Decades ago, when the term ‘leader’ came up in a conversation, one would expect them to be pace-setters and set authoritative goals, and the team would then follow along. The leader was expected to be a know-all and be-all. However, this notion has taken a bit of turn since then – for the better. There is a certain acceptance now that a leader does not know or need to know everything. And instead, a good leader is one who can encourage, motivate, and coach the team to help them realise the best versions of themselves.
So, what are the qualities of the leader as a coach – what makes for an effective and successful leader? Let’s explore some key attributes:
1. They ask open-ended questions
Managers who have a coaching bent of mind ask questions that are open-ended in nature. They do not ask questions that would elicit a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and instead frame questions that allow the person in front to open up and provide deeper and well-thought-out answers that eventually lead to a conversation. For instance, instead of asking a question like ‘Do you want to make x choice or y choice?’, an effective leader will ask ‘what do you think about these options?’. And it is essential that the leader also listens intently to the answers given by the individual in front of them.
2. They provide structure to their team
A successful manager provides a lot of structure to those they manage (and coach). Considering the team and the role of the manager/team exists in the organisation’s context, the manager can provide a much-needed structure to help the coachee do what they need to do. All this work and design is eventually always aimed toward a particular end goal or solution due to the context in which it is happening. The approach is not simply to master a skill for the sake of it but to master a skill that leads to a desirable client and organisational outcome.
For e.g., I had a boss who’d always ask me to start a review meeting with the most demanding challenges or unresolved issues. And then she would make me walk through the facts, impact, and options. And then she would help me arrive at the best action to take. There are several things I learned from going through such a process:
- If you run out of time, you’ve already addressed the most critical problem,
- You need to address not just the problem but also come up with potential solutions, and
- Other folks who are on the call would also end up learning the best approach based on your experience.
I consider these major coachable/teachable moments in my career.
3. They excel at goal-setting
Some managers make the mistake of working with too many goals. Others make the mistake of working with not enough goals. In an ideal scenario, a good leader should be working with 3-5 goals which are measurable and achievable in a time-bound manner. The manager continuously checks to ensure that the goals are well-defined and articulated in simple terms with a target and time horizon in mind.
For e.g., all organisations are driven by specific purpose and goals. The key skill is
1) How do you take an organisation-level goal like “earnings per share (EPS)” and distil it for a developer in terms of the “number of errors per thousand lines of code” – so that it makes sense for them and is more relatable.
2) While achieving 100 % of the metric may be ‘acceptable’, how do you push your team to feel pride in achieving 105 % of the goals?
3) And how can you, as a manager, work with the team to achieve that ‘stretched’ goal instead of just asking them if they have achieved the goal?
4. They allow their team to come up with solutions
In a coaching conversation, the solutions have to emerge from the coachee. Harsh as it may be, given the time constraints, wherein a manager may want to hurry the process by simply providing answers and directions to move along the pace that the organisation demands, the manager as a coach needs to let the coachee arrive at their solutions. This is often the most effective way (if not the quickest) of challenging an issue and more importantly, brings in more tremendous success in the longer run.
5. They recognise that they are not infallible
The last point I think is perhaps the most important is that while the leader/manager would give a lot of feedback as per the coaching norms to the coachee, a good leader would also recognise that they are not infallible. The leader should elicit feedback from the coachees as well, which in turn will help her become a better leader for her team and in the future for the larger scope of things in the organisation as well.
For e.g.: Sales war stories are usually all about the most incredible wins, the most brilliant tactics and the most significant value deals. However, I realise that there are many situations where I thought the deal was done and in the bag, only to see a competitor walk away with the client. But I would always share all my stories – the good, bad and especially ugly with the team. This ensures that while the team is motivated to win, they are also unafraid to speak the truth about a loss, and they’re able to articulate it freely without any fear of repercussion.
Having worked with some of the best organisations as a manager and a coach, I have seen that these are the attributes and qualities that good leaders and managers exhibit in their daily work with their teams and clients. This makes them potentially better executives and helps them take on more significant roles in the organisation in the future.