The number one behaviour of a great boss is being a good coach! So says Google who studied the behaviours of great bosses through Project Oxygen – a decade of big data research.
In addition to being a good coach, Google’s Oxygen project found that other top behaviours include: empowering team members, creating an inclusive environment, good communication, and supporting career development.
These and the rest of the top 10 behaviours identified are really all about interpersonal skills – which requires bringing our best human selves to our teams and direct reports so we can learn, grow and produce great results together.
So how, you might ask, do you start to implement these leadership behaviours? Well, it’s easy to say, “be a good coach” but it’s not so simple to just do it.
For the past two decades I have trained numerous leaders to use coaching skills. I know that it takes work, intention, new thinking and a lot of practice to become really good at coaching. And, by the way, it’s even more challenging to use coaching skills as a leader than it is be an external professional coach where a coaching relationship is clearly defined and uncomplicated by other agendas.
Becoming a coach-like leader requires an ability to occupy different roles, to be able to direct or “tell” when needed and to empower and “ask” at other times. That shift usually poses a big challenge – how do you know when to use which behaviour? Well that’s always a great question to ask yourself and perhaps best to ask after you have experienced the power of coaching.
Developing the coach side of oneself requires a number of internal and interpersonal abilities: starting with shifting your mindset – from being the “One Who Knows” to “One Who Cares and Grows Others”. Coaching requires empathy, curiosity and an ability to stay present and focus fully on another person for a period of time. Also, listening deeply (which is harder than you think!) and understanding what it takes to invest in someone else’s growth and development. All of these characteristics are served by understanding human nature. In other words, it requires a bit of an exploration into what makes us tick.
Too often, I’ve seen leaders come to a coaching workshop with the aim of learning a few techniques, e.g., what questions should I ask or how do I use the GROW model? Of course, techniques are useful, but coaching isn’t about techniques. It’s about the ability to be in relationship. Techniques alone only make the recipient feel manipulated or having something done to them.
Can anyone learn to coach? We believe that the breadth of skills required to be a good coach can be learned by most people. If you are willing to be stretched and challenged, if you’re willing to think differently and practise new ways of interacting, then yes, you can learn the interpersonal skills required to coach and grow others.
As we guide leaders in that process, we have found that it’s helpful to understand how the brain operates – how does it help us to be in relationship and how does it stop us? And perhaps most important of all, how do we set aside our innate obstacles and learn to leverage the great abilities the brain gives us to relate, care and be curious about other people.
So, first things first. If you are learning to be a coach or to incorporate coaching skills as a leader, start by paying attention to people and what motivates and drives them; what’s going on under the surface? Notice that everyone is different. Motivation has a different colour and feel for everyone. How can you be so curious about others that you can see beyond what they do, to their inner motivations, concerns and fears. How will you get comfortable with all of these human dynamics? What will it take for you to be interested in helping others explore themselves, to face and overcome their fears and to identify and embrace their strengths?
After such introspection, then learn a few coaching tools and techniques. The combination will help you support, grow, empower and stretch others.