Three Coaching Skills Every Leader Should Learn

Executive coaching is a vital part of the Foundation’s Executive Leadership Program. We think it’s so valuable, in fact, that we assign a coach to guide recipients through all 5 years of the program, offering support and helping them transform everything they learn into action. Working with a great executive coach can make a significant impact on productivity, communication, ability to give and receive feedback, goal setting and ability to reach those goals, team building… the list goes on and on. When conditions are right, executive coaching can be one of the best investments a company can make.

If you’re in any sort of leadership position, we believe that engaging with a great executive coach will be worth your while. But as leaders, we must also learn how to be the coach – at least to some extent. Learning some basic coaching skills can make a huge impact on the growth of our colleagues, staff members and teams.

Skill #1: Learn how to ask the right questions.

“If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” I’m not sure who said this. Similar sentiments have been attributed to many great leaders over the years because the attitude is key to building a competent team that is motivated and well-suited to reach your most ambitious goals. The attitude is also required if you are to ask the right questions – or any questions at all.

The second we think we know it all, we’re in trouble, aren’t we? In most situations we most certainly don’t know it all, and asking the right questions can not only bring new understanding and knowledge to the forefront of a conversation, it can build trust and encourage growth.

Leaders who know how to ask questions that not only get to a solution, but also bring about personal discovery empowers their team to make better decisions, be more engaged and think creatively. Instead of quickly answering every question, or sending out directives for every problem, ask your people, “What do you think our options are here?” Or, “What do you suggest we do?” Follow up their answers by asking them what the pros and cons for each solution might be. This line of conversation will help those around you learn how to create and evaluate options and solutions rather than just following orders.

Skill #2: Learn how to give (and receive) great feedback.

So, entire books have been written on this subject. Learning to give and receive feedback is a communication skill that we should continue to improve throughout our lives, and one that experienced executive coaches have. We can learn something from them:

  • Focus your attention more on the person you are talking to, rather than the issue at hand
  • Be clear with expectations, but do all you can to empower the other person to succeed by removing obstacles and offering resources
  • View the opportunity to give feedback as a chance to encourage self-discovery
  • Maintain accountability and expect follow-through, but don’t forget that good feedback also includes celebrating effort, achievements and results.

Skill #3: Expect excellence.

Can you imagine sitting down with an executive coach for the first time, and having them say, “Look. I want you to do your best, but let’s not expect too much. Let’s not set those goals too high.”

A coach’s job is to push us to do better, to be better and to achieve more than we could do on our own. Our job as leaders is to set the bar high, expecting excellence, and then lead our teams through constructive problem solving and self-discovery if (and when) they fall short. I mean, let’s face it – when low expectations are set, most of us will meet them. We owe it to our staff and coworkers to believe and expect that they are capable of doing really great work and achieving really high goals.

In the end, sometimes it’s better to coach and sometimes we just have to manage the situation. But the more time we can spend delegating and developing, the more effective we’ll be. Do you agree? Because, in the end… wouldn’t we all rather be coached towards excellence rather than just managed?

About Dan Finerty

Dan Finerty is the Director of Marketing at the Mountain West Credit Union Association, a Credit Union champion, a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE), and an award-winning marketer. Dan has over 14 years of marketing experience in communications, retail, packaged goods, and, of course, Credit Unions. He believes that Credit Unions have an incredible story to tell and works with some of the brightest Credit Union professionals to help promote Credit Unions to the public. Dan holds two Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing and in Management. He is also a swell guy.

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