Team meeting at a wooden table

How to use coaching as a leadership technique

5 min read
Jessica Thiefels

Employee development is a powerful tool for business owners. According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report of 4,000 professionals, 94 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers. One great way to invest in your team is to coach them, stepping out of the training classroom and helping them learn day-to-day. Using coaching as a leadership technique can help you better connect with your employees — and help them become even better workers. Keep reading to learn more about what coaching involves and how to do it as a leader.

What is coaching in business?

Like all in-office learning, coaching is used in business to help employees learn and grow their skills. It’s not unlike in sports, where a hitting coach will help a baseball player get out of a slump or a shooting coach will work with an NBA player on their free throws. Coaching doesn’t mean your team members aren’t good; it just means that there are areas where they can improve.

However, not all coaching is good coaching. As the experts at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) explain:

“The hallmarks of coaching are that it is personalized and customized and that it is usually done one-on-one and over a period of time, and with a specific business objective in mind. Coaching is frequently used to assist individuals as they prepare for or move into new assignments, improve work habits, adapt to a changing environment or overcome specific obstacles.”

This means even the best workers can benefit from coaching from time to time. When cultivated as a part of your company culture, coaching can benefit everyone.

How to use coaching as a leadership technique

Team training session in large conference room

Coaching isn’t something that you are born into. Even “natural born leaders” can benefit from leadership training, and coaching is the same concept. If you want your team members to become coaches, consider helping them learn the skills and traits of a good coach.

Studies have shown that training managers on coaching techniques can significantly help them improve their abilities. Julia Milner and Trenton Milner shared their studies on business coaching with the Harvard Business Review. They worked with managers and asked them to coach employees in a controlled setting, then provided coaching training and asked the managers to re-coach the team member with what they learned.

When these managers reviewed their performance after the second session, they reported higher confidence in their abilities and thought worse of their initial attempts. Their peers, who watched the coaching sessions, agreed.

However, you may not want to use your existing employees and managers as your coaches. Contracting out your coaching duties can allow you to help employees learn more effectively without taking time away from other employees who might otherwise be doing the training.

Related: 14 mentor qualities that separate the good from the great

Choose your topics strategically

As experts at SHRM explained, coaching is best done when it’s customized and personalized. This comes down to both how the coaching is delivered and the topics you cover. Not all employees will need training or coaching on all the same topics, so creating a list of topics and allowing employees to self-identify where they need support is an easy way to customize the experience.

For example, in this sales coaching guide from Lessonly, they break down some coaching topics you might consider for your sales team, such as:

  • Sales calls
  • Generating new opportunities
  • Sharing effective messaging

Then, you can use polling or 1:1 conversations to understand how each employee learns best with coaching, whether they want someone to play more of a mentorship role or one that’s more hands-on.

How coaching benefits employees

Women in business meeting holding laptop

Several ways of using coaching as a leadership technique can benefit employees in both the short run and the long run:

  1. Employees feel more confident in their work and are likely to take calculated risks that have high rewards.
  2. Employees have more skills—or reinforced skills—that they can use.
  3. Your team members won’t need to ask for help or turn to you with problems and questions. Instead, they can better solve issues themselves.
  4. Employees are better prepared to step into leadership roles within the organization.
  5. Your staff can feel confident that their employer values their work and talent, leading to increased engagement and job satisfaction.

These benefits also extend to managers and the company as a whole.

Related: 5 ways leaders can inspire newly remote teams during the coronavirus

Find time to coach your team members

If you think you’re already checking all of the boxes for using coaching as a leadership technique, consider re-evaluating your process. In 2018, research by Gallup found that only 21 percent of employees "strongly agree" that their manager provides meaningful feedback. Even if you have a coaching plan in place, there is likely room for improvement.

Consider building at least one coaching session per quarter per employee, if not monthly. Your coaching experience will likely also benefit from weekly one-on-one check-ins from management, where employees can talk about their goals and concerns. When coaching becomes part of the fabric of your organization, your entire staff can embrace the culture of growth and professional improvement.