Mastering People Management Skills In Today’s Workplace

We think we know how to manage people because we’ve worked with diverse groups in the past. And, when you’re already a subject matter expert, there’s nothing new to learn… right? Wrong!

Leaders often believe they know how to be a great coach at work. But in reality, people management skills are complex and take a lot of time, self-reflection, and intentionality to master. Why is it so complicated?

The complexity of people management stems from the fact that people are unique. You may have been initially taken aback by the difficulty of this task, or maybe you were pleasantly surprised at how naturally it comes to you. Either way, jumping into the managing world comes with new challenges – and people aren’t getting any easier to understand. You might even feel like some will never be satisfied!

Fortunately, learning how to be a great coach at work can be achieved with several data-driven and human-centric approaches.

The People Management Dilemma

People management comes with a LOT of moving parts, entanglements, and nuanced dilemmas. Regardless of the inherent challenges of managing and understanding a diverse group of people, there’s a technique that all managers can use with every person on their team. That technique is ‘leadership coaching’ or ‘coaching in the workplace.’

The 21st-century world of work is one where employees want to learn more and develop new skills. They don’t want to be “stuck” in their careers. This is where HR leadership often gets it wrong. It’s essential to present employees with new and innovative talent development opportunities – the kind of opportunities that fulfill the hope of a “dream job.” Employees want to keep learning, developing, and growing. This is why the role of a manager has transformed and now demands the need to coach.

Cultivating A Culture of Coaching in the Workplace

What exactly do we mean by coaching? Outside of the sports world, we often struggle to envision what this looks like in our lives, in our workplace. The art of leadership coaching lies in the humanity of our work environments, an aspect that has been forgotten or side-lined for decades. In the words of Sir John Whitmore, leadership coaching is “unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance.” It is a practice in which people receive personalized, individualized coaching in the workplace – working on people management skills and developing personal traits necessary to become a great leader.

Some leaders are born; most are created, but no one is born a perfect leader. Even C-Suite and high-level executives can use a coach to help them develop their leadership and communication skills. Leadership coaching is for everyone who embodies a growth mindset, no matter how seasoned you are.

Employees want to keep learning, developing, and growing as people. This is why the role of a manager has transformed and now calls for the need to coach. This is an environment that it is your role to cultivate as a leader coach.

People Management Skills: 101

To be truly effective at their jobs, people managers can’t just tell their subordinates what to do and how to do it. Managing requires you to have fluid communication skills and high emotional intelligence to get the job done right. Think about the least meaningful work you’ve done and why it lacked meaning. Were you given autonomy and creative freedom? Were your ideas welcomed and encouraged to bring a fresh perspective? The answer is likely no.

Work that is regimented with no space for creativity, innovation, or personal touch is the most surface-level approach to managing. What many people don’t realize is that when you work your way up to “manager”, you’re playing a whole different game. You’re no longer in the business of working in your field, you’re in the business of people development. When many people get promoted to “manager”, they are often still lacking the core people management skills they actually need. They didn’t realize they would need a whole new communication skill set as manager. They didn’t realize what the true job of a manager is. Hence, the best managers are the ones who have the skills for coaching in the workplace.

Remember that the front line people are the ones who handle customer engagement. These people need to be taken care of – the way they feel about their work will be reflected and noticed by the customers they speak with. HR needs to invest in people at all levels of the organization to develop coaching skills. Front line people need to be coached, and managers and executives need to learn how to coach them and to create an organization culture of leadership.

Pro Tip: One of the best ways to learn how to coach is to be coached yourself! More on that below.

Manager vs. Leader vs. Coach

The distinction between managers and leaders is often discussed, but we don’t often discuss the distinction between managers and coaches or leaders and coaches. Here’s a breakdown that makes it more clear.

Leader vs. Coach

  • You are leading when you coach
  • Leaders motivate; coaches stand with individuals and help/facilitate/empower
  • Leaders bring a collective group together to reach a shared goal; coaches work with individuals to help them understand their part of the process
  • Coaching employees is a more specific type of leadership – more in-depth and personal
  • Many leaders have done the job of their subordinates, a coach may not have done the job
  • Leadership is about equipping the team; coaching is about supporting individuals

Manager vs. coach

  • Managers tell; coaches ask
  • Managers give answers; coaches provoke thought
  • A manager is a task-driven role; a coach is a goal-driven role
  • Managers want to get things done and check off the boxes; coaches want to do so in a way that challenges employees to think outside the box

So, what’s next? Now that you have all the knowledge and wisdom that you need, we’ll let you know how you can turn these principles into coaching skills.

The 6 Habits of Highly Effective Leader Coaches

You may often ask yourself if you have effective leadership, but are not fully sure what those traits look like. In our years of facilitating growth and helping leaders hone their coaching abilities, we have found these 6 habits to be great indicators:

Ask open-ended questions, but be sure to validate

  • Open-ended questions allow the person on the other end to share detailed information. Close-ended questions (yes or no questions) put a block at the end of the conversation. Provoke the coachee in a way that will inspire them to open up. However, close-ended questions can be important, too, when you are helping the coachee to validate their thoughts or to better understand what they’re feeling.

Listen to understand, not to respond

  • Often people think the person who talks the most is the smartest or the wisest. Truly open your ears and your mind to fully encapsulate all that the coachee is saying. Listen with the intent to understand, empathize, and provide guidance. Do not listen with the intent to simply respond. The coachee will notice that you are not engaged, which might make them feel discouraged.

Coach in the moment

  • When you see a mistake or error is being made, jump on the opportunity to coach in the moment rather than waiting until later. When doing this, understand that coaching is different than criticizing. Rather than saying something went wrong, probe them with thought-provoking questions about what they thought. Offer constructive feedback to help them understand what they can do better next time.

Help them with the next steps

  • When a coachee has a goal, help them create a tangible plan of things they can do to achieve that goal. Give them the guidance and set them up with all the tools and resources you can provide them with to succeed.

Follow up and evaluate

  • After you determine their next steps, set up recurring times to check in with them to see how they’re doing on their path to reach their goal. Regardless of whether they’re on par or not, have the coaching conversations to ask what you can do to continue supporting them. Even if they don’t need your help, it is a coach’s job to offer it!

Hold people accountable

  • Being a great coach is about more than just being a cheerleader and a figure of positive empowerment. Part of being a great coach is about having the courage to engage in tough coaching conversations. If your coachee isn’t on track or isn’t holding up their end, you can’t let their shortcomings slip by.

When managers are able to employ coaching techniques with their teams, those individuals will benefit exponentially. After all, teams with engaged employees who can show up and bring their best to work every day will perform better. Investing in managers to be coaches will not only help the managers become better leaders, it will also increase performance and, therefore, the overall success of the company.

Master Coaching in the Workplace

If you’re not already a Leader Coach, your time is now! Mastering the ability to coach at work is an ongoing process that requires intentional investment in your growth. And there are resources for that!
At Churchill Leadership Group we have developed a program that helps leaders to unlock coaching abilities that they have always been capable of, but have not yet learned to hone. If you would like more information about Churchill’s Leader As Great Coach Program, please see our brochure or contact us. You’re future as an excellent Leader Coach is filled with potential, and we can help you discover how to get there!

Dr. Pat Baxter


Elena Pastore
Producer & Coaching Support for Churchill Leadership Group

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