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A Skill Set for Life

“An effective manager-as-coach asks questions instead of providing answers, supports employees instead of judging them, and facilitates their development instead of dictating what has to be done.” – Herminia Ibarra and Anne Scoular

As I listened to my client, she seemed to have lost her bearings. “I’m used to being an IC and not sure what I should be doing in this management role,” she said to me. “I get so much from being an IC because I know what to do, but now this leading thing feels challenging.” 

While my client was beginning to think about the leader she wanted to be, she was also beginning to see that how she was being with her team was not working. As we talked around the issue, she shared that she volunteered on a crisis hotline one day on the weekends and her job involved listening, responding with empathy, asking open questions, and mirroring. “That way of showing up makes such a difference to these people,” she noted in reflection. I thanked her for sharing that and said, “I think you have a pretty good understanding of what your new management role calls for.”

Enter the Leader as Coach model. These days, great managers are great coaches for their teams within the context of their organization’s needs. 

However, we know leadership isn’t constrained to leaders in organizations. Leadership is for people who are leading as life partners, leading as parents, leading in their communities, and in anything outside the confines of a job or career. In many life situations, the capacity for and the skills of being a coach could be helpful both for how you relate to others and also for your own growth and development towards being a better human. The use of the coaching skillset is a modality you can bring into your own life, even if you’re not a CEO or manager, or Head of People. 

First and foremost, the coaching toolkit helps people to clarify what they’d like, what is known, and unknown, and to figure out different pathways to navigate the unknown. Coaching is not giving someone the answer or writing out the map for them based on what you did. We’ve long adhered to the precept from the Center for Courage and Renewal on “No fixing, advising, or correcting” as a big part of the coaching stance. Coaching assumes that the person in front of you has the answers within themselves, that they are whole, and when given the right conditions such as creating a space safe for the soul to show up, that they can find the way through that is right for them.

Being present for the people in your work and life requires skills that make you a better relational human (meaning: when you’re with other humans, you don’t seek to control them or the outcome and can put your stuff and your agenda aside to be presently attuned to them and their process in the moment.)

There are three big skills involved in being able to put your coach’s hat on. The first is listening. The second is asking open honest questions. The third is mirroring–that is mirroring back the same words someone said. These three qualities are a solid start to creating space for someone to have the full stage (and therefore, the support and the space to show up) to process the questions and quandaries on their mind and heart. 

As my colleagues Andy Crissinger and Chris VandenBrink note in this episode: “When we’re leading an organization we are optimizing for the success of the organization, but we are also recognizing that the organization will be successful if the individuals are self-actualizing and growing and learning and bringing their creativity and ingenuity to bear.” Here, the Leader as Coach model aims to align the individuals and the actions they are taking with the aspirations of the organization while not wiping out the individual’s own process around those aspirations. 

Andy and Chris also discuss when to always, sometimes, and never to use coaching: When is it always great to put on your coaching hat? When is it sometimes helpful to do so? And then when should you not do it? When should you actually apply a different lens or set of skills?


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