Why all leaders should be strengths coaches

Why coaching is so powerful

When highly successful people like Microsoft’s Founder, Bill Gates, and Google’s ex CEO, Eric Schmidt, talk openly about the importance of coaching, you know it must be important. But why is it important and how do we coach in a way that is both effective and efficient?

Coaching is now regarded by leadership and business psychologists as one of the most powerful ways to help people learn and accelerate their performance and success. The main reasons for this are:

  • It assumes people have the strengths and capacities to discover solutions for themselves. When a person finds his/her own answers, they are far more likely to own and implement these with vigour and in a way that works for them.
  • It is highly contextualised learning and takes account of Individual differences, including their unique personality and ways they make sense of and deal with day-to-day challenges.
  • It provides an ideal opportunity for reflection and consideration of different pathways for achieving goals and the impact of these.
  • It provides the ideal space for the leader to support, challenge and provide feedback to move the person beyond their comfort zone to greater success.

There are plenty of opportunities for a leader to have a coaching conversation. Some of the most common are: during regular catch-up meetings, in performance goal-setting and review meetings, during personal development conversations, when providing feedback, before delegating work and when someone asks for help or is struggling with a task.

A proven approach to get the most out of people in a turbulent world

One of the major shifts we are seeing in companies is a move from a weakness-based to a strengths-based people management culture. Leading companies like Facebook, Sainsbury’s, Deloitte, GSK and BT all recognise the value of helping employees discover and optimise their natural strengths so they can contribute maximum value to the organisation. This approach is based on refreshingly different assumptions. The underlying belief is that personal strengths – qualities that energise us and we are great at (or have potential to become great at) – lie at the heart of performance excellence. Achieving or exceeding one’s goals begins with a good understanding of one’s natural strengths and pathways to optimise these while at the same time tackling any risks/blockers to peak performance.

The evidence behind the approach is extremely compelling with productivity increases up to 40% being achieved when employees are engaged at work and encouraged to play to their strengths more of the time.

Strengths coaching is therefore a particularly a powerful way to accelerate learning, performance and success. It involves creating a positive and trusting relationship which helps the individual (or team) find ways to achieve success through optimising their strengths, reducing performance risk and facilitating effective learning.

The approach offers numerous benefits including:

  • Drives innovation and a solutions-focused team
  • Boosts resilience, confidence and well-being
  • Increases motivation and engagement
  • Reduces defensiveness and barriers to difficult behaviour change
  • Improves self-awareness and self-management
  • Delivers improved results

By helping your people to optimise their strengths, as well as developing strategies to reduce performance risks, you can help them perform better and progress towards their personal goals in an efficient and motivating way.

STRONG Business Coaching™ Process

We have developed a straightforward and powerful strengths coaching approach, STRONG Business Coaching™. This has been proven over the past decade to help leaders and employees in organisations around the world to achieve improved performance, motivation and success.  Using the coaching questions below, we challenge you to try this process out by having what we call ‘water cooler’ coaching conversations in as little as a few minutes.

More effective in dealing with weaknesses and other performance risks

Contrary to common misconception that the strengths approach involves focusing only on strengths, it actually involves helping people to achieve their goals through both optimising their strengths and reducing what we call “performance risks” – weaknesses, overdone strengths and psychological barriers such as low self-confidence. Overdone strengths are strengths used in the wrong way or at the wrong time that lead to poor results. Research and our own experience show that most people encounter problems with their performance and/or relationships not because of obvious weaknesses they have, but because of overdone strengths. For example, people who are too confident become arrogant and those that are too compassionate can’t deal with tough situations in a firm and objective way.

Because the approach is positive and focuses on helping people discover and leverage their strengths using solutions-focused and empowering techniques, the conversation is more open and honest and some of the defensiveness we see in more traditional coaching approaches is reduced.

So what skills do I need to be an effective coach?

Leaders need to learn a number of skills to become effective coaches. However, on the plus side there are all highly developable with the right level of commitment and practice. The most important of these are:

  1. Deep listening

Listening is at the heart of good coaching, yet most leaders don’t use this skill effectively. There are different levels of listening. The first, called “everyday listening”, is when people are actually listening to their own internal voice. They hear the words of the other person, but their attention is mainly on their own experiences, needs, emotions and thoughts. Many leaders never get beyond this basic level which is insufficient if you want to be an effective coach.

Deep listening is different. It involves focusing on the person and listening intently to everything they say and are communicating through their verbal and non-verbal communication – their experiences, needs, emotions and thoughts. This type of listening also involves tuning in to the person’s emotional energy and being aware of how this is changing during the conversation. It also requires an understanding of the person’s work and personal situation and how these are shaping their reality, feelings and behaviour. High levels of empathy and curiosity are critical for this type of listening.

Straightforward listening techniques like summarizing, paraphrasing and asking clarifying questions can greatly improve your listening effectiveness.

  1. Powerful questioning

Powerful questions help the client build self-awareness and perspective on their challenges and opportunities. Through powerful questioning, the leader helps the person achieve self-awareness, clarity, stretch (mental and emotional) and commitment to action. Powerful questions are generally open-ended questions that create greater possibility for expanded learning and fresh perspective.

Apply the following rules of thumb:

  • Apply the KISS (Keep It Super Simple) principle and keep the question straightforward.
  • Use mainly “what”, “when”, “where” and “how” questions to open up the conversation. Be careful about using a “why” question as it can imply judgement.
  • Use probing questions to explore responses.
  • Use questions to invite ‘permission’ before sharing your own ideas and opinions.
  • Choose questions that promote a positive, solutions-focused learning environment
  1. Challenge

Strengths coaching requires challenge and stretch. Challenge is about not accepting at face value what is being said by the person. It involves feeding back your own observations and presenting them with the opportunity for them to think more deeply about different pathways and options to improve their performance and success.

Challenge helps in a number of ways:

  • It builds self-awareness and uncovers ‘blind spots’.
  • It stretches the person beyond their self-imposed limits and beliefs.
  • It surfaces inconsistencies in what the person is saying or how they are acting.
  • It tackles unconscious bias undermining relationships and performance.

To help people perform at their best and support them through growing turbulence and stress faced in most workplaces today, leaders need to learn how to be energisers and strengths coaches. Because it is positive, empowering and stretching, strengths coaching is a proven way to help people find their own solutions to challenges so they achieve ever greater levels of success. Just as importantly, it is more effective in helping reduce performance risks and barriers that undermine peak performance and productive relationships.