Personal Development

5 effective coaching strategies to help drive team success

coaching strategies

For years, industry leaders have called on CEOs to use coaching strategies. With the challenges and disruptions of recent years, those calls have grown louder.

Executives must become better coaches, build a culture of coaching, and turn company cultures into coaches of coaching, they say, to improve the organization and better retain talent.

Often lost in all this talk is this essential question: What makes a good coach?

The CEO as coach

First, it’s important to understand what a good coach is and what it isn’t. Coaching isn’t mentoring nor managing people, says Vistage Master Chair Irina Baranov. Mentors teach and pass down what they know, while managers set the goals and expectations within the business.

While mentorship and management are essential to business, Baranov says that CEOs tend to excel at both. But what about coaching? “How do I say this nicely,” she says. “Most executives lean below average.”

Over their careers, executives have built up the mental muscles of being smart, decisive and having a vision. They’ve also become great at setting and achieving goals. But these mental muscles can often work opposite of coaching muscles, Baranov says.

A good coach, Baranov says, works to develop the people around them, pushing them to be the best version of themselves. Coaches bring their humanity to work, listen to understand and drive employees to do better than they ever thought possible.

“To coach and develop people, we need to be open, we need to be curious, and we need to trust our people to find the answers,” Baranov says. “Coaching is about pulling the answers out of others, not giving them the answer. That’s where most executives struggle.”

Troy Jacobson, managing partner of The Jacobson Coaching Group, believes that becoming a good coach is more about executives shifting their attitude than learning coaching strategies. This takes a lot of practice for most CEOs.

“When you’re a coach, you tend to sit back a little bit and be more observant,” Jacobson says. “If I’m having a conversation with you and I’m coaching you, you speak 80% of the time and I speak 20% of the time. That’s a real switch for people because many want to talk and talk. Especially driven CEOs.”

Emma Doyle, affectionately known by her Open Door Coaching USA clients as “The Manufacturer’s Coach” or “Coach EM,” and author of “What Makes a Great Coach?” says that executives who improve as coaches get better results at work, retaining more talent and developing better relationships. This is because they’re more curious, empathetic, and better at asking questions.

Baranov says that CEOs who know how to coach turn their B-players into A-players. Being a good coach isn’t necessarily like being a good mentor or manager, she says, but having a good coach at the helm can turn stars into superstars.

Most employees agree that coaching is important. In an Ernst & Young survey, 86% of employees said that empathetic leadership boosts morale, and 88% believe it boosts efficiency.

The problem, according to the survey, is that 52% of respondents believe that their company’s attempt to be empathetic is disingenuous, with 47% saying that their leadership does not follow through on promises.

This lack of empathy, follow-through and coaching skills at the executive level is likely due to a lack of learning. This, in essence, stems from a lack of coaching for executives.

But CEOs want to improve as coaches. A survey from Stanford University and the Miles Group found that 66% of CEOs don’t receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches, while 100% said that they would be receptive to this kind of coaching.

Learning the skills of a good coach

While most CEOs want to become better coaches, most don’t know where to start.

One easy trick Coach EM gives executives learning to coach is to ask open-ended questions. A question like “What could you do differently to get the deal next time?” allows employees to take responsibility and be accountable for their future decisions. It is often more effective than asking people why a deal didn’t happen.

“A CEO has to be obsessed with the why,” Coach EM says. “But if you ask a ‘why’ question after something’s gone wrong, people will shut down. Instead, a quick win for a CEO could simply be asking more what questions and more future-based questions. ‘What do we need to do better next time?’ or ‘What do you need from me?’ rather than ‘Why did you do that?’ Anyone can make that change.”

These open-ended, future-facing questions help executives ask questions that strike an emotional chord, says Jacobson. “They almost set a hook and get people to think about what is the root cause of their issue and how they can solve it,” he said.

It’s also essential for CEOs wanting to coach to become better listeners, Jacobson says. Effective listening may be the hardest skill for CEOs to learn because they need to be fully present and not think about what’s next or how they will respond.

“People can feel if somebody’s not an active listener,” Jacobson says. “People feel like they’re not being heard.”

After a CEO has listened, Jacobson says it’s important to validate a person’s right to feel how they feel. Once someone has felt listened to, acknowledged, and validated, only then should an executive consult and add their advice into the conversation, adds Jacobson.

No matter what an executive does to become a better coach, Jacobson says their actions should be intentional. Formal training can play a huge factor in improving as a coach, whether through certification, a personal coach or working with an organization that offers training.

“The intentionality is what matters,” Jacobson says. “Say ‘I want to shift my leadership style, I want to become a stronger leader, and I think that coaching is the right path.’ Get the training, don’t just try to wing it.”

All these first steps into coaching may feel overwhelming, Baranov says, but CEOs can start anywhere, from signing up for training to watching a YouTube video on coaching. It’s important to keep the mind of a beginner throughout any coaching journey, Baranov says, as that will help executives continue to learn and grow as coaches.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I still have a beginner’s mind,” Baranov says. “I walk into coaching sessions thinking, ‘What can I learn today?

How can I push myself to be even more curious and open?’ It’s a journey. There’s no end to how good you can become or how much you can help people. Start where you are.”

5 areas where CEOs can apply coaching strategies

At work, there are plenty of opportunities to practice coaching strategies.

1. Setting, meeting, then exceeding goals and expectations

Setting goals and expectations are the domain of managing team members, Baranov says. But coaching is a tool of development, one where people are pushed past their limits.

“If I’m managing them, I might say, ‘You have a quota of $1 million this year,’” Baranov says. “But if I’m coaching them, I’ll keep pushing and pushing to find where their edges are. It would be irresponsible not to set a goal. But if I’m coaching someone, I’m going to say, ‘Let’s see where your outer edges are and push beyond them.’”

Coach EM has a coaching tool that is useful at the beginning of meetings where executives want to start on a positive note with those they’re coaching. She calls it the EARS model, which stands for Elicit, Amplify, Reflect, and Start over.

Using the EARS model, a CEO would first elicit all the great things happening, then amplify their efforts by praising what they’ve done, ask them to reflect on the lessons learned, and then start again with the next goal. This skill can be used to infuse coaching into any conversation, Coach EM says.

2. Develop a coaching culture

The best way to create a coaching culture, Coach EM says, is to ensure that everyone is held accountable for “the way things are done around here.”

“I work a lot with manufacturing, engineering and robotics companies,” she says. “When I walk into the factory, I look for things like: ‘What’s the factory’s energy? Is it warm and welcoming? Do they have the values they live by on the wall that I can see and feel?’ There are little subtleties. That all speaks to ‘the way we do things around here.’”

Jacobson says that when CEOs become better coaches, there’s an overall improvement in the culture, driven by those who work for them also embracing coaching.

“There’s a cascading impact throughout the whole organization,” Jacobson says. “People understand that they have autonomy. They’re given the free rein to find their own solutions with the support of their leadership.”

3. Building strong relationships

How can a CEO use coaching strategies to build strong relationships built on trust and understanding? Baranov says it’s as simple as thinking about how they might develop a similar relationship with their child, friends or romantic partner.

“It’s about learning how to be vulnerable and honest with each other, creating a space of safety and trust,” Baranov says. “The way you do that in coaching is the way you do it in any other relationship.”

Recently, Baranov demonstrated to a Vistage group how a coach might listen and ask questions. Someone in the group told Baranov it looked like the same kind of listening to you’d find on a first date. Baranov agreed.

“A relationship is a relationship is a relationship,” Baranov says. “If the humans under your roof at home resonate with warmth, humor, safety and trust. Guess what? The humans under your roof at work will resonate with those things.”

4. Coaching communication

When leaders ask better questions and listen more deeply, they can understand their people better, Coach EM says, which will improve accountability for everyone.

Communication to understand is something done skillfully by legendary sports coaches, she says, such as Phil Jackson and John Wooden. Both Hall of Fame basketball coaches understood their players, knew what motivated them, and figured out what buttons pushed them further.

And Jacobson says that once the lines of communication are open, so too are the lines to better hold people accountable. When being coached, people often figure out exactly what they need to do. Then, it’s time to execute and be held accountable.

“The accountability piece is strong,” he says. “You can check on the results and hold that individual accountable. That’s a big part of coaching.”

5. Empowering employees

Many CEOs feel concerned that coaching will take too long. They ask questions, wait for the answer, then process the answer before they can see results — this is far different from business as usual for CEOs.

But Coach EM, who has been coaching for 30 years, believes that investing time in coaching while learning will pay dividends.

“If I empower somebody to do their job, giving them the skills to do things effectively and empower others, CEOs will get their time back,” she says. “CEOs won’t have to put out fires all the time, because their direct reports will be doing it for them.”

Even if a CEO doesn’t believe that they have what it takes to become a great coach, Coach EM suggests hiring someone willing to coach. This, she believes, is critical to retaining talent. “If you don’t have a coaching culture, talent is going to leave.”

What happens when a CEO becomes a great coach

When CEOs use coaching strategies at work, employees feel more valued, better understood, and have the opportunity to grow at work, Coach EM says. “There’s something special going on around here,” is something she has heard multiple times within an organization after an executive has improved their coaching skills.

Jacobson says he typically sees a boost in employee morale, better retention metrics and an improved company culture. “It’s a huge cultural bump,” he says.

Baranov came into coaching 20 years ago, and it’s something that’s benefitted her professional and personal life, she says. People she’s coached have thanked her for helping them become the best versions of themselves, and her children have thanked her for loving them and pushing them to better themselves.

“A CEO who builds those coaching muscles can expect themselves to become a better leader who develops people,” Baranov says. “But the real win is that your life will be so dramatically impacted. You’re going to ask better questions, you’re going to be more tuned into people, and you’re going to be all-in on your relationships. In the end, that’s the stuff people remember.”

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About the Author: Vistage Staff

Vistage facilitates confidential peer advisory groups for CEOs and other senior leaders, focusing on solving challenges, accelerating growth and improving business performance. Over 45,000 high-caliber execu

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