The Best Leaders Develop Others by Coaching

The Best Leaders Develop Others by Coaching
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There are a myriad of resources and methodologies in existence to empower great leaders. One of the most important attributes of a successful leader is their ability and commitment to grooming and developing others. It is a tremendous responsibility that can also be truly gratifying.

Whether you are the leader, or you are vying for a new role and vetting your future leader during the interview process, consider these characteristics for leadership success and attracting and retaining great talent on your teams.

Elite Athlete Model

Successful leaders coach to develop and groom those whom they supervise. Professional athletes throughout history have utilized coaches to take them from good to great and to stretch their abilities and set new goals. Coaching for success dispels the myth that coaching is for problem employees with the intention of fixing weaknesses and correcting egregious behavior.

While coaching can certainly address problematic issues, if approached from the perspective of how to empower the individual to do their best work – it boosts strengths, buy-in, and recognition. Accountability is essential for wins and failures but the pedagogical approach to coaching leads to supporting someone to achieve professional goals by providing training, advice, and guidance.


Being self-aware is incredibly important as a leader and essential in the coaching process. Leaders can help others self-actualize and better understand how they are perceived in the workplace. Miscommunication and misunderstanding can lead to drama in the workplace, which disrupts morale and productivity.

What you say or don’t say in every interaction drives perception. Consider these questions and prompts for coaching check-ins.

· Can you identify when you’re at your best?

· How does your behavior change when stressed?

· You get the best of me when…

· My strengths are…

· I am really good at…

· When I am confident…

· When I am playing to my strengths…

Recognition Matters

The axiom, “People don’t leave organizations – they leave bad bosses…” is alive and well. Aside from the reality of bad boss syndrome, and there are many, people also crave recognition and validation for work well done.

The everyone gets a trophy method backfired with helicopter parenting for Gen Y so I caution you to give praise when it is well earned and well-deserved. Gratuitous recognition doesn’t work. Be specific with your praise and ask those you lead about how they want to be recognized. Some may want public recognition and others may welcome more subtle and private acknowledgment.

By recognizing others, you also create a culture of advocacy and by example, coach others to reciprocate this recognition behavior when they see the accomplishment of great work. This can really move the needle on morale, retention, and recruiting efforts.

How Can I Help You?

Jim Citrin, Leader of the CEO Practice at Spencer Stuart Executive Search firm is a global expert on leadership and executive success who taught me the most important leadership lesson. Jim has interviewed literally thousands of global leaders who hold C-Suite roles in many career sectors. He believes great leaders can be recognized by their commitment to ask, “How can I help you?” on a regular basis with those whom they work directly and beyond.

Put your coaching hat on and ask your colleagues – “How can I help you be more successful in your role?” and you will see transformative changes. Knowing that your leader has your back builds trust, opens the lines of communication, and models reciprocal behavior.

As the iconic authors of, “The Leadership Challenge” Kouzes and Posner say – Model the Way and create positive and influential leadership behavior that can be scaled within an organization.

Communicate Often, Communicate Well

Busy leaders often get bogged down in the management of their teams in addition to the workload required for their individual role. Savvy coach-leaders avoid lengthy and unproductive meetings and opt for more brief and frequent check-ins with individuals and teams.

Busy professionals are time-starved so a brief standing or walking meeting can provide a change of pace, a boost in energy, that doesn’t disrupt the productivity of the day.

Consider a 10-minute meeting and share the following prompts in advance so your colleagues come prepared to respond.

· What’s working?

· What’s not working?

· How can I help you be more successful?

· What’s next?

Your talent as a successful coach-leader requires active listening, emotional intelligence, and the ability to empower your team to come to the table with solutions to problems or challenges they encounter. Your role is not to solve all their problems but to groom others to become solution providers as they grow their leadership skills.

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans have connected career management to design thinking in their book, “Designing Your Life” empowering individuals to design their career destiny so it doesn’t happen by default. As a coach-leader, you have an opportunity to provide a work environment where individuals can maximize their autonomy, mastery and purpose at work.

In Daniel H. Pink’s book, “Drive” he illustrates why the traditional carrots-and-sticks paradigm of extrinsic reward and punishment doesn’t work, pointing instead to his trifecta of intrinsic motivators:

“Autonomy, or the desire to be self-directed; Mastery, or the itch to keep improving at something that’s important to us; and Purpose, the sense that what we do produces something transcendent or serves something meaningful beyond than ourselves.” Daniel H. Pink

The opportunity to groom and develop new leaders is also a growth opportunity for you as a leader. I encourage you to think about how you can flex your coaching muscles to approach leadership as a developmental journey for those on your teams. Leadership is a mindset and does not require rank, salary, or title. As a coach-leader you are shaping the future of the workforce as well as the present and model the way for positive and supportive behavior that boosts morale, productivity, and purpose.

Caroline Dowd-Higgins authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" now in the 2nd edition, and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. She is Executive Director of Career & Professional Development at the Indiana University Alumni Association and contributes to Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Ellevate Network, and The Chronicle newspaper in Indiana. She hosts and produces an online show: Thrive! about career & life empowerment for women on YouTube. Caroline also hosts the international podcast series Your Working Life - on iTunes. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter.

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