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Tips for Coaching Leaders

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How Coaching Develops Leaders

Leadership coaching is a critical component to maintaining a productive organizational culture and responding to evolving business objectives. Having a trusted adviser to talk with helps leaders clarify their thinking, gauge reactions, and prepare for behavior change. But why is this so? Let’s look below the surface of conversations to understand why engaging with another works to enhance development and change.

What Happens When Leaders Get Coaching?

Talking with a coach is an opportunity for leaders to explore ideas by repeating, clarifying, and anchoring new thoughts and patterns. Talking out-loud actually creates new neural pathways in the brain of the leader. The more they do it, the stronger those neural connections that make thoughts and behaviors more automatic, while breaking old habitual patterns.

Here’s an example: One leader had a habit of just saying, “that’s great” when her team reported a positive outcome. Wanting to increase her ability to respond with more specific praise, I challenged her to brainstorm phrases she could use.

The first step was imagining a member of her team taking action on a project.  After describing in detail what she was observing this team member doing, this leader was encouraged to verbalize the specifics of the actions. Through a repetitive focus on changing her automatic response, she became better and more comfortable at observing and naming the specifics.  This “neural practice” changed her mental highway, allowing her to make more pointed praise when she said “John, in the meeting last week, you led the conversation in a new direction that turned around the negativity in the room.  Thank you”.

Coaching Helps Leaders See Another Point of View

Talking is an opportunity to experience a situation from another point of view. As humans, we have the rare ability to self-reflect and coaching is the vehicle to help us become more self-aware. Being “kind critics,” coaches help leaders identify behaviors and reactions that may have unintended consequences. 

A leader I worked with often supported the inappropriate behavior of a direct report by ignoring transgressions at a great cost to the whole team. When I made this observation, the leader talked about her lack of comfort in setting boundaries and holding people accountable to the standards and values of the team.  Exploring this roadblock, not only defused the emotions of avoidance, it led the coaching conversation to reframe the value of giving feedback from a negative experience to one of offering development opportunities for the direct report.

Coaching Gives Leaders Time to Practice

The coaching relationship provides an opportunity to “test drive” new thoughts, strategies, and actions. Imagining is practice to the brain. It’s the behavior of a leader that has the biggest impact on employee engagement and performance effectiveness. A coaching conversation enables exploration and it’s also a perfect setting to try out and practice concrete ways of saying things.

When we allow ourselves to practice imagined conversations with another safe person, we “try on” and learn what others might experience. Simple inquiries from a coach about “what would you do” or “when would you do it” ties intent to action.

Coaching Sparks Innovation

Talking tests the validity of our thoughts with reality and serves to transport thinking into new places. Sometimes thoughts are randomly expressed or half-baked. Sharing these thoughts out-loud cultivates and stimulates new ideas, and revisits old ideas with a new and more adaptable twist.

One highly creative leader with a very “fluid” habit of expression, benefited from coaching by learning to summarize his thoughts.  Through role playing, he learned to present his thoughts in a way that others could digest without losing his gift of creative wandering.

New pathways, new habits, and new behaviors take time and continued effort. A safe and trusting relationship is a most powerful foundation of modulating neural systems for change. Finding a trusted coach to work with over time increases the likelihood that leadership development will really work, be sustained, with lasting impact on business success.

To maximize leadership potential on your team, learn more about our coaching options.


Coaching to Outperform the Norm Case Study

Holly Seaton, Ph.D.

Holly Seaton, Ph.D. is a consultant for FlashPoint. Holly is an executive coach who appreciates the privilege of helping organizations and individuals build their leadership capacity by moving from intent to action.

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