Use Care When Introducing Coaching Skills to Managers

August 7, 2019 David Witt

As a learning and development professional, how do you introduce coaching behaviors to your managers?

“Carefully!” says Madeleine Blanchard, director of coaching services at The Ken Blanchard Companies. “It’s easy for a good thing to go sideways.”

“A lot of bosses have read somewhere that they need to ask more questions. Or listen better. Or provide better feedback,” explains Blanchard. “But without training and a solid plan, it is easy to swing from one extreme to another. The goal is to create a leadership curriculum that helps leaders develop balanced skills, meets people’s needs, and also gets real results.”

That starts with goal setting and direction, says Blanchard.

“If someone is brand new to a task, you don’t ask questions; you tell them what to do. When people have more experience, that’s when you’ll ask the questions.”

Blanchard shares an example.

“Let’s say a manager in a hospitality industry is instructed to do more asking instead of telling. That manager may think it’s okay to ask ‘How do you think we should go about setting up the banquet room for this event?’ to someone who's never done it before. That’s exactly the wrong thing to do with someone who is new to a task—and it’s a complete waste of everyone’s time. What that manager needs to say in this case is, ‘We are having this many people, which means it's that many tables.’ Clear, step-by-step: ‘This is how to do it.

“A lot of bosses who think they should be asking questions don't really understand when and how to do it. They'll say, ‘I'm asking a lot of questions because I want to have buy-in from people. I want to make sure they feel like they're included.’ That's all fine and well, but those people need to have the experience and expertise so that their feedback will add value, versus wasting everybody's time.”

Blanchard says listening is another skill that can go awry if managers aren’t taught how to keep the conversation on track.

“It’s critical for all managers to develop better listening skills. The problem is if you listen just to listen, some people will go off on tangents and hours will fly by. As a leader, you have to listen for things that will move the conversation forward. Listen so you can steer the discussion toward the area you're trying to focus on. You may have to call a time out—step in and redirect by saying, ‘May I interrupt? Can we get back to the point?’

“Better questions—what and how questions—can help here. The questions need to be short and targeted specifically toward problem solving and moving people into action.

“Coach-like managers are always moving toward clarity, focus, or action. One of the most common rookie coaching questions is ‘How do you feel about that?’ I know you mean well, but that’s a therapy question, not a coach-like management question. Your goal as a coach-like manager is to clearly pursue what already has been agreed upon by you and the other person.”

Blanchard explains that as a leadership, learning, or talent development professional, you are always looking to help your leaders develop a dual focus on people and results. The same is true when learning how to deliver effective feedback.

“For example, I’m the boss and I go to Ryan and say, ‘You were supposed to be here at 9:00 but you weren’t. What's going on?’ Ryan says, ‘Oh, my mother's sick and my car broke down.’ I offer to help him troubleshoot the problems and ask, ‘Would that be helpful to you?’ He says, ‘Yes, please. Let's do that.’ Then we talk about his transportation issues, or the fact that his mother's sick and he can't get out the door because there's nobody else to take care of his mother. ‘That’s a real problem—let’s talk about that.’ Both parties have to agree on a solution.”

“If a person comes to me and says, ‘It’s really hard for me to talk to customers at the front desk. I'm in a constant state of panic.’ Then I can say, ‘Okay. Let's talk about that. How might I be able to help you with this?’ Or, ‘What would be helpful to talk about?’ Like that. But we still need to agree.

“It gets trickier when you are offering feedback that is more subjective like teaming, collaboration, or communication skills. You have to ask for permission to share observations in these cases. As a coach-like manager, you say, ‘This input isn't a request or a requirement, it's a suggestion. It's more for your own wellbeing and long-term success, not necessarily for me.’

“When you are offering subjective feedback, look for opportunities to say, ‘I'm glad you're here. I'm glad you're on my team. I know you can do this because I saw you do that other thing that was hard. You had the will, you persisted.’ It’s important to remind people of good qualities you've observed in them.”

Finally, for L&D professionals looking for a way to promote more coach-like behavior in their organizations, Blanchard suggests a clear starting place.

“Encourage your managers to set aside a little extra time in their one-on-ones—10 to 15 minutes—to ask coaching questions. At The Ken Blanchard Companies, we’ve been beating the drum about better one-on-ones since the beginning of time. How to be a good boss? Check in!

“Good questions could be: ‘What's most interesting to you about your job? What do you like most about the job? What do you like the least? What would your dream job be? What would you really like to be doing someday?’ That will get the conversations moving in a new and motivating direction.”


Would you like to learn more about bringing coaching skills into your organization?  Watch the On-demand event now!

Making the Switch from Boss to Coach: The 4 Essential Skills

People lead best when they serve first, but how does that translate into day-to-day leadership practices? In this webinar, coaching expert Madeleine Homan Blanchard shares the four essential skills managers need if they are going to make the shift from being the boss—setting goals and evaluating performance—to being more of an effective coach-like manager. Leadership, learning, and talent development professionals will learn the four essential skills all managers need to master.

  • Listening to Learn—how to listen deeply and thoroughly without interrupting
  • Inquiring for Insight—how to ask open-ended questions that promote discovery
  • Telling your Truth—how to provide feedback effectively
  • Express Confidence—how to maintain a positive and professional relationship regardless of what is being discussed

Blanchard will share how each of these skills can be developed with training and practice and then used as a part of effective performance management conversations. Don’t miss this opportunity to explore key content that you can build into your leadership development curriculum.

The event is free, courtesy of The Ken Blanchard Companies.

View On-Demand

About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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