Whenever we’re asked by clients about what makes a good leader, our answer is always the same: the best leaders are the ones that are true to themselves, but with a superpower. That superpower is the ability to coach.
Coaching is the ultimate people management tool. Coaching is a superpower that can increase employee engagement, improve performance and encourage individual responsibility.
Imagine being asked to drive to a particular destination. We can all plug a post code into a GPS and follow instructions to get us there. We all do it and it works. But what happens when the GPS fails, and we haven’t taken the time to learn how to read a map? Quite simply, we get lost. Coaching helps us learn to navigate the route for ourselves instead of relying on someone else for the answer. It is this ability to be self-directed that drives so many of the proven benefits that coaching brings.
But what is coaching?
Coaching is often described as a powerful collaboration between two people designed to move the coachee forwards towards a goal. It is results-oriented, future focussed but without judgement. It’s not telling someone the answers but nor is it therapy.
Coaching is a no brainer for effective business. When delivered effectively, it has been proven to increase intrinsic motivation, innovation and performance. It also improves retention – key in the current recruitment market. According to McKinsey, when employees find greater intrinsic motivation, they are 32% more committed to their work and 46% more satisfied with their jobs.
Coaching is just as effective in the construction industry as it is elsewhere. A year‐long action research coaching project* in the Swedish construction industry showed coaching helped a group of site managers significantly improve their communication, become more self-reflexive and equipped them to consider a broader range of perspectives in their work. The knock-on effect was improved innovation and communication across the projects as well as an increase in engagement. Improved health and safety was the outcome of another study, thanks to an increase in personal responsibility and risk assessment across the site.
So clearly, we need to coach more. But how?
One option is to bring in external coaches. This can be incredibly valuable but not as a substitute for internal leaders championing a culture of coaching themselves. The best way to start is by increasing three simple behaviours: active listening, open questioning and building increased rapport.
Often in conversation, we wait for our chance to answer instead of stepping back to hear what is really being said. Listening to understand as opposed to listening to respond is a learned skill. But it is one very worth learning. Being actively listened to is shown to grow trust between a manager and their people, as well as generate space for employees to resolve things on their own. Think of yourself as a sounding board, rather than a Magic 8-Ball. As a manager-coach, you help employees solve their own problems instead of telling them what to do. As well as improving their engagement, your own workload will reduce as they grow in confidence to resolve issues independently.
Open questioning is another art. So often, we can fall into the trap of being the problem-solver for direct reports. Instead, ask open questions that lead to the employee finding their own solutions instead of being directed towards yours. Instead of “yes” or “no” answers, open-ended questions solicit ideas, drawbacks, potential opportunities, and options from the employee being coached.
As leaders become better at listening and open questioning, rapport will grow. Finding times to connect with your people on a personal level – perhaps a regular development check-in – instead of limiting conversations to current projects, as well as being authentic and genuine yourself, will all help in this regard. Along with increased rapport, comes loyalty, engagement and trust. It’s a win-win for all involved.
If your organisation could use some guidance around adopting the coaching approach or, indeed, some external coaching, we at Up Rising are experts in leading your people for performance, engagement and wellbeing. Get in touch with us now.
* Coaching as second‐order observations: Learning from site managers in the construction industry, Styhre, Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 2008