Many leaders are feeling the pressure of work, and have turned to strategies such as leadership coaching programs to fast track their goals, and success. What would it mean for you and your organization if you had more time for what you actually need to focus on? Strategy, vision, growth, thinking more than a few weeks or months ahead?

Find the style of leadership you have, and make it the one you need

George* has been a command-and-control leader for most of his career. In many ways he has been very successful. He gets things done and people fall in line when he barks. When George is involved, things get done. George had been with the organization a long time and had worked his way into the VP role he had always desired. The challenge for George is that with the incredible growth of the organization, he could no longer know everything and be involved in everything. As George felt this loss of control, his natural reaction was to double down and try to insert even more control. This caused much discontent among his leadership team, who felt they weren’t being trusted to do their jobs, which in turn began having a negative ripple effect throughout the organization.   

The CEO quickly realized that George’s leadership style was limiting his success in his new role and was very concerned they had made the wrong decision. The organization needed George to bring a different kind of value than he had brought in the past. George needed to shift from being the ‘doer’, to coaching and inspiring the ‘doers’.   

For some it is a big shift to move from a ‘telling’ style of leadership to a coaching style.

One myth is that coaching takes longer than telling. In the short term that might appear to be true, you do have to slow yourself down in order to have a good coaching conversation with an individual or team. However, the time you take in those moments pays off exponentially in the long term. Participating in leadership coaching programs might be exactly what you need to get that shift!

Organizations that have taken the time to build a ‘coaching culture’ agree that the payoff is well worth the time, investment, and effort.  They report having more energized employees who are skilled at solving their problems and taking responsibility for their parts of the business.

Employees who look for ways to be more effective and bring forward innovative ideas to help grow and improve the business.

There are appropriate times for ‘telling’, even in an organization that has a coaching culture. It is about awareness of what leadership style is appropriate given the situation. A feedback rich coaching culture brings out the best in people, allows people to contribute their ideas and talents, and frees up leaders to focus on their priorities of growing the people and the business.  

An added bonus coming from leadership coaching programs…it builds a pipeline of talented and committed leaders who are ready to step into positions as the business grows.  In this era where talent is difficult to find and keep, creating a coaching rich culture can make the difference!

What can you do, starting right now, to begin building a coaching culture in your organization?

Think about the number of organizations in the world, and consider how all of them have different cultures within. People, work spaces, visions and goals are expressed differently, though they all rely on leaders to practice some necessary coaching advice. Here are 7 ways to get you started!

1. Start with YOU!

Be brutal with self-reflection. What behaviours do you have that invite deeper conversations, and what behaviours shut down conversation? Do you ask a lot of closed questions, questions that can be answered with a Yes or a No? Closed questions shut people down, open questions invite more dialogue. How do you react to disappointment in someone who didn’t hold up their end of the bargain? Do you probe for what got in their way or do you come down on them with blame and assumptions? How you act, how you react, what kind of questions you ask others, what kind of questions you are open to from others…these things all set the stage for the kind of culture you create in your organization. Do a deep self-examination about your own behaviour, mindset, and motivations. Then, ask for feedback from others to ensure your perception matches other people’s experience of you.

2. Participate in leadership coaching programs, or train your leaders in some basic coaching skills.

Many leaders don’t coach because they don’t know how. They don’t have the skills or confidence to lead a conversation with a coaching approach. Discuss the difference between coaching and mentoring.  Give them some basic training to get them started and build their confidence – ensure the training is continual, not one-and-done. Talk about coaching and have people share their experiences, both good and not so good.

3. Pay attention to your language.

When you begin a question with, “Why did you…” or “Why didn’t you…” you invite defensiveness, blame and finger pointing.  When you begin a conversation with “What went well and what would you do differently next time?” or “How can we continue to improve upon that?” or “How would you do that differently if you had to do it again?” you are inviting people to be in collaboration with you and share their perspectives and ideas. You are inviting them to celebrate the things that went well, and problem solve the things that didn’t go so well.

4. Make feedback a regular part of the employee experience.

When employees only get feedback once a year it tends to be an anxiety induced discussion as they wait to hear what they might have done poorly, that, by the way, no one has shared with them.  When employees get used to hearing the good feedback and the corrective/construction feedback on a regular basis it just becomes the norm. We hear regularly from clients that when they are working in a ‘feedback rich’ culture they have more trust in the organization and are more likely to take good, calculated risks and stretch themselves.

5. Let others see your vulnerability.

Use yourself as an example, especially if something didn’t go as well as you would have liked. Let people see your leadership team coaching each other and giving and receiving feedback.  Let them see you talk about what you are learning about yourself and what you are working on with your own development. People watch what you do, far more than they listen to what you say.  When you model that you are open to coaching and learning, this will trickle throughout the organization.

6. Offer access to external coaches. 

Better yet, make it mandatory for everyone on your leadership team to take part in some 1:1 coaching so they can experience the benefits and model their commitment. As much as an organization may espouse having great internal leadership coaching programs where employees should feel completely safe to show up honestly, the fact is that most employees are wary of sharing things they think might limit them in some way within the organization. It takes time and effort to get there as a team! This is especially true if they are struggling with something or someone within the organization and they don’t trust the true confidentiality of the internal coaching relationship.  Perception is everything. Show you are serious about a coaching culture by offering people options.

7. Reinforce accountability in all levels of leadership for developing people and Practice, Practice, Practice.

A coaching culture requires an ongoing effort and reinforcement. Leaders will focus on what they are measured on. Have ‘developing people’ part of the performance measurement system and encourage leaders to share their successes and failures with each other. Set aside time bi-weekly to have a development conversation with employees. This is a time where you don’t talk about their tasks or projects. You focus solely on how they are doing as a person, what skills they are fully utilizing, what skills they have that might be currently underutilized, what personal and professional development they have been working on and how are they progressing, where they might like to contribute more, etc.

Do you want results?

George was surprised and nervous about the feedback he received from the CEO.  However, upon recognizing that the CEO was committed to his success, he became engaged in learning how he could be a more effective leader in his new role. The organization set him up with a coach that he chose from a variety of leadership coaching programs and the CEO committed to have regular ‘coaching conversations’ to support his success.

Feedback from his team after just six months demonstrated the value of building a coaching culture. George’s leadership team had re-engaged and were now just as dedicated to George’s success as he was to theirs.

So, what are you already doing well in building your coaching culture? What’s one thing you might start doing more of that will enhance and reinforce that culture?

*name changed to protect confidentiality