Leader as coach: 10 mindset shifts that you would need

Posted On Nov 18, 2021 |

It has been 21 years since Daniel Goleman’s influencing article in Harvard Business Review, when he introduced the idea of coaching as a style of leadership. Ever since, many organizations are striving towards balancing their leadership “scorecard” to include coaching among other styles of leadership (e.g. pace setting or control & compliance). And yes, we are seeing more and more organizations building the coaching culture. However, for leaders as coaches this may imply a true mindshift. Here is the list of the most common mindsets that may be a barrier when it comes to adopting coaching as a leadership style – and how they can be addressed to make necessary change happen.

Mindset #1. It takes time (and we don’t have it). One concern regarding coaching is that leaders just don’t have time to coach. Projects, clients and other things are more urgent, which leaves little time for people development.

The mindset shift. Developing people is nowadays a part of the leader role. When supported from the organizational culture level, it is relatively easy to create a buy in for coaching even if it takes a bit time. Going for some quicker solutions (like “Just tell them what to do”) may backfire because people may just not buy the quick fixes. With coaching we also create a buy in for change. That is the primary purpose of coaching.

Mindset #2. It is not fit for all purposes (and that’s why it should be dismissed all together). The first part of the sentence, before the brackets, is perfectly true. Nobody ever said coaching was a panacea.

The mindset shift. Coaching works for some situations better than for others. It is one methodology of developing people so that they are future fit. Coaching is not the best option when immediate actions need to happen very urgently or when efficiency is prioritized over learning and innovation. It can be even blended with “light commanding” or regular feedback.

Mindset #3. It is “unnatural”. To some leaders coaching may sound as too soft, some awkward questions and disciplining your stream of mind. They also may say: “This is not me”.

The mindset shift. Well, all skills are a bit unnatural at first! When they become a routine, they stop being unnatural.

Mindset #4. Why not just say: “Go and do it”. This mindset reflects a belief that if you tell people to do something, they will just do it. If they don’t, it’s their problem.

The mindset shift. You may say “Go and do it”, but you will really miss the opportunity to find out whether your colleague understood you, whether he or she knew how to do it or whether some assistance was needed. Coaching was designed as an approach that enables implementation. When we just say “Go and do it” we abolish ourselves from the responsibility of helping our colleagues implement the feedback.

Mindset #5. Why not just give feedback. From this perspective, it seems enough to just give feedback that is detailed and specific – and people would follow. As with previous mindset, that may, but also may not happen in reality.

The mindset shift. Feedback is often an integral part of coaching. We exchange feedback throughout the coaching process. But we also go one step further – we ask questions about how that feedback was received and how we can help make it a reality. Coaching can be seen as an add on to feedback, where we take the opportunity to talk about what happens next – after we gave feedback.

Mindset #6. “You cannot coach youngsters”. Some of the situational leadership models have created an impression that “train first, coach later” approach works always. This can sometimes be interpreted as don’t coach the youngsters attitude.

The mindset shift. Youngsters want and need coaching. They often are most grateful people to coach. They may lack the personal resources and experience compared to more experienced colleagues, but their desire for development may prove to be more than worth of time invested in coaching. Don’t judge your colleagues by age! Just go out and coach youngsters. Be sure to find the right approach that makes them comfortable and creates results.

Mindset #7. “For how long should we coach before we quit”. How long does it take to coach one person until we see the first results? If we do a one coaching session and nothing happens – should we quit?

The mindset shift. Single coaching sessions are rarely a success. For almost any kind of comprehensive change (like a change in a communication pattern, emotional response to a difficult client and so on) a three months process of coaching be-weekly should not surprise as a rational time frame. Change just does take time.

Mindset #8. “What if people say no to feedback”. Should we quit? Should we switch to “just do it” attitude? Should we give up on the person?

The mindset shift. Saying “no” to feedback is frequent. We cannot expect people to say “yes” whenever we give feedback. Part of our job in the leader as coach role is to create a buy in for change. Often it takes negotiation, patience and getting creative about how to create change without resistance.

Mindset #9. “What if people don’t have answers in themselves”. What if they say “you tell me”? Shouldn’t we just tell them?

The mindset shift. It is not infrequent that people may ask us for direct advice in a coaching session. And we just may offer it! We can do that as offering our personal point of view or personal experience, but – without attachment that it is THE right thing to do. Instead, offer your own viewpoint as one of the many possible options.

Mindset #10. “What if they say “yeah, yeah” and nothing happens”. Should we do something or just let it go?

The mindset shift. Persistence and patience are part of a coaching. We can not expect change to happen immediately. However, if nothing really happens after a while, we may consider addressing it directly. Part of leader’s job in a coaching role may be to just challenge and say: “Well, we’ve been talking quite a lot about this. How about getting to some field tests and seeing how this works in practice”. Being brave is also a part of the job of a leader as coach.

Incorporating coaching into leadership behavior takes time. It also takes organizational will and support. To train leaders as coaches, they need to get immersed in live simulations of 1-1 coaching conversations, each session needs to be feedback rich and allow plenty of peer discussion. That way we create an internal capability for leaders to really bring value as coaches.