinking that promotes change. Real, long-term change needs ongoing, thoughtful and intentional practice. New habits need time for us to start feeling comfortable with them. Our brains have to develop new pathways so new thinking and new behaviour are more likely to become established and be sustained.

Want to create the kind of change that marks you as a leader? Stop telling and advising the people you manage and work with. Start coaching them instead.