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Three Essential Coaching Skills for Leaders

Leaders Ask Questions

Do an internet search on the word ‘coaching’ and you’ll be instantly overwhelmed by how the word is broadly defined  

In the work world, there is a widely held belief that coaches dispense advice, correct wrongs, and tell you what to do.  Sometimes coaching is seen as therapy, consulting or mentoring. But it’s none of those things   

So, what does it mean to be a coach leader and what are the coaching skills we can put it into action?   

What does a leader coach do?  

According to the International Coaching Federation, a coach helps individuals improve their own performance by helping them learn.   

At Fluency, we describe a coach as a third-party thinking partner who helps you get from where you are now to where you want to be in the future.   

By adopting a coach mindset (staying curious and asking questions), leaders can help their people become the very best version of themselves.  Done well, Coach Approach can shift mindset and unlock potential, capability and capacity as well as fuel motivation, action and growth.  

Coaching skills are the superpower of the next generation of leaders.   

How does coaching work?  

Coaching is not about having all the right answers. It’s about having all the right questions. (tweet this) 

Coaching isn’t about telling (directive), it’s about asking (non-directive)Research and neuroscience tell us that non-directive coaching helps people find their own solutions and insights and, in so doing, fuels brain rewards that result in learning, motivation, ownership and action.  

What are the upsides of coaching skills?  

Leaders who put coaching skills to work build team members who are more independent and resilientThey also build future leaders who know how to solve problems and make decisions.   

And as a bonus, if as leaders you start coaching and stop doing all the heavy lifting of telling, solving and checking up, you have more time to lead and focus on the bigger strategy. You grow your own capacity by unlocking the capacity of others. 

Putting Coaching Skills into Action  

1. Get Curious – Ask Questions   

As the Greek Philosopher Plutarch said, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” We kindle that fire through questions.  

Curious, nonnon-judgmental questions engage the brain differently and provoke insights, possibilities, and new ways of looking at things or tackling a challengePowerful questions help us get to the heart of the issue. They allow people to dig deep. They bring about insights, build confidence, and empower people to act.  

The best questions are open, short, agenda-free and typically start with What, Who or HowWhy questions are to be avoided because they raise defenses or appear judgmental. Some examples:   

What is challenging about this situation?  (vs. Why are you struggling with this?) 

What’s holding you back? (vs Why don’t you just to it?) 

The next time a team member comes to you to solve a problem, try asking them these questions instead:  

  • What are your ideas?  
  • What have you tried? 
  • What haven’t you tried?  
  • How can I help?   

It won’t be easy to start. You’ll feel the urge to jump in, rescue, give advice, and tell the person what to do 


Michael Bungay Stanier, author of the great resources to learn coaching skills The Coaching Habit and The Advice Trap encourages us to stay curious longer.    

What action will you take this week to ask more curious questions?  


2. Hold People Capable  

This is not so much a coaching skill as it is a mindset shift.     

The irony is leaders spend time finding the right people with the skills, smarts and experience we need, then we second guess them. We micromanage, rescue, make assumptions. or get super directive (do it my way).  

No one likes to be undermined or told how to do things. It takes away our autonomy, sense of status, and diminishes our confidence. Its also been proven that giving unsolicited advice (“you know what you should do?”) can trigger our fightorflight response and causes stress.   

Of course, the are times when people are learning that we need to be directive, show how it is done and/or step in. That should be the exception, not the rule.   

Not holding people capable of getting the work done sends a message you don’t trust them, and it sets you up to do all the workThe result is you create a legion of future followers, not future leaders.   

If you’ve hired right, trained well, have a vision, and clear expectations, you mostly need to empower, trust and hold people capable and accountable to deliver results. 

What could you accomplish as a leader if you truly held people capable  

What is one small step you can take to put this mindset into action?   

3. Listen…Really Listen  

As leaders we talk more than we listen. After all, we are the leader, directing the team, having all the answers and making all the decisionsAnd it’s much more expedient to tell instead of asking 

Listening is how we build trust, connectionand relationships. It’s the gateway to understanding, empathy and compassion.  MCo-Founder Colin Macrae explored this in depth in his blog Are you a good listener?  

Listening is the duct tape of human connection. It’s the active ingredient in trusting and bonded relationships.”  (tweet this)

Listening and getting comfortable with silence are critical coaching skills for leaders. And listening takes place on many levels. It’s what is said and what isn’t said. We can learn to listen for tone, body language, gesture, expressions.  To tune in and really listen, we need to minimize distractions, be present in the conversation, and show we are listening.    

And when we ask a question, we need to create and hold the space to sit in silence to allow the other person to think deeply, explore options, find answers, and come to their own insights. Silence isn’t always comfortable, but it is powerful.   

In the silence, the work can be done. It’s where the magic happens.    

What would that change for your team if you did less talking and more listening?  

How can you show up as an active listener this week?   


Want to build coaching skills to accelerate your leadership? We have a workshop for that. Contact us to learn more. 

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