Coaching-oriented Leadership

Coaching-oriented Leadership

What is coaching-oriented leadership?

Coaching-oriented leadership uses coaching as a tool. Individual aspects from coaching are picked up and integrated into conversations. For example, asking specific open-ended questions helps to make the conversation solution-oriented. The problem and the employee are clearly in focus. This is also the case in an explicit coaching session. However, in this setting, the roles of coach and coachee are officially assigned.

Quite generally, the coach helps the coachee to use and develop their potential. In doing so, the coach skilfully asks questions to follow the coachee’s thoughts and ideas much more deeply than she would on her own.

Whoever has a good understanding of coaching can very easily develop a coaching-oriented leadership style. This involves incorporating elements from coaching into conversations. So, if you want to use coaching as a tool in your leadership, you would be well advised to practice coaching as a separate skill.

In the following, we look at,

  • how coaching differs from consulting and mentoring
  • how you can recognise good coaching
  • what subcategories of coaching there are
  • and how you can easily learn coaching

Mentoring, consulting, and coaching – a distinction

In mentoring, the mentor tells the mentee about her own experiences, which in turn may be helpful to the mentee. Thus, those who do not want to or cannot go through all the experiences themselves benefit from mentoring. The mentee takes in the experiences and learnings made by the mentor.

Consulting is about giving specific instructions. When I get some consulting, I want to be presented with a solution to my problem. So, consulting helps solve a problem once. But the next time I have a problem, I often need consulting again. Consulting solves the problem, but often does not teach me to solve the problem myself.

So the consultant and the mentor know in advance what the outcome will be after a conversation. A coach, on the other hand, does not know what the outcome of coaching will be. This is about the coachee’s skills and potential. But since the coach does not know the coachee inside-out, she cannot predict the outcome.

So how do I distinguish coaching from consulting?

  1. On the wording of the service. Here are some counterexamples described:
    1. A life coach advises on topics related to everyday life. So it is consulting, not coaching.
    2. A business coach conveys content. So she is a teacher, not a coach.
    3. Personal coaching is psychological counseling. So it is counseling, not coaching.
  2. In the absence of directives or ideas from the coach. If you’ve had coaching before, was the coach advising you to do something? Did the coach present potential solutions? If so, then it was probably advice rather than coaching after all.

There are also many coaches who practice a mixture of coaching and consulting. I think this makes limited sense. Any instruction is a wasted opportunity for the coachee to think for herself and use her potential. At the same time, there is less likelihood of success. The instruction is an alien thought to the coachee. And as we know, we like our own ideas and thoughts much better and are more likely to act upon them. Of course, it may be that the coachee lacks knowledge or inspiration. But even then, it is much more effective if the coachee recognises this herself and asks me or others for help than if I give this help without being asked.

When coaching, on the other hand, is used only as a tool, a mix is of coaching and consulting is perfectly legitimate. In a coaching-oriented leadership style, the leader can combine consulting, mentoring, and coaching. Here, however, the employee’s expectation is also not to receive coaching, but just to have a conversation with the boss.

Coaching-oriented leadership is often more effective compared to top-down management. Asking the right questions and tapping into the employee’s potential creates a win-win situation. As a manager, you no longer have to worry about what the employee should do. So you’re no longer micro-managing. As an employee, you’re happier because you can better use your ideas and talents.

What is the difference between different types of coaching?

Good coaching is about asking the right questions. A good coach engages completely with her counterpart. By asking questions, she helps the coachee explore her thoughts more deeply. The coachee sets their own goals and gets support to use their own strengths to do so.

The difference between a generic coaching and a specific coaching is the subject area of the question. Business coaching is probably about questions about your own career. Effectivity coaching is probably about increasing one’s effectiveness. Subcategories of coaching thus differ particularly in the initial question asked. Depending on the specialty, the coach asks different questions. For example: my coachee wants to find out for herself what is a fulfilling job for her. Then I can ask her to close her eyes and imagine working in a job that is fulfilling. I can guide her to explore the situation by asking how the workplace looks like, how she get’s to that workplace, etc.

So for different types of coaching, there are questions that are particularly effective. In the end, though, it’s about asking questions in the first place, listening well, and engaging with the coachee. My guess is that 90% of the skills are generic and only the small rest are tailored to the specific area. Accordingly, a good coach can also help you very well with any question. A good specialised coach can then help you with excellence in her area of expertise. Just like that, a non-specialised manager can be very good if she practices very good coaching-oriented leadership because then she can facilitate the work without evening having detailed knowledge about the subject.

How can I learn coaching?

There are thousands of coaching training programs, many of which cost a lot of money. If you want to become a full time coach, that’s certainly a good way to go. If you want to use coaching as a tool, it might be easier and faster. Even if you’re not sure yet if and how you want to use coaching, you can start small.

Coaching is primarily about asking questions and listening. And those are two skills you can easily practice with a partner. You can use the following three exercises for this:

Exercise 1

With a partner, ask each other questions. Your answer in turn will also be a question. The questions do not have to be related. Just make sure not to think, but to answer as quickly as possible with a question in turn. Do this for 5 minutes.
This exercise mainly trains you to listen and to put your own thoughts aside. Normally, when asked a question, we immediately start thinking and want to respond to that question. However, coaching is not about our thoughts and answers, but those of the coachee. Therefore, it is important to only listen and not think about it.

Exercise 2

Vary the first exercise a bit: On the one hand, try to ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions cannot be answered yes or no, black or white. On the other hand, try, if at all possible, to relate to the topic of your counterpart’s question. Remember that answering quickly without hesitation should still be the main focus.
Posing open-ended questions helps to get more information from the coachee. Relating to her topic trains you to engage with your counterpart and follow her thoughts.

Exercise 3

Briefly summarise a situation to your counterpart. For example, what you’ve been doing today since breakfast. But here you can also tell everything else. Your counterpart listens and then tells you what you just told her. You can do this exercise in different ways. Either you try to use the exact same words as often as possible, or you try not to use the same word at all. Or for advanced learners, try to “read between the lines” and reflect content and feelings that was not explicitly stated.

Going further

Coaching is a lot about asking the right questions and listening. These skills, especially listening, are known to be important in very very many areas of life. So even if you don’t plan to use coaching explicitly or in a coaching-oriented leadership style, it can still help you in any relationship or conversation. As a partner or parent, your communication can change dramatically with attention to listening and well-asked questions.