The image of an iconic coach is that of a commander on the sidelines, yelling instructions at players or yelling in the locker room. This classic figure thrived on the belief that tough love and hard knocks would foster inspiration on the field. 

Many associate the role of a leader with that of a coach. It’s a connection that’s not altogether wrong, but it does create some practical limits. For example, no leader is going to inspire their teams by yelling at them across the conference room. 

Leaders are coaches in the way that they offer mentorship and guidance. Great coaches and great leaders both know how to build the capacity of others, so that teams and organizations can succeed. 

The best leaders understand how to coach their teams to be their best. Leaders don’t push or impose their will. They share experiences, insights, and challenges. They work hand in hand with others. It’s a process that takes time and persistence. To get there, leaders start by committing to truly investing their time. 

Make a True Investment 

To coach, leaders must have a way of measuring a person’s ability. Just as a coach might time a player running the mile or see how much they can lift, leaders often turn to tools like assessments to gauge a team member’s skills, interests, and weaknesses. 

Assessments are incredibly powerful tools. They offer a window into the core of your business. Some, like FiredUp’s Culture Index tool, can even deliver results that allow organizations to take direct action on improving workplace culture. But, no matter how effective an assessment is, it cannot exist in a vacuum. 

Assessments are singular events. They are snapshots in time. Coaching, on the other hand, is a year-round investment. It’s a frequent check-in, whether that’s once every two weeks or once a month. 

Start your own check-ins with team members by scheduling a regular meeting and asking questions like: 

  • How are things going? 
  • How’s the family? 
  • How was your last project? 
  • What’s going well? 
  • What could you improve on? 
  • How can we help you get to where you want to be? 
  • How can you be better supported? 

These questions establish a few things. First, they show that you are invested in them as a person, not just an employee. Second, it creates an opportunity for team members to reflect on their own performance. And third, it establishes that you want them to succeed and are available to support them in whatever way you can. 

The connections established in these meetings focus on an incredibly important aspect of every great coaching relationship: the establishment of positive relationships. 

Focus on Relationships First

“People who are growing and feel like their leader is helping them do it will forgo all manner of things because they want to stay in that space. That’s because the leader is creating a space where they feel that they are valued, that they belong.” — Tim Yeomans, FiredUp! Executive Vice President 

At the end of the day, exceptional coaching from leaders boils down to the creation of positive relationships. If teams don’t want to work for their leaders, they’ll never do their best. 

As you establish your frequent check-ins and begin to coach teams, consider these two strategies for establishing better relationships along the way. 

  1. Create positive Oreo — Coaching inevitably involves critique, which is sometimes hard to hear. Make it easier to offer your review by leading with a compliment, then talking about areas to improve before ending with another positive comment or encouraging direction. Remember, you’re there to celebrate their growth and understand them, not to badger them.
  2. Frame the question — When establishing an area you can coach them, ask where they want to be in a way that allows you to deliver on those needs and that area of growth. Avoid open-ended questions that aren’t helpful like “What’s your dream job?” Instead, home in on applicable themes. One idea is to talk about what they enjoyed in a recent project and how you might build on that experience to get more of that. 

Leaders who focus on relationships and demonstrate their commitment to investing in others become natural coaches. But it doesn’t just end there. When you show others how to be a great coach, you’re creating the building blocks to make them coaches too, helping to transform others into exceptional leaders in their own right. 

If you’re ready to learn more about leading and coaching your own teams, read our free eBook on the subject: Leading Teams.

Or learn how to start transforming your leadership team with our roadmap: From Underperforming to Rockstar: A CEO’s Roadmap to Investing in Their Leaders