Jun 02 2016
Five positive psychology coaching skills every leader needs to develop

By Gill Thackray

The business world has long since recognised the value of using coaches for their top performers. But coaching skills don’t have to remain the exclusive domain of a professional coach. What if you were to grow those exact same skills in-house? As an internal coach you are uniquely placed to develop powerful relationships along with lasting individual and organisational change. Leaders are increasingly developing their own coaching style of leadership, viewing coaching skills as a core leadership competency. So what are coaching skills and how exactly can you develop them?

1. Identify strengths

Traditionally the model of development pivots on shoring up our weaknesses. Good leaders recognise that this is an outmoded (and incorrect) deficit model. Instead, by taking a strengths based approach, looking at what’s working, rather than what isn’t, leaders are able to increase efficacy. Enter positive psychology. Research (Linley 2009) demonstrated that by identifying and leveraging strengths, we see a bump in performance of around 38%.

Once you’ve identified the strengths of your team you can begin to develop them, aligning them with your business goals and challenges. Not sure what a strength is? Go to the world’s most used, free strengths assessment, the VIA at www.authentichappiness.org and take your team with you.

2. Curiosity

When you’re coaching others it’s important to be curious about them, the environment they operate in and the world around them. Curiosity will help you to stay open to new ideas and innovations, keeping you a step ahead of the game. Growth mindset coaching questions to develop your curiosity and your team are:

“What would YOU do?” “What are the pros and cons of each option?” “What can you do differently next time?” Ask questions that will help your team, to identify their motivations, to see other alternatives and achieve their goals.

3. Feedback and accountability

It’s that checking in with staff on their progress that makes such a powerful difference to achieving success. Research by Christine Porath and Gretchen Spreitzer found that the four factors necessary to sustain a high performing team were; feedback, autonomy, civility and information sharing. It’s a growth mindset blueprint for success. Feedback enables your team to know if they’re headed in the right direction. Make it clear, timely, specific, non-judgemental and positive. Once accountability has been established, staff have a whopping 95% chance of achieving their objective.

Think about the systems and processes that you have in place to enable staff to build this sort of accountability into their role. Consider how you support, encourage and motivate staff to be accountable for the goals that they have committed to.

4. Listening

Yup, it sounds obvious but often it descends into either combative listening; waiting for the other person to shut up so that you can interject with your own point of view and tell them how they ‘should’ be doing it or passive listening; peppered with a string of “Umms” “Uhuhs” or nods as you slowly zone out. A coaching skill that is often overlooked.

With genuine listening you’re aiming for active and reflective. Make sure you focus as you listen and regularly reflect back to check your understanding of what has been said. There really is nothing quite like the attention of a good listener and this skill will help you to build rapport to boot. Leave your own agenda behind (remember your curiosity?) keep interruptions to a minimum and watch the dialogue flow.

5. Communication

Karen Tweedie of Access Leadership says “Better conversations mean better relationships, which lead to better output.” Below are a few tips to help the coaching leader support direct reports or other key stakeholders:

  • See yourself as a thought partner, listen for potential (of people and ideas)
  • Keep your questions open-ended (be willing to be surprised)
  • Encourage self-discovery (encourage colleagues to find their own answers to their own challenges)
  • Put your attention on the person in front of you, not the issue
  • Expect that the person is capable of discerning the best approach
  • Empower the other person to succeed – remove obstacles, provide resources
  • Maintain accountability, celebrate effort and results

Once you’ve mastered these coaching skills you’ll have a vital addition to your leadership competencies, increasing your impact, developing your people, improving your relationships and your results.

To find out more check out our one-day Coaching skills for managers course.  

Gill Crossland-Thackray, Director of Koru Development (www.korudevelopment.co.uk) is a business psychologist, coach, lecturer, writer, mindfulness teacher and regular conference speaker specialising in the application of positive psychology, growth mindset and mindfulness. Gill writes & contributes to international publications including the Guardian, Daily Worth, Ultra Fit and Power Blog.

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