How to Be A Great Leader-Coach

When it comes to core capabilities that prepare a person for the highest levels of executive responsibility and success, bosses loom large as role models, mentors and coaches.  They are major influencers of how top-performing professionals develop on the job.

At the management level, professionals regularly tell me about key lessons learned from their superiors in self-confidence, executive outlook, managing relationships and handling adversity.

To unleash their potential and deliver consistent winning results, top talent needs to be guided and inspired by great leader-coaches.

Coaching, either one-on-one or in a group, is a proven way to supercharge learning and performance.  Leaders who regularly coach their people, especially their direct reports, are able to accelerate their development and job readiness. They also strengthen engagement and retention of their most valuable players.

So how can leaders  – high achievers like yourself – be great coaches ?

Characteristics of Great Coaches:  Do You Have Them?

“To have long term success as a coach or in any position of leadership, you have to be obsessed in some way.” – Pat Riley

Whether in the clubhouse or the office, great coaches have these qualities in common:

  • Personal commitment to developing others
  • Continuous improvement attitude
  • Relevant professional experience and know-how
  • Trust-building relationship skills
  • Strong communication skills, including listening and conflict resolution
  • Motivational skills, including the ability to get the best from people with personal strengths and styles different from their own
  • Results and accountability orientation

Great leader-coaches are obsessed with results.  They constantly seek to raise the performance bar of their team, both individually and collectively.  They provide legitimate shortcuts and actionable feedback, breathing life into Vince Lombardi’s words,  “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

Seven Habits of Great Leader-Coaches

1.    They select the best talent.  You need champion-quality talent to beat the competition.  Otherwise, your coaching efforts are likely to produce frustration in you and disappointing results.  Repeat after me:  You can’t teach height.  For that matter, you probably can’t teach attitude either.

2.    They make the time.  Many executives I work with subscribe to a 1:1:1 talent development formula:  one hour of one-on-one time per month with each of their direct reports.  This can be individual face-to-face meetings or conference calls for those based in different office locations or time zones.  (Note:  For an executive with 10 direct reports and a 50-hour work week, the 1:1:1 time investment translates into a very manageable five percent of his/her monthly calendar.)

3.    They provide timely, specific feedback. “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment,” John Wooden noted. Simply put, feedback is the breakfast of champions.  Great leader-coaches believe in instant replay whenever possible.

4.    They illustrate points with their own experiences.   Sharing personal career challenges and war stories is a powerful way to impart lessons learned and success factors.  In fact, storytelling is a very effective, low-resistance way to coach others.  It is especially so when coaching “experts,” such as senior executives, business heads and highly-educated technical professionals, who might not otherwise be receptive to feedback.

5.    They don’t avoid the tough conversation.  The higher up in the organization you are, the harder it can be to critique your directs. Why? Because they are leaders themselves, and people you likely socialize with.  Or maybe you hired them and see yourself as their mentor and protector.  Great leader-coaches don’t shy away from addressing performance and knowledge gaps.  Instead, they confront the issue in frank, constructive conversation to help the person become better faster.

6.    They expose their people to new experiences and situations.   Great leader-coaches  take their directs and high potential candidates on customer and vendor visits, nominate them for committees and association positions, and get them out in front of board members and key influencers. They arrange priority developmental experiences with stretch assignments.

7.    They let go to grow.  Finally, great leader-coaches look to future seasons, not just the present one.  They recognize when a person’s professional growth calls for a job rotation or lateral assignment in order to add new capabilities and experience.  They let go of a prized Number Two or protegé in order to prepare  them for greater responsibility and span of authority.

In this time of global uncertainty and opportunity, it takes an A-Team playing at the top of their game to excel at business execution and innovation. Bosses and role models like yourself are critically important to how top talent develops on the job.

As a great leader-coach  you ensure a motivated, prepared bench of champions to advance your organization’s mission and dominate the competition.

©Susan Battley.  All rights reserved.

About the Author

Susan Battley

An advisor to Fortune 100 executives and world-class institutions for more than twenty years, Dr. Susan Battley is an internationally recognized expert on CEO and leadership effectiveness. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional service firms, and elite research institutions. She has worked with chief executives, university presidents, Nobel laureates, and prominent scientists, diplomats, and educators. A respected media source for analyzing leadership in the context of news-breaking events and key trends, Battley has been featured in outlets worldwide including CNN, CNBC, Fox, Bloomberg, and National Public Radio, and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chief Executive, Business Week, United Press International, Harvard Management Update, Entrepreneur, Science, Leader to Leader, Investments, and Worth. She is the founder and CEO of Battley Performance Consulting, a leadership strategy and organization effectiveness consultancy.