Upping Your Coaching Game: 10 Tips to Help Busy Leaders Become Better Workplace Coaches

Coaching is one of the most impactful tools that a leader has at their disposal to support, and help members of their team improve performance. Coaching a team member to develop and reach their full potential can also be one of the most rewarding aspects of being a leader. That being said, in busy workplaces where stressed leaders are asked to wear many hats, prioritizing coaching can be difficult in the face of the struggle to get on top of day-to-day business as usual activities. With this in mind below are 10 tips to help busy leaders refocus, and level up their workplace coaching game.

1. Play the Long Game - Remember The Pay Off

Workplace leaders have it tough, because while they may be a coach they’re also concurrently pulled in a million other directions - the new client proposal due at 4, the business meeting with the government regulator, the procurement crisis that needed to be resolved yesterday - everything important! But to be truly effective in coaching members of your team, you need to be intentional by tuning out the distractions and tuning in to the task at hand. While some coaching can (and should) be done “on the fly”, the best results will come when both coach and coachees are highly focused on the coaching conversation. To achieve the required level of focus quarantine regular time in your diary, and turn off your phone. The pay off for making a 1 hour coaching session a priority is the saving of countless hours later on.

2. Workplace Coaching Should be Give and Take

Sometimes coaching can become one sided due to the inherent power imbalance in the relationship between the senior leader and their coachee. Effective coaching is about building a strong relationship between coach and coachee through serving the needs of your coachee, and the best way to know if your doing that is to ask by seeking regular feedback. The added bonus of continually seeking feedback on the effectiveness of your coaching is that you are modelling good behavior that your coachee will benefit from if they emulate your example in the future.

3. Dig Deeper to Find What’s Truly Important

As coaching time is limited, time spent on superficial surface issue (the 95% of issues that coachees could solve on their own) robs coachees of the chance to make more significant progress. Great workplace coaches cut to the chase by steering their coachees to focus on the “5% issues” - Those issues where coachees are truly lost for direction, or where they are on the verge of good to great performance yet can’t quite make the leap.

4. Become Obsessive About Language

Many leaders who coach have a few “magic questions” that they have learned and pull out regardless of the situation. While these tried and true questions form a fundamental part of the workplace coach’s repertoire, a great coach is ever expanding their question bank. They do this by 1) taking note of incisive questions they hear in their daily lives 2) studying and incorporating the nuances of the language that is used by those they coach.

5. Don’t Take Sides: The Age Old Debate - Listen vs Talk

A lot that is written about coaching comes from a theoretical or purist perspective - “a coach should be a guide on the side, and not fall into the trap of directing or giving advice like a sage on stage”. In workplace coaching it’s a good idea to take theoretical notions like these with a grain of salt. Senior leaders who coach often have vast experience to draw on and can save their coachees a lot of time on their developmental journey by sharing personal war stories, advice, and lessons learned. Yes, a lot of the most powerful lessons a coachee learns during coaching often come through intensive guided self reflection, but sometimes a gentle nudge in the right direction will suffice.

6. The Micro Is Important But Don’t Forget The Macro

A good coach helps their coachee improve today, while great coaches help their coaches build a bridge between today and a better tomorrow through linking present day performance to a vision of a better future. This helps boost a coachee’s intrinsic (internal) motivation to succeed. There is a big difference in the actions that a coachee will take if their workplace coach asks “how could that have gone better” versus “What would your life look like in 1,3 or 5 years if that worked out the way you planned?… so working backwards what are our first steps to making that a reality?”.

7. Engineer External Accountability

Great coaches ensure that they engineer accountability that is external to the person that they are coaching (and even better external to both the coachee and the coach). Certain rocks respond to pressure by producing diamonds - Pressure applied through external accountability in workplace performance situations produces outstanding performance. Creating performance dash boards to track progress, specific project based deliverables, formal reports or presentations back to senior leadership or the board of directors are but a few examples of how coaches can engineer external accountability to keep their coachee on track.

8. Always Look Ahead To The Next Challenge

Great coaches can see the future. Like a chess master able to anticipate what will be required 3 moves ahead, great coaches evaluate the performance of those they coach and can see not only where their current phase of development will take them, but also the phases beyond (and what is required to get them there). They also understand their coachees development needs vs their own experience and have an insatiable desire to learn so that the can stay one step ahead of their coachee’s needs.

9. Set Clear Expectations Around Coaching Time

In a busy workplace time is precious. Great coaches know this and demand that the people they coach arrive prepared by knowing exactly what they want from their coach, and have completed any pre-session work (e.g., reading, research, behavioral experiments) to make the most of in session time.

10. Mix Things Up

Coaching isn’t (always) all about talking. A great coach takes different approaches to impart learning with their coachee. Role playing is one example of a highly effective yet underused tool to fast track coachee development within a safe environment. There’s a reason that the best sports stars in the world practice “going through the motions” - when it comes to game time their highly trained muscle memories (developed through simulating real competition in practice) ensure that they are ready to perform at their peak.

Bringing It All Together

Being busy is no excuse for complacency when it comes to improving your workplace coaching - the best way to improve is to get out there and do it! Which of the 10 tips will you apply?

HR Business Direction can assist workplace leaders to become better workplace coaches.


Alistair Kerr, MPsychOrg; PostGradDip Psych; BPsych

Organisaitonal Development Strategist | Psychologist


07 3890 2066


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