Practical Tips (Part 3 of my 3-Part Series on Coaching Employees)
Part 1 of my three-part series on coaching employees began with the foundation that Coaching Begins with You (the coach), while Part 2 covered how to Develop Your Coaching Philosophy. My final article builds upon the first two parts and will provide you with practical tips for coaching employees.
Before we begin, I have one important note for you:
Coaching employees often involves coaching for performance versus training for competence. This article is not about training for competence, so if you’re unsure about the difference between the two, please revisit the final section of Develop Your Coaching Philosophy or drop me a line. I’m always happy to entertain questions. Here we go!
There are three philosophical frameworks that I use with almost every coaching engagement. Regardless with how you approach coaching, I recommend incorporating them into your toolbox. These frameworks are:
- Active listening
- Socratic questioning
- Appreciative inquiry
Let’s briefly examine each of these.
Human beings are great talkers, but we’re not great listeners. Active listening works to blunt this deficiency by focusing you on the moment you’re in and the person you’re with. This is a skill that takes a great deal of practice and mental discipline. It’s not easy, but it will reap tremendous rewards for you in both your coaching and overall leadership.
To learn more about active listening, read the Vistage article Active listening as a leadership skill. It provides six steps that you can begin following immediately to improve your active listening skills as well as a post-conversation checklist to gauge how well you performed during the conversation.
Anyone who’s been through the meat grinder that is a legal education is familiar with Socratic questioning. It involves thoughtful questions, thought experiments, and the unrestricted examination of ideas and logic chains.
Used within the setting of legal education, Socratic questioning can often feel uncompromising, brutal, and rigorous. Used more gently within a coaching setting, though, it can help you move the person you’re coaching to a higher level of performance. This happens naturally as a result of the self-reflective nature of the questioning. To learn more about Socratic questioning, read The Six Types of Socratic Questions or The Thinker’s Guide to The Art of Socratic Questioning.
Appreciative inquiry is the idea that by focusing attention in a specific direction and engaging someone through focused questions (see above for Socratic questioning) you can imagine, design, and bring to life a desired future. It is a philosophy as well as a set of principles, and it is a strengths-based approach that strives to build a superior future based upon the best of the past.
Every one of us has achieved success (of some sort) during our lives. Appreciative Inquiry holds that using these experiences as a lodestar enables practitioners to create the world that we desire. To learn more about this, read the Guide to Appreciative Inquiry or The 5 Principles of Appreciative Inquiry.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t compile a short list of coaching best practices. Many of these dovetail with the three frameworks noted above, yet I felt they each deserve their own shout out.
Best Practices & Helpful Tips
- Tell stories. You have stories. They’re powerful tools. Use them.
- Life experience counts. Too many people undervalue their life experience in a business setting. Stop it! In most instances, especially coaching, your life experience counts far more than your business experience.
- Guide conversations. Listen to people—don’t dictate to them. Good coaching enables the person being coached to find their own way with your help. Allow the person being coached to speak into the process and navigate their own path.
- Be positive. Far too many people still believe that “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” That’s not just old school; it’s the wrong school. Get positive or get out.
- Don’t ignore barriers. Barriers and impediments are preventing the person you’re coaching from succeeding. Figure out what those barriers are and then eliminate or blunt them. (Examples are time, tools, and motivation).
- Get it in writing. The coaching conversation is essential, but many developmental issues that require action are best reduced to writing. This enables you to chart progress and allows the coach and the employee to be crystal clear on next steps such as due dates and required actions.
- Meet regularly. A regular, consistent schedule of coaching meetings is best. It’s easy for drift (or inaction) to occur when contact doesn’t happen on a regular basis.
- Coach in the moment. I’ve seen many managers who believe in saving up for a coaching meeting like they’re hoarding presents for Christmas morning. Wrong. Don’t wait for meetings to have critical conversations.
- Let people fail. The greatest lessons come from failure. Allow people the opportunity (within reason) to fail and learn from that experience.
- Level up. Good coaches constantly seek to develop themselves. Don’t neglect your own professional development.
- Get your own coach. Most truly successful leaders have a coach. Having your own coach (provided the coach is effective) enables you to experience coaching from your employees’ perspective. That alone is invaluable.
- Be mindful. When you coach an employee, be fully present. Place your phone on “Do Not Disturb,” turn off your notifications, and ensure that the time you’re spending is uninterrupted. This communicates to the employee that they are valuable enough to have your undivided attention—and they’ll love you for that.
Coaching is hard work, which is why so many people just phone it in. To do it well, you must know yourself, have a coaching philosophy, and be clear on the tools in your box. And then, just as a musician does, practice, practice, practice.
I hope that this three-part guide to coaching employees has been helpful for you, and I am always available for questions. Until next time.