Home>Leadership Development>Becoming a Great Coach at Work

Elena Pastore
Marketing Project Manager
October 1, 2020


Becoming a Great Coach at Work

People Management – A 21st Century Dilemma

Myth: we think we know how to manage people just because we’ve worked with diverse people in the past. When you’re already the subject matter expert, there’s nothing new to learn. Right?

Why do we believe we are naturally equipped to be people leaders? In reality, managing people is a complex practice that takes skills to master. Why is it so complex? Maybe it’s the fact that people are so individually unique. Maybe you were initially taken aback by the difficulty that was met with 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! So, how do we tackle the people management dilemma? Regardless of determining what makes people complex, 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 yearn to learn more and develop new skills. Employees don’t want to be “stuck” in their careers. HR should present employees with new and innovative talent development opportunities – the kind of opportunities that fulfill the hope of a “dream job” everyone reaches for. 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. 

What do we mean by coaching? Specifically, we’re talking about leadership coaching. 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 on the practices 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 grow 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.

To truly be 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 with the work? 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 flare 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 struggle. 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 coaching skills to do it all. 

What many people don’t realize is that when you work your way up to “manager”, you’re playing a whole different game.

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 onto 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.

Pro Tip: One of the best ways to learn how to coach is to be coached, yourself! 

(Click infographic to enlarge)


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

What to do and What NOT to do

Great Leader Coaches do: 
  • Create an inclusive environment
  • Watch out for others/lookout for when others need help
  • Take advantage of coaching opportunities on the spot
  • Make their people feel psychologically safe
  • Improve performance on teams
  • Teach the team how to problem solve, rather than giving solutions. Employees and team members should own their own solutions.
  • Empower people to do their best
  • Have tough coaching conversations
Great Leader Coaches do not:
  • Simply tell people what to do 
  • “Give away” the “right” thing to do
  • Criticize without construct 
  • Minimize needs

Your Go-To Guide for Asking Executive Coach Vendors The Right Questions


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.

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
  • Coaching is about supporting individuals; leadership is about equipping the team 
Manager vs. coach
  • Managers tell; coaches ask 
  • Managers give answers; coaches provoke thought
  • The manager is a task-driven role; the 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

  • 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 seeking the coachee to validate their thoughts or to better understand what they’re feeling.
  • Listen to understand, not to respond
      • Oftentimes 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. Listen with the intent to understand. 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, but it will increase performance and therefore the overall success of the company.

If you’re not already a Leader Coach, your time is now! You can start by practicing active listening, meeting with your team members one-on-one, and asking them what they need from you. You should first get a good understanding of the goals and futures of those on your team and then see how you can help them get there. If you would like more information about Churchill’s Leader As Great Coach Program, please see our brochure or contact us!

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About Elena

Elena is a double gator with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a Master’s degree in International Business from the University of Florida. She holds roles in marketing and business development with her involvement in different organizations. She is passionate about helping others develop their soft skills and interpersonal capabilities for an enhanced and optimized workplace environment. Her top 5 Strengths are Includer, Woo, Connectedness, Belief, Responsibility.


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