3 Essential Coaching Skills for Managers and Leaders

Before we begin talking about effective coaching skills for managers, let me share this notable true story about the man on his horse on one rainy day during the American Revolution.

“This man rode up to a group of soldiers trying to raise a beam to a high position.

The corporal who was overseeing the work kept shouting words of encouragement, but they couldn’t manage to do it.

After watching their lack of success, the man on the horse asked the corporal why he didn’t join in and help.

The corporal replied quickly, “Do you realize that I am the corporal?”

The man very politely replied, “I beg your pardon, Mr. Corporal, I did.”

The man dismounted his horse and went to work with the soldiers until the beam was put into place.

Wiping the perspiration from his face, he said, “If you should need help again, call on (George) Washington, your commander in chief, and I will come.” (Maxwell, 2011)

Two leaders – the corporal and the man on the horse.

Two different leadership styles.

Based on the story, one is frustrating and the other inspiring.

One hurled commands to no avail and the other did the job as he “spoke” with his action.

Leader vs. Coach

According to Business Dictionary, a leader is “a person or thing that holds a dominant or superior position within its field, and is able to exercise a high degree of control or influence over others.”

Let’s take a moment to pick out the keywords and key phrases in this definition:

Superior. Position. A high degree of control.

Sounds familiar?

We all have this kind of relationship in our lives…

Yes, the kind we have with our parents.

In a parent-child relationship, the parents are the leader.

Authoritarian parents are dictators who think they are superior because they presume that they are more intelligent than their children. It’s a one-way communication where the children are expected to obey “because I said so.

Leaders – the directive type – are like authoritarian parents to their employees.

You may wonder:

Is a coach not a leader?

In a way, this is true. But that’s only half of the story.

Effective leader-coaches are also leaders but with a different approach.

Directive leaders are “lords” over their employees with the former dictating what should be done, how it should be done, and when it should be done.

Coaches are facilitators who work with their team shoulder to shoulder and meet each member where they are according to that member’s specific needs since there are different levels of employee performance.

Directive leaders are result-oriented. Coaches value and focus on the outcome too AND the individual member process and growth that go with achieving success.

Directive leaders think they are superior because they are the brain, while the rest of the team are the executioner – the different parts of the body.

Coaches believe that the different body parts, though they vary in function, are all equally important and that each plays an important role in the smooth operation of the body.

Managing vs. Coaching

Just like the parents who lord over their children, directive managers who manage people end up focusing on the obvious – the directives.

How does managing people look like to directive managers?

  • Managing means directing and expecting subordinates to deliver exactly in the directive manager’s ways.
  • Managing means providing the necessary knowledge, processes, and tasks to the team as the directive managers consider themselves the experts and their team the doers.
  • Managing means only caring about the results and overlooking the growth process.

The result?

Frustrated, micromanaging, and burnt-out directive leaders with discontented, downhearted, and unproductive team members.

Now, what does leadership coaching look like?

  • Leadership-coaching means asking probing questions for the employees to unearth answers from within them – for them to discover the drawbacks as well as the opportunities that have been there all along.
  • Leader-coaching means facilitating success by providing support, resources, and opportunities in an environment where the coaches work shoulder to shoulder with their team to come up with results and solutions through idea exploration and development.
  • Leadership-coaching means focusing not only on the result but also on the process as well as the individual growth and expanding the learnings for the success of the rest of the team.

The result?

A successful organization with Master Asker, compassionate, and servant-leader coaches and inspired, fulfilled, and productive employees that keep getting better and better.

Skills That Make a Good Manager

You may be telling yourself:

These things are easier said than done.

You’re right.

Learning the necessary coaching skills for leaders and managers is crucial if you want to continue inspiring hearts and have a smoothly running organization. After all, who wants to work for a “soul-crushing boss?”

There are many skills that a good leader should master, but for now, we have listed three main skills (with subskills under each item), in random order, that you can start practicing to be both a good coach and manager.

(Click here to enlarge infographic)


Please include attribution to https://churchillleadershipgroup.com/ with this graphic.

Skill #1: Active Listening

Listen to understand.

There’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth. We ought to listen twice as much as we talk. Don’t listen to reply. Stop thinking about what your response is or how it should sound.

Instead, listen to understand. Be sensitive about the team member’s tone of voice, body language, and facial gestures. Listen to any subtexts.

Doing these allows you to connect not only with your team but with the people in your life in general, at a deeper and emotional, human level.

Ask open-ended questions.

We know you want to solve problems. Who doesn’t?

But instead of giving directives and telling your employees what to do, good manager-coaches allow their members to grow by letting the latter discover the answers themselves as manager-coaches ask open-ended questions.

This approach is also a good way to know the ability of your employees to perform and improve as well as the attitude they have towards their job.

Remain curious.

Questions, opinions, and feedforward – we all have them… and so do your employees.

It is a must for your employees to know that you respect them enough to listen to what they have to say. Encourage them by initiating conversations and ask them for their thoughts.

While some employees easily speak their minds, remember to be mindful of those who are not as outspoken as the others. Invest in your people and continue encouraging the latter.

Once they are comfortable enough to speak openly, remember to keep an open mind.

Skill #2: Changing Perspective

Many are used to this old management approach: Instruct. Execute. Criticize.

Helping your employees change their limiting beliefs by letting them realize what’s possible will tremendously help change you, them, and your company for the better.

The key factor here is that the realization and desire to change patterns of thinking, behaviors, and responses should come from the employees for them to have the authentic change you all desire.

Learn how to partner.

The leader alone does not make a team.

Great leaders know that coaching is not about directing but partnering, working with the rest of the team shoulder to shoulder. It’s about listening to what your team has to say and them knowing that your endeavors include them as winners, too.

Recognize strengths.

Working on your weaknesses – this is the traditional way of improving things and being a better manager or organization.

Now, many see the value of honing their strengths instead of fixing their weaknesses.

Great managers help their employees discover the latter’s strengths, harness them, and use them effectively so the employees can succeed both at work and in life.

Cultivate self-awareness.

Most of our responses are knee-jerk reactions.

They are so automatic that, more often than not, we don’t take the time to assess ourselves and understand what leads us to react the way we do.

Developing self-awareness first for yourself is a good way to model taking responsibility for your team.

If you have anger management issues, staying cool when it’s “hot” can be a challenge. Recognizing that you need to fire things up when it’s “cool” is a skill you can learn if you cultivate self-awareness.

Skill #3: Providing Safety

For you to accomplish all the points we have discussed so far, you need to provide a  “safe place” for your employees – the kind of environment where they will not feel the need to be defensive because they know that you genuinely care for them.

The following coaching skills for leaders in the workplace allow you to create an environment that’s conducive to trust, psychological safety, and improved relationships.

Show empathy.

This is a vital factor if you want to be an effective manager and coach because this here – the ability to show empathy – will make or break your relationship with your employees.

What do you think led George Washington to get off his horse and help those tired and wet soldiers under the rain?

Empathy is about understanding and feeling without judgment.

Again, this is easier said than done.

It’s going to take lots of practice for this to become second nature – to not react, fix, or correct no matter what comes out of your employees’ mouths as you guarantee a “safe place” without fear of judgment, criticism, or punishment.

As you connect and listen, understand your team’s “why” and their preferred “how” so you know how to approach each member and be able to communicate with them effectively.

Coach through a mistake.

Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone experiences failure at some point in their lives. These are inevitable parts of success. Making mistakes allows you to grow if you keep an open mind.

When someone makes an error, do not give constructive criticisms.

Whoever invented the term constructive criticism didn’t understand that criticism will never be constructive – you find faults; your employees get defensive.

The best approach is to coach your employees through their mistakes. Let them learn from failure to make sure they don’t make the same mistake again.

Acknowledge what’s going well.

Life is a balance – sometimes we win, other times we lose.

While coaching your employees through their mistakes is good, focusing only on these mistakes is counterproductive.

Acknowledge your team when something goes well. It is highly motivating to be recognized for a job well done. Talk to your team one by one. Give sincere compliments and make sure that they know they are valued.

But you need to be careful how you’re going to do this.

At the onset of your working relationship, find out how your employees want to be recognized – whether publicly or privately.

You don’t want to embarrass someone when all you want is to show your support and strive to be a good manager-coach.

Choose for Yourself Today

Remember our story at the beginning of this post?

Try to imagine yourself on that rainy day during the American Revolution and take a moment to assess yourself and your current leadership style.

Which type of leader do you think you are at present – the corporal or the man on the horse?

Which kind of leader do you wish to be in the future?

As I mentioned earlier, it will take time and effort to develop your coaching skills. Be motivated and explore what Churchill can offer your leaders with our Leader as Great Coach Program.

Remember, while investing in coaching skills training is beneficial to managers like you, you are only one part of the ripple effect that’s going to take place if you choose to be a great leader.

You will immediately see the impact of coaching strategies for leaders on all levels of employment and, ultimately, on your organization as a whole.


Maxwell, J. (2011). 5 levels of leadership: Proven steps to maximize your potential. New York, NY: Center Street Press.

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