How to Be an Effective Coach for Your Direct Reports

By Laura Hansen. MA, PCC. 

One important competency for today’s leaders is successfully developing your direct reports through coaching. When you have decided that coaching is an appropriate approach with an employee, here are five things to keep in mind to be more effective in that role.

1. More Silence 

Silence is a powerful coaching skill. Nine times out of ten if you stay silent, your direct report will eventually say something thoughtful or revelatory. They are using the silence to process their thoughts or access their intuition. That takes time, so don’t rush them. The other benefit of allowing more silence is that you are less likely to interrupt or talk over your employee.

Exercise: Make a sign for yourself that says “WAIT” which stands for “Why Am I Talking?”

2. Seek to Explore, Not to Solve

Jumping in too soon with advice or solutions is the most common mistake of coaches.  Remember, when you are coaching your employee, you are in a different role than when you are being “the boss.” Most direct reports who are talking with you about their professional development do not want your solution, at least not at first. They want you to help them explore all facets of their issue. If you do that, the ‘solution’ or next step will present itself naturally. 

Exercise: practice asking only exploratory questions such as: 

  • “How do you feel about it?” 
  • “What have you tried already?”
  • “How did that work for you?” 

3. Challenge Assumptions

Part of your role as a coach to your staff is to challenge their assumptions, excuses or self-limiting beliefs. By doing that, you broaden their possibilities. And isn’t that what coaching is all about?

Exercise: Listen for and challenge assumptions. Here are some examples:

Employee says… You respond…
“I couldn’t…”      “why not?”
“Everyone knows”      “who’s everyone?”
“Of course x is true”      “who says?”
“I know that…”      “Is that a fact or an assumption?”

4. Say What You’re Afraid to Say

Whether you call them inklings, intuition or “that little voice in your head,” they’re there for a reason. Don’t be afraid to share those thoughts with your direct report. They often lead to breakthroughs.

I’ll give you a personal example. Recently a client was upset that his boss was so negative. What popped into my head was “that’s ironic, because you’re one of the most negative clients I’ve worked with.” 

In that moment I had to decide whether to keep coaching at the “nice chat” level or to go deeper. I decided to take the plunge. Of course, I didn’t just blurt out what was in my head. That would have been hurtful. Instead, I said, “There’s something I’d like to share with you, but it might be hard to hear. Do you feel up to hearing it?” When he agreed, I said “It’s interesting to hear you talk about your boss’ negativity because my experience of you is that you can often be quite negative.” We ended up having the most productive coaching call ever. In fact, he had a major breakthrough. 

Exercise: Listen for that little voice in your head and be fearless in sharing it when you are in the role of being a coach. Then notice how you feel about your effectiveness as a coach for your direct reports.

5. Ask, Don’t Tell 

Coaching is primarily about asking, not about telling. 

Instead of saying: Ask a question: 
You need x. What do you think you need?
You’re an introvert. Are you an introvert?
You’re obviously feeling better. How are you feeling?

Exercise: Reflect on a short coaching session. Write down anything you said that was a “tell” statement. Now, rewrite those statements converting the “tell” statements into “ask” questions. 

If you will put these five simple steps into practice you will see how much more you can impact the professional development of your direct reports.  

For a deeper dive into developing your skills as a leader/coach, contact Laura Hansen, PCC, for a consultation.