Man Wearing Polo Shirt With Coach On

Coaching as a leader

How sporting philosophies can be applied to management coaching

5 minute read
Man Wearing Polo Shirt With Coach On

When we think of a coach, we tend to automatically think of a sports coach – the one who encouraged and supported us to flourish in our chosen sport or the one who benched us when we were missing shots and not hustling in the game.

But a coach is any experienced person who supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance.

With this definition, we can shift our mindset to identify other coaches we may have in our lives such as our managers or other leaders in the workplace.

The perks of management coaching

Chief Reputation Officer Leadership Coach Liz Del Borrello said management coaching helped empower team members to develop solutions by asking powerful questions.

“It improves problem-solving skills and helps with their growth mindset, boosting confidence and resilience,” she said.

“Fostering trusting relationships with your team is vital to empowering and inspiring them to achieve their potential."

“Coaching helps your team members be more self-reflective, along with reframing a problem into a solution.”

Just as a sports coach commits to training sessions to coach their players to perform well at the game, where professional leaders invest their time sends an important message to their staff, or their ‘players’.

Thoughtful Leader Leadership Coach, Consultant and Founder Ben Brearley said when a leader coached their team members, they showed them their development was a priority, which could improve motivation, trust and commitment.

“Coaching to improve performance and motivation can also help ensure a team isn’t stagnating,” he said.

“Improving performance and building skills are important factors in keeping work interesting and helping people adapt and thrive in a continuously changing and often stressful workplace.”

According to Mr Brearley, coaching works for several different reasons, including helping the coachee adjust their mindset on a particular issue.

“Coaching provides an independent perspective and can reflect the coachee’s thoughts and statements back to them in different ways,” he said.

“We are all stuck inside our own heads, accustomed to our own ideas and thought patterns. Coaching can stimulate different thinking and ideas that may not have initially seemed possible.

“Coaching also provides a sounding board for the coachee, helping them feel supported and able to test out their ideas in a safe environment.”

It takes two

If a player is continuously missing shots from a specific spot on the basketball court or they are kicking more points than goals in a football game, a coach can advise and assist them with what they need to adjust, but the player also needs to have an input and hold themselves accountable to put in the work and practise nailing the shot more often than not.

The same goes in the professional world. The phrase ‘practise makes perfect’ sets too many people up for failure, as perfection is often unattainable.

If we look at it as ‘practise makes progress’, we can relate it back to the professional world, where the coachee takes on management coaching from their leader and works on a skill to progress, which encourages and acknowledges improvement in any capacity.

“Coaching works because it helps the coachee become accountable for taking action and improving,” Mr Brearley said.

“If a leader simply tells someone what to do, that person will have no ownership over that action because they didn’t play a part in developing the solution.

“Coaching is about working with the coachee to develop solutions and actions to improve in some way.

“Because the coachee is an active participant in developing approaches and solutions, they tend to take more ownership and are more likely to carry out actions to make progress.

“This, in turn, builds confidence as the coachee sees that their own actions are leading to progress.”

Coaching strategies

Both coaching moments and scheduled coaching sessions have their advantages.

Mr Brearley said a coaching moment was when a leader observed an opportunity for a team member to be coached in a specific situation, often spontaneously.

“An example of this is if a team member is struggling with a particular problem, workplace relationship or skillset, a coaching conversation may help the person move forward, clarify their objectives and make progress,” he said.

“The key to the coaching moment is it happens when the coachee is open to receiving coaching – permission is important here – and it is timely, occurring close to when the challenge is being addressed.”

A scheduled coaching session is more formal, planned and structured.

“Scheduled conversations provide a checkpoint to assess progress and complete actions, whereas coaching moments happen on an ad-hoc basis,” Mr Brearley said.

“A combination of both approaches can work well.”

Three keys to successful management coaching

Mr Brearley said motivation, goals and actions were integral to the coaching process.

“Motivation is critical for successful coaching,” he said. “A coachee needs to feel motivated to participate fully in the coaching process and achieve a successful outcome.

“The coaching process itself can be motivating because the coachee feels supported and has a safe space to test their ideas and overcome their resistance or fear.”

According to Mr Brearley, goals are crucial to coaching because without them we do not know where we are heading.

“Goals are useful to check in with progress, assess whether we are on the right track and make sure the actions developed out of coaching sessions are in alignment with the overall coaching direction,” he said.

“The coaching sessions are important but often the magic happens when the actions are taken outside of the coaching conversations.

“When the coachee commits to an action, they are more likely to take ownership and see real results.”

Linking these three components back to the sporting world, we see the motivation in a player who wants to improve their skills with the help of their coach, the goal of what they would like to improve such as achieving a certain number of disposals and the action of working hard and seeing progress on game day.

Coaching skills course

Just because we take on-board the knowledge and experience from leaders in sports and in our careers does not mean they know everything, and most do not claim to.

A leader should always be willing to learn and expand their knowledge in various fields to excel in their management coaching.

Mr Brearley facilitates a number of courses for AIM WA, including Coaching Skills for Line Managers and Supervisors and Building your Coaching Skills and leans on examples from his personal experiences to help people take away practical steps to apply to their own coaching situation.

“Workplaces are tricky and complex – there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to solving leadership challenges,” he said.

“Coaching is an important skill that leaders can use to improve performance, motivation and confidence in their teams.

“Combining coaching with other approaches such as training and mentoring can help people enjoy work and improve themselves along the way.

“My overall aim is to help leaders become more thoughtful about how they lead their people to create a working environment that helps them thrive.”