Employee engagement has dropped so low that there is now a term for it – “quiet quitting.” Digital transformation is supposed to disrupt work, automate and make work easier, yet we are demanding more from our employees. Gone are the days of relying on salaries and bonuses to motivate people. Employees are demanding more meaningful work but many managers only know how to focus on revenue, and they forget the core elements that drive performance: mutual learning, engagement and feeling valued. This is why managers need coaching skills.
Would you accept good enough?
Why can’t that employee work faster? Why do they not follow instructions or deliver on time? How many times have you thought such things to yourself? We all do it and somehow, people never seem to change. Managers need coaching skills to enable that change once and for all.
When we tell people to do something differently, they simply can’t follow through. The brain won’t let them. As this Forbes article on Behavior Change and Neuroscience explains, changing behavior isn’t just a question of doing it. The brain must go through a complex process that starts with curiosity about current beliefs and triggered feelings. When a person is being coached, they practice exploring new beliefs and potentially new behaviors. They repeat this new behavior while processing their emotions and eventually, the change takes place.
How do coaching skills help accomplish this? Such behavioral change cannot happen with the traditional command and control approach. It needs a new approach to management that incorporates key coaching skills. These are empathy, active listening and silence.
True personal transformation that drives exceptional team performance requires people to rewire their neural links. This needs a coaching conversation where people can reflect on their assumptions and how they interpret their personal experiences. Essentially, people can often feel very vulnerable during this process which is why managers who know how to coach are essential. Managers need coaching skills to create a safe space with positive emotions that allow people to change and to make neural connections that last. If not, overall performance only stays at an ok level.
Managers can learn to move their teams from transactional to transformational
Organizational anthropologist, Judith E. Glaser, spent decades researching communication with how to build trust. She defined 3 types of conversations in her paper on Conversational Intelligence at Work. This is key to understanding how to answer the question “why do managers need coaching skills.”
The first conversation is the transactional one which follows the classic “ask and tell” approach. This is about confirming what the manager already knows. This isn’t about encouraging growth and change so trust shuts down.
In a positional, level two, conversation, a manager will advocate and try to persuade. Although, as this paper on the neuroscience of feedback shows, again the brain shuts down when it’s receiving feedback.
You reach transformational communication when you co-create solutions. It’s about accepting that neither person has the answers and focusing on problem-solving together. In the final third transformational conversation, a leader seeks to connect deeply to explore all perspectives.
Through deep connection, managers build engagement and motivation and get the following benefits:
- Building of trust and rapport – With interpersonal leadership skills, managers can connect with people to motivate them. They drive for going above and beyond.
- Enabling personal change – When people are coached, they feel supported. Possibilities open up to them and they find joy in their work. This triggers the search for personal growth and self-discovery.
- Encouraging a supportive culture – Managers need to think beyond goal setting to inspire others. In this world of uncertainty and complexity, people’s anxieties have only increased. With a supportive coaching-style manager, employees can build the confidence and strength they need to keep moving forwards.
Managers further encourage insight and exploration with the following traits:
- The ability to ask open questions while active listening. A good coaching approach involves asking questions that go beyond a simple yes or no answer and inspires people to disrupt their current reality. Of course, there are models to practice such as the GROW model for managers but the underlying trait is to let go of judgment.
- Develop curiosity about the other person’s reality. If leaders can’t effectively manage different viewpoints, they miss out on diversity. Learning to ask questions with curiosity is a skill that enables people to open up because they won’t be stuck in self-doubt.
- Accept that others have the answers. Managers need coaching skills to enable team members to work out their own solutions. If leaders always have the answer, it demotivates people and hinders curiosity.
- Empathy. This isn’t just about seeing ourselves in someone else’s shoes. It’s about imagining what it feels like to be that other person with their beliefs and fears. Only then can managers enable people to feel heard, valued and motivated to explore other options and ways of being.
Why do managers need coaching skills? To enable transformation for ultimate performance
A key pioneer figure within the coaching world, Tim Gallwey, talks about the work triangle in his article on Building Capability in the Workplace. Within it, he describes a scenario many of us have experienced which is that leaders are so focused on performance that they forget the other two sides of the triangle: learning and the quality of work. Without learning and quality work, employees lose engagement and focus.
Setting OKRs and goals aren’t enough to improve performance. Leaders need to implement effective coaching skills that create a learning space with a positive experience. Even so-called negative feedback can be a positive experience with the right communication skills. When managers can create an environment of awareness and trust, feedback sessions can create very different outcomes such as an employee choosing to change themselves to drive future outcomes. Managers need coaching skills to propel self-discovery so that people ask for input and information to power their own change for greater performance. That’s how transformation happens, and the individual drives it! All the coaching leader does is set the environment and mindset for change. Add to that process, an effective coach in communication or leadership, and people can finally reach their full potential.
How transformational coaching supports culture and therefore performance:
- Situational humility. Good management is about how to serve and respond to the needs of employees and understanding that leadership isn’t about imposing views. Instead, it’s about using humility to move people toward a common vision.
- Self-determination. The theory of self-determination states that we need autonomy, competence and relatedness to feel deeply motivated about our work. Coaching sessions with professional coaches increase all three points. Nevertheless, a coaching-style manager sets the environment for the everyday testing of new behaviors in the workplace.
- Shared exploration. Such leaders build new meaning in workplace experiences. Positive experiences become contagious as the culture develops into a learning one. People thrive off co-learning and co-regulating the system for optimal performance.
Coaching skills for more balanced and effective teams
At the very basic level, managers need coaching skills to empower people to drive their own performance change by creating trust and support. At the transformational level, it’s about enabling positive emotions so people can undertake the daunting task of questioning their beliefs.
When coaching-style leaders put aside their judgments and conclusions at the transformational level, they co-create solutions with their teams. Through active listening, empathy and curiosity, everyone feels heard and motivated to grow. Well-being improves as does co-learning and an innate desire to build the best teams for the ultimate performance.