Why you need to be doing more coaching as a leader and how it can help your team succeed

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Coaching is listening and asking questions to tease out potential solutions to specific problems.

The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as; “Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”.

Most people talk about a coaching leadership style, whereas I see it as more of a necessity for being a great leader. Not that you should only coach, but you should definitely make sure you are doing more coaching than anything else. Embodying a coaching mindset can help you empower your team to come up with answers to problems and ensure that the right problems are being solved. Generally, as a leader, you are the one who is being paid to come up with answers. However, if you stop taking this role as a default behaviour, you will find that there are others in your team that will have even better answers. You find fresh thinking and creativity. You don’t want the team and company to be as good as you, you want the team and company to be as good as the combined thinking of the team and company!

Another way to use coaching in leadership is to use in sessions with individuals in your team or organisation to understand where they want to go in their career and how you can help them get there. I use it quite frequently to do informal performance and feedback sessions. It helps me be a better leader because I understand their perspectives, goals and direction and it also helps them to think it all through.

As a leader, you are looking to help others succeed, grow and develop. Assuming a coaching mentality and style can help you on your mission to do that. It has definitely helped me. To read more about what real leadership is about, check this post out.

The scales of listening

Imagine a scale with listening on one end and advice on the other. Mentoring sits closer to the advice end. You need to listen carefully but you are expected to share advice. Coaching sits closer to the listening end. Your job as a coach is to tease out the real issues and the right solutions by asking questions and listening. You are not there to impart your advice – though it might be appropriate to at some points in a conversation.

Effective listening

Effective listening is the backbone to all effective communication. In fact, I will probably do a post just on listening in the near future. To be able to understand and ask good questions you need to listen.

When I was younger listening was definitely a weak point for me. I would nod along, make eye contact but if you asked me a question as soon as the conversation was over I would have no idea what to say. I would pretend to listen whilst daydreaming. How rude is that?!

One thing I have found really helpful is to actually listen. Simple right? Be present, be in the moment. Turn your phone on DND or silent. Don’t think about other things, focus and reign in wondering thoughts. A technique that has helped me to do this effectively is to summarise and recount what the other person as said back to them. I challenge myself to do this every time – especially when I feel like I may be slipping away into a daydream. This pushes me to focus because I will need to listen properly and understand to be able to relay their own message back to them. Another thing this does is assure the other person you understand what they are saying.

Another way you can listen is by reading body language. Try to notice how they move or the way they speak when talking about something. It can give you more information as the listener and equip you in a response. Vanessa Van Edward is an expert in the field of reading body language. Check out her book on Amazon UK / Amazon US.

Here is some good reading around the topic:

Real listening: https://www.ted.com/talks/celeste_headlee_10_ways_to_have_a_better_conversation

Read body language: https://medium.com/@vvanedwards/how-to-decode-the-7-basic-emotions-140561f2ccdf

Effective questioning

There are many different coaching models to choose from that can provide a framework for effective questioning.

The GROW model

By far the most popular one I have come across is the GROW model. GROW stands for;

  • G for Goal setting: define the short- and long-term goals
  • R for Reality: explore the current situation
  • O for Options: identify and evaluate different action strategies
  • W for Will: what will you do by when?

The conversation can start with any one of the four stages of the GROW model, the order doesn’t matter. Generally, a way I like to start is to ask “What is on your mind?” and go from there. Although this model doesn’t tell you what questions to ask it gives you a good set of directions to cover in order to get to the heart of the problem and find some solutions.

Here are some sample questions to help you on your way with GROW (courtesy of scrum alliance):

  • Goal setting
    1. How will you know that you have achieved the goal? How will you know that the problem or issue is solved?
    2. Does this goal fit with your overall career objectives? And does it fit with the team’s objectives?
  • Reality
    1. What is happening now (what, who, when, and how often)? What is the effect or result of this?
    2. Have you already taken any steps toward your goal?
    3. Does this goal conflict with any other goals or objectives?
  • Options
    1. What else could you do?
    2. What if this or that constraint were removed? Would that change things?
    3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option?
    4. What factors or considerations will you use to weigh the options?
    5. What do you need to stop doing in order to achieve this goal?
    6. What obstacles stand in your way?
  • Will
    1. So what will you do now, and when? What else will you do?
    2. Will this action meet your goal?
    3. What could stop you moving forward? How will you overcome this?
    4. How can you keep yourself motivated?
    5. What support do you need?
    6. On a scale of 1 to 10, what is the degree of certainty you have that you will carry out the actions agreed?
    7. When do you need to review progress? Daily, weekly, monthly?

The book “Coaching for Performance: The Principles and Practices of Coaching and Leadership (People Skills for Professionals)” is a great resource that goes into more depth for using the GROW model. Get yours on Amazon UK / Amazon US.

The FUEL model

Another popular model is FUEL. The FUEL coaching model was developed by John Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett.

FUEL stands for;

  • F for Frame the Conversation: Set the context and focus for conversation, identifying purpose, process, and desired outcomes for the discussion.
  • U for Understand the Current State: Help the individual gain awareness about their current situation to determine their perspective.
  • Explore for Explore the Desired State: Help the individual to think about and determine their desired state. Generate multiple alternative paths to achieve that desired state.
  • L for Lay out a Success Plan: Help the individual create a detailed action plan with specific, time-bound steps to be taken to achieve the goal.

What you will notice is this is pretty similar to GROW and provides a framework to help direct your questioning and coaching.

Here are some sample questions to help you on your way with FUEL (courtesy of scrum alliance):

  • Frame the conversation
    1. What is the most important thing to focus on?
    2. What would you like to make sure that we address?
    3. What would you like to accomplish through this session?
    4. Here is how I thought we could proceed – how does that sound?
  • Understand the current state
    1. Understand the coachee’s point of view.
      • How do you see this situation?
      • What is happening?
      • What is working well?
      • What makes this challenging?
      • How might you have contributed to this situation?
      • How might others see this situation?
    2. Determine the consequences of continuing on the current path.
      • What impact is this having on you? On others?
      • What are the consequences if the situation does not change?
      • How does this influence your goals and what you are trying to accomplish?
      • What are the long-term implications?
  • Explore the desired state
    1. Understand the vision for success.
      • What would you like to see happen here?
      • What would your ideal state look like?
    2. Set goals and performance expectations.
      • What are your goals? What would you like to accomplish?
    3. Explore alternative paths of action.
      • What might be some approaches you can take?
      • What else might work?
    4. Explore possible barriers.
      • What are the major barriers preventing this change from happening?
      • Where would the biggest resistance to this change come from?
  • Lay out a success plan
    1. Develop and agree on an action plan and timeliness.
      • What specific actions will help you achieve your goal?
      • What will your first step be?
      • Who can help hold you accountable?
      • How long will you stay focused on your goals and plans?
    2. Enlist support from others.
      • Who can support you in moving forward?
      • How can I support you?
    3. Set milestones for follow-up and accountability.
      • Let’s review the plan.
      • When should we touch base on this again?

If you want to dive into FUEL a little deeper, check out this awesome book on Amazon UK / Amazon US.

The FUEL vs GROW model

The FUEL model is more of a conversation framework that is designed to achieve behavioural outcomes, challenge assumptions, and strengthen the relationship between the coach and coachee. Whereas, the GROW model is more for simple goal setting and problem solving and is particularly applicable to sport psychology and certain types of goal-centric business needs.

It’s up to you to determine the needs of the coachee and the situation and adapt to use the most appropriate model. I would never just choose one and stick with it since I have found both more useful in different situations.

The 7 essential questions from “The Coaching Habit”

The coaching habit is probably one of my favourite books. It is just so practical and provides some great insight into why use a particular question and the benefits of phrasing it that way. The book highlights 7 questions that can help you to have a focused coaching session that is designed to be done in the shortest amount of time for maximal impact.

The questions are:

  1. What’s on your mind? – get to the heart of the matter without assuming you know the answer. This also gives the conversation a focus.
  2. And what else? [repeat as neccasary] – this is a very powerful question. With this one question, you force the coachee to think deeper and unearth what the real problem is. It is very rare that the answer to question 1 is enough.
  3. What’s the real challenge here for you? [repeat as neccesary] – this question tries to unearth what the real problem is. The coachee has stated what they think the issue is in question 1 but now that we have unearthed other issues we can get the coachee to prioritise the problems.
  4. What do you want? – this question takes the conversation to another level of deep thought and will help the coachee identify what direction they actually want to go in.
  5. How can I help? – don’t assume you know what the coachee needs from you just ask them.
  6. If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to? – this question helps the coachee weigh up their decision and formulate a strategy to move forward.
  7. What was most useful for you? – I love this question. You are not asking if it was a useful conversation. You are inferring it was useful. By asking this you help the coachee reflect on the value-add they have received through a conversation with you. You help the coachee to remember the session more clearly and learn from the experience.

If you want to be a successful coach or leader using the coaching style I would recommend this book! Check it out on Amazon UK / Amazon US. The book not only talks about how to coach effectively using the questions above but how you can build coaching as a habit in your leadership.

The scales of quality

When I have asked people why they choose not to coach they say it is because they don’t have time. Giving an answer yourself is very quick, mentoring is seen as slightly slower but still quicker than coaching and then because coaching relies so much on listening and asking questions – that is the time drain. I think that is a reasonable point, after all as a leader you will usually be stretched for time at best. However, when weighing up the best approach you need to think about the potential impact of the issue and the quality of the answer you would prefer. If you are giving the answer, the solution will only ever be as good as you. You might be great but you are definitely not perfect. What good is a team of smart people if you don’t use them? If you decide mentoring is the way to go you may get a better quality answer by involving others but then you are still bringing your own advise and opinions to the table. If you decide coaching is the way to go you will get an answer that is something that is completely fresh that someone else has come up with. This is an answer without blemish and provides a completely new perspective. That is what we are looking for as leaders.

The quality of the problem

In addition to finding a better quality answer, when you adopt a coaching style you will actually be looking to see if this is the right problem. As a coach, you ask questions that continue to attempt to extract what the real issue is. So imagine the following scenario:

Leader: “So what would be the real issue in doing X?”

Dude: “Well… probably that thing that happens, oh and that other thing, and that other thing!”

Leader: “So what is the real problem here for you?”

Dude: “Well… I guess if that thing happens we could mitigate with this so probably…. the other thing.”

When you are coaching people they tend to not be specific. People tend to throw out a lot of information and as a coach, you need to use your questions to filter it all to find the real issues.

I remember once asking someone what the impact was for a particular change a client asked us to make. The first time I asked what the real problem would be I got 1 answer. As I dived into that answer I took a step back and asked the same question again and got 2 new answers. Now I had 3 potential outcomes that I had to sift through and identify which is the real issue and how could we solve it. Really, it is about prioritisation. If you are just looking for the worst or most imminent thing you can save time by targeting your response.


Coaching is an effective tool every leader should employ  – don’t think of it as a particular leadership style.

  • Coaching allows you as a leader to fulfil your role to help develop and grow others and increase their likelihood of success.
  • Coaching also allows you to find new perspectives and bring fresh thinking to issues by taking yourself out of the equation.
  • To effectively coach you need to:
    • Don’t give too much advice – make listening and questioning your priority
    • Listen properly. Be present in the moment. Don’t drift off into Neverland. Actively listen by summarising and relaying back what you have just heard.
    • Ask questions.
  • Use an appropriate tool based on the situation or coachee. If you are struggling for time use the coaching habit model.
    • GROW model coaching – better for goal orientated coaching
      • G for Goal setting: define the short- and long-term goals
      • R for Reality: explore the current situation
      • O for Options: identify and evaluate different action strategies
      • W for Will: what will you do by when?
    • FUEL model coaching – a more adaptive coaching framework
      • F for Frame the Conversation
      • U for Understand the Current State
      • Explore for Explore the Desired State
      • L for Lay out a Success Plan
    • The coaching habit model. This model is useful when time is of the essences as it allows you to get to the heart of the problem quickly and come up with solutions and learning.
      1. What’s on your mind?
      2. And what else?
      3. What’s the real challenge here for you?
      4. What do you want?
      5. How can I help?
      6. If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
      7. What was most useful for you?

If you are interested in receiving coaching from yours truly –  please get in touch with the form on this page.


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