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7 Steps to Becoming a Better Coaching Leader

​SEATTLE—When employees knock on HR's door, they're usually upset, angry or frustrated to the point of quitting.

However, HR professionals who master the art of coaching can help guide those employees through a difficult time to find new meaning and enthusiasm for their work.

"Coaching is not about fixing someone. It's about finding out who they are and building them up," said Heather Christie, president of Evolve Global, on Wednesday at the Society for Human Resource Management Leadership Development Forum. "One of the first things you do as a coach is you dive in and you look for someone's strengths."

While more companies are requiring managers to coach their subordinates, there's confusion about what coaching is, Christie said. Managing involves directing someone to do something with a specific outcome in mind. Coaching, on the other hand, is about guiding the individual to discover or clarify for herself what she wants to achieve.

"As a coach, I believe you are the expert in your world—not me," Christie said. "Anyone who comes to me wanting advice, I know that they have the answer within them. And it's their answer that matters, not mine."

Studies have found that organizations with strong coaching cultures have higher engagement and performance.

To be a good coaching leader, you need to have the right mindset. If you're not happy with what you're doing and where you are in life, then you can't help someone else. Instead of blaming others for your problems, choose to "get back on the court of life," urged Christie. Once you learn to control your own mindset, you can help guide others when they go "off the court."

A good coach also needs to be able to make a meaningful connection with the person she is coaching. To help do that, Christie said she asks the employee to take a DISC personality assessment to help her understand how to best communicate with the individual.

To coach people to discover their own solutions, she recommends the following seven steps:

--Be present. When someone comes to your door to ask for help, decide whether you can drop everything and fully focus on that individual. If you're busy, set a time when you can give the person your full attention.

--Actively listen. Seek to fully understand what the person is saying. "It's looking for the meaning behind the words, not just hearing the words," she said. "It's caring about what the impact is of what they're sharing." Allow the person to speak fully before you jump in or before you draw a conclusion about what she's going to say or what it means.

--Ask permission. This step is almost always missed by those who don't follow a coaching model, she said. "When someone is upset, they're not always asking for advice. Sometimes they just want to be heard, and most people aren't actively listened to," Christie said.

Let the employee know you understand, by stating "I got it." Then, ask: "Are you open to some coaching?" or "Are you ready to solve this?" If she says no, don't coach her. If she says yes, don't follow up with advice, she said.

--Actively inquire. Ask open-ended questions such as "What do you want to do?" or "How does this impact you?" Help the person explore the issue. However, she cautions HR professionals not to use questions that start with "why" because they will pull the person back into her original complaint.

--Use coaching tools. Tools can help guide the conversation. One model suggests asking what result the employee is after. Is she trying to persuade others to adopt a new program or policy? What are her thoughts or beliefs about the situation? What does she need to believe to get the desired results? (She needs to believe whole-heartedly in the program before others will.) What does she need to do to get them to believe this?

--Create an action plan. Urge the employee to write down the specific steps she needs to take to get the desired result.

--Determine value. Once she has that break-through moment, ask her why the coaching session was valuable to her. "I want them to say it out loud so they sell it to themselves and they're more likely to complete the action plan," she said. "You can never assume that they've got it."


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