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Leader as Coach – Ask, Listen, and Empathise

At Xenonex we coach individuals working within complex organisations, many of whom have leadership responsibility across a number of business areas.

 

More and more we are also helping to embed a coaching culture within these organisations. This may involve delivering an in-house coaching programme to a group of managers, or by a company sponsoring employees to obtain a coaching qualification such as our ILM7 in Executive Coaching and Mentoring programme.

 

This edited article by US executive coach Ed Batista explains how leaders can take on the role of coach in order to be effective.

 

By using coaching methods and techniques in the right situations, leaders can still be effective without knowing all the answers and without telling employees what to do. When you coach as a leader you don’t need to be the expert and you don’t need to have all the solutions. But you do need to be able to connect with people, to inspire them to do their best, and to help them search inside and discover their own answers.

 

All leaders have to develop their own coaching style, but we can break down the process into practices that any manager will need to explore and understand. Here are the three most important:

 

Ask

Coaching begins by creating space to be filled by the employee, and typically you start this process by asking an open-ended question. The key is to establish receptivity to whatever the other person needs to discuss, and to avoid presumptions that unnecessarily limit the conversation. It’s all too easy for leaders to inadvertently send signals that prevent employees from raising issues, so make it clear that their agenda matters.

 

In coaching conversations it’s crucial to spend as much time as needed in the initial stages and resist the urge to jump ahead, where the process shifts from asking open-ended questions to using your authority as a leader to spotlight certain issues. The more time you can spend in pure inquiry, the more likely the conversation will challenge your employee to come up with their own creative solutions, surfacing the unique knowledge that they’ve gained from their proximity to the problem.

 

Listen

It’s important to understand the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is a cognitive process that happens internally — we absorb sound, interpret it, and understand it. But listening is a whole-body process that happens between two people that makes the other person truly feels heard.

 

Effective listening requires our focused attention. It’s critical to eliminate distractions. Turn off your phone, close your laptop, and find a dedicated space where you won’t be interrupted.

 

Coaching conversations can take place over the phone, of course, and in that medium it’s even more important to refrain from multitasking so that in the absence of visual data, you can pick up on subtle cues in someone’s speech.

 

Taking brief, sporadic notes in a coaching conversation may help you to stay focused  so if you feel the need to take notes, try writing one word or phrase at a time, just enough to jog your memory later.

 

Empathise

Empathy is the ability not only to comprehend another person’s point of view, but also to vicariously experience their emotions. Without empathy other people remain alien and opaque to us. When present it establishes the interpersonal connection that makes coaching possible.

 

When employees need your help they are likely experiencing some form of shame, even if it’s just mild embarrassment — and the more serious the problem, the deeper the shame. Feeling and expressing empathy is critical to helping the other person defuse their embarrassment and begin thinking creatively about solutions.

 

Finally, be aware that expressing empathy need not prevent you from holding people to high standards. Empathising with the difficulties your employees face is an important step in the process of helping them build resilience and learn from setbacks. After you’ve acknowledged an employee’s struggles and feelings, they’re more likely to respond to your efforts to motivate improved performance.

 

If you are looking to develop your expertise and credibility in the fields of coaching and mentoring then talk to us about our ILM7 programme in Executive Coaching and Mentoring. The programme is aimed at senior managers, HR professionals and professional coaches keen to enhance and accredit their experience.

 

Xenonex delivers innovative and bespoke client-centred solutions in Executive Coaching, Leadership Development and training across the UK. We work at Executive, Senior and Middle Management levels to maximise and transform the way people work.

 

To find out more contact Jo Watson, Business Development Manager on 01423 876371 or email jo.watson@xenonex.co.uk

 

Suzanna Prout