Must-Have Coaching Skills for Managers and Leaders

coaching skills for managersThe old way of being a boss is over.

No longer can the leader drop orders from a place of position, unless they are in the military.

Business is typically not life and death like it is for service members. Increasingly, businesses are finding that leadership with effective coaching skills is a more desired pathway to progress.

Employees no longer want to work just to keep their job. They want to work to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Great managers have the essential coaching skills to create belonging and influence motivation in their teams.

Read on to know what coaching skills are practiced by competent managers and leaders.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

What Are Effective Coaching Skills?

Effective coaching skills are developed to help others achieve personal or professional goals. In a managerial or leadership role, effective coaching skills may support sustainable change to behaviors or ways of thinking while also facilitating learning and development.

Unlike the skills used in more clinically oriented helping professionals, such as psychotherapy, there is more subjectivity surrounding what constitutes ‘effective’ skills in the realm of coaching. In particular, the notion of a manager or leader acting in the role of coach is a relatively new phenomenon that warrants further study (Hagen, 2012).

Overall, there are many variants of managerial coaching, which entail different types of skills. Those variants relevant to a consideration of managers and leaders include hierarchical coaching and team coaching.

Effective coaching skills for hierarchical coaching

Among the most common forms of managerial and leadership coaching is the hierarchical coaching model. According to this model, line managers simply coach their subordinates (Beattie et al., 2014).

A review of findings about what makes for an effective hierarchical coach found the following skills to be critical for the effective facilitation of learning (Hamlin, Ellinger, & Beattie, 2006):

  • Creating a learning environment;
  • Caring for and supporting staff;
  • Providing feedback;
  • Communicating, and;
  • Providing resources.

Findings revealed that these skills had the effect of increasing coachees’ confidence, communication, and teamwork. They also facilitated a quicker induction to the organization and helped reduce reported feelings of stress (Hamlin et al., 2006).

Among the studies reviewed, another common theme was that managers (acting as coaches) found themselves learning in collaboration with their staff. This finding suggests that a robust and dyadic relationship with subordinates is key for effective hierarchical coaching.

Effective coaching skills for team coaching

A more challenging form of coaching conducted by leaders is team coaching. Here, members of the team must work together and be in agreement about goals and targets.

Likewise, there is often a need to ensure team members are given opportunities to leverage their strengths, much like in the world of sport, where players ideally play their ‘best positions’ (Beattie et al., 2014).

Given the challenges associated with coaching an entire group, the best team coaches tend to be those who have undergone formal learning and development in coaching (Hagen & Gavrilova Aguilar, 2012).

However, despite these many moving parts, key skills that have emerged across studies of team coaches are skills associated with delegation and empowerment.

Employees who are empowered are encouraged to…

“… take initiative without prodding, to serve the collective interests of the company without being micro-managed, and to act like owners of the business”.

Spreitzer (2008, p. 54)

In other words, good coaches should feel comfortable delegating challenging work to members of the team. Doing so has the effect of communicating trust in their capabilities, while also facilitating their learning (Beattie, 2002).

8 Coaching Skills for Managers and Leaders

coaching skills for managersIf you’re a manager or leader looking to bring a coaching mentality to your leadership, here are some tips backed by research to help get you started.

First, in a team context, stop with the group motivational speeches and replace them with celebrations of individuals’ hard work and accomplishments. By recognizing a hardworking employee’s efforts, that employee will get the opportunity to feel valued and appreciated.

Likewise, research based on self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000) has demonstrated that positive feedback motivates intentions to continue pursuing goals and fosters vitality (Mouratidis, Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Sideridis, 2008)

Secondly, a manager with effective coaching skills does not bark orders. Instead, they will work together with employees to develop ideas and implement plans collaboratively.

Research based in procedural justice theory has shown that when individuals consider that the process through which leaders arrive at decisions is fair and well communicated, people will be more committed to a final course of action (Rawls, 1971).

Better yet, including employees in decision-making, goal-setting, and strategy development will lead to feelings of ownership over processes that will drive motivation even further (Tackx & Verdin, 2014).

Third, don’t punish failure as it is part of the process toward success. Coaching an employee through a mistake is a much better approach. An effective leader helps their team to learn from their errors to avoid them in the future.

A flow-on benefit of this approach to managing mishaps is that it will build trust between leaders and subordinates. That is, it will create the sense of psychological safety required to admit openly one’s mistakes and ask for help and mitigate the temptation to sweep errors under the rug (Edmondson, 2002).

Fourth, employ a strengths-based approach to developing your staff. When employees know their strengths and can consistently build on their work from those strengths, managers and their teams can forge better-functioning workplaces.

Such an approach is often referred to as appreciative inquiry. Its benefit is that it cultivates commitment to improving the organization without imposing a problem orientation or sense of doom and gloom on employees. Rather, employees are celebrated for what they already do well and encouraged to apply these strengths in such a way that facilitates growth.

Fifth, effective coaches are aware of the effect that their emotions have on their coachees. Therefore, when things get ‘hot,’ they get ‘cool.’ And when things are ‘cool,’ they ramp things up.

Effective leaders implicitly understand the transferability of emotions—a process sometimes referred to as emotional contagion (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1993). Therefore, good leaders are careful to manage their reactions to stressful situations and will look for opportunities to generate energy and excitement when a boost is needed within a team.

Sixth, effective leaders demonstrate genuine concern for employees’ wellbeing and life outside of work; they take care not to overtax people’s resources or push people beyond their limits. Indeed, to earn respect, a good manager and coach leads by example and is willing to shoulder the same burdens and stressors they expect their staff to handle.

Seventh is compassionate leadership. The act of showing compassion involves being with someone in their pain. It’s understanding another’s feelings and demonstrating a willingness to act in response to those feelings (Boyatzis, Smith, & Blaize, 2006).

Therefore, in the realm of coaching, compassionate leaders feel genuine pain for their employees when they’re struggling and show commitment to helping them reach their goals and find greater meaning in their work (Grant, 2008).

Finally, managers with effective coaching skills employ many of the same communication and active listening techniques as professional coaches.

Active listening is a powerful skill that helps cultivate trust and assures team members that their needs are being listened to. Here are a few ways to improve this important coaching skill:

  • Maintain eye contact, and focus entirely on the other person;
  • Mirror the speaker’s body language;
  • Maintain a posture that demonstrates you are being attentive and listening;
  • Talk less, and ask questions to clarify your understanding;
  • Paraphrase and reflect back what was said; and
  • Request permission before providing unsolicited feedback.

4 Examples of Coaching Skills in Action

Let’s now consider some examples of effective coaching skills in action.

First, imagine a scenario where an employee has been consistently late and underperforming at work. A manager has noticed this reduction in productivity. Rather than creating fear in this situation, a competent manager will dial up empathy and collaborate with active listening in a critical evaluation conversation.

Illuminating this employee on how the use of personal strengths can help the employee overcome whatever obstacle is being faced will help improve productivity.

Another work scenario that may benefit from a manager’s effective coaching skills is when a team is facing a crisis. Regardless of the specific event, a skilled manager will approach the situation with a cool head.

Asking ideas from all team members on how to “fix” the situation will generate more ideas than trying to solve it individually. A manager with effective coaching skills can approach any obstacle with a calm, objective focus. A deeper understanding of problems and solution-focused questioning creates pathways to resolutions.

Next, imagine that a new employee who is visibly nervous about their new role is linked with another professional by a manager. The two are encouraged to set goals together and hold each other accountable. This coaching skill would enable a team to collaborate and create a social connection that will build community within the organization.

Finally, good coaching skills can come in handy in times of conflict. Suppose there is a conflict between two employees. The effective coaching skills of active, equal listening and emotional intelligence are used to reduce anger, stress, and ineffective communication. Allowing space for each party in the conflict to be heard and to also co-create solutions helps to unify the team.

8 Ways to Improve Your Coaching Skills

Improve Coaching SkillsDeveloping your coaching skills will take effort.

It is similar to a self-development journey, for any growth requires effort. A coaching course is always a great idea, but you can start improving these skills today, whatever your budget constraints might be.

First, start by improving emotional intelligence in the workplace. Higher levels of job satisfaction and performance are linked to higher levels of emotional intelligence. (Singh, 2013) Boosting a leader’s levels will have a spillover effect with all other improvements in coaching skills.

Second, start putting effort into forging partnerships. When leadership begins to monopolize on human capital by intentionally building on existing strengths and collaborative growth, the organization will benefit as a whole (Gilley, Gilley, & Kouider, 2010)

Third, place intention on building individual competencies that arise from collaboration with employees. Effective leaders will lay the foundation for goal achievement with each member of the organization. Creating an environment that nurtures individual growth inspires the entire organization to show up as their best selves (Burdett, 1998).

Fourth, practice improving effective communication skills in every interaction daily. Modeling these skills, as a manager or leader, will set the expectation for the entire organization. Practicing active listening, in particular, will help communicate respect and attentiveness to employees and their needs (Jonsdottir & Fridriksdottir, 2020).

Given that listening is one of the most important of all coaching skills, here are communication exercises to improve communication skills in the workplace.

Fifth, create an environment where motivation is celebrated. Educate yourself on how motivation works. Then be sure to develop ways to apply the science at work.

Sixth, be aware that performance evaluation is an essential part of managerial coaching. It’s possible to evaluate the effectiveness of coaching by looking at what things are measured and how they are rewarded. Managers can and should be held accountable for their coaching skills through this evaluation process.

Seventh, do your best to eliminate fear in the workplace. Help employees develop purpose in their role within the organization (Edmondson, 2002). When a cohesive, vision-focused workforce collaborates and utilizes employees’ strengths toward common goals, the achievement is accelerated. With purpose, morale and overall job satisfaction improve (Nelson et al., 2002).

Finally, every leader should work to improve their coaching skills, and there are leaders in every workplace. Some leaders who don’t get paid (e.g., parents) can work to improve their coaching skills too. Active listening, motivation, communication, building purpose, interpersonal relationships, and accountability are all skills that will benefit everyone.

Coaching Skill Training Opportunities and Courses

There are many coaching books that can help build coaching skills. Highly recommended is Joe Torre’s Ground Rules For Winners: 12 Keys to Managing Team Players, Tough Bosses, Setbacks, and Success (Torre & Dreher, 1999), a book that will benefit every manager or leader, whether you’re a baseball fan or not.

The principles Torre presents were used with tremendous success in the New York Yankees’ golden years. Even if you’re a Yankees hater, you can still learn from one of the game’s greatest managers.

Here are some training opportunities and courses for leaders seeking improvement in their skills.

  1. UC Davis offers an effective course called Coaching Skills for Managers via Coursera. The course offers research behind effective coaching skills and creates a foundation for transforming teams.
  2. The Flourishing Center offers a highly effective coaching skills training course that weaves the science of positive psychology into developing thriving coaches. This particular course is only available to graduates of the Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP) course. The science-backed skills learned through CAPP are serving leaders in a wide variety of workspaces across the globe.
  3. This course at Learning Tree International offers coaching skill building for teams. They collaborate with organizations to enhance team effectiveness and boost productivity. It can be delivered privately at any desired location or online.
  4. Performance Consultants has had global success building managers with coaching skills that increase productivity. Their workshops have helped many organizations across the globe. They were pioneers in coaching skills for managers.
  5. Cornerstone is another global organization that incubates effective leaders by developing a culture of life-long learning and compassion. Their products and services are highly regarded as organization changing. Their client reviews are outstanding.

Relevant Tools for Developing Your Coaching Skills

Our website is overflowing with transformative tools that can be used to develop your coaching skills.

Improving your leadership coaching skills is an iterative loop, dependent on feedback which will provide you with insight into areas where you can improve. Instructor Feedback Form to get valuable information from your coachees, with which to develop your skills.

Effective communication skills is essential. Knowing how to listen, and encouraging a person to continue, can be improved with our Using Small Rewards worksheet. It guides you with effective words to use, as well as practice applying these in conversations.

This tool helps leaders motivate others through a self-assessment of needs. This exercise facilitates behavioral change while embracing Self-Determination Theory. People tend to get in their own way with maladaptive behaviors from time to time. This tool serves clients through empathy, relatedness, and autonomy in self-development of personal behavior change.

The Catching Your Critic worksheet will help distance you from that inner critic that plagues so many in personal performance.

There is an abundance of helpful tools in our Positive Psychology Toolkit© for building communication, goals, community, listening, empathy, compassion, and many other skills that serve the best managers and leaders well. A good leader is always learning how to better serve those around them. This resource is massively helpful for any leader seeking to improve themselves and their organization.

If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, this signature collection contains 17 validated positive psychology tools. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

A Take-Home Message

Through changes in personal behaviors, organizations can easily see the importance of coaching within management and leadership. Effective coaching skills bring clarity, improve performance, and even improve safety on the job. By effectively developing managerial coaching skills, teams are rewarded with improved morale, increased job satisfaction, and productivity.

Effective coaching skills serve every level of employment. Increasing empathy and compassion in every job reduces stress and replaces it with human growth potential. Tough situations and difficult conversations become easier to maneuver when coaching skills are well learned and regularly practiced.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.


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What our readers think

  1. Sonam Gyeltshen

    This well enriched article is hands on practical and really handy for young leaders and Mangers like us . Thank you, for creating available resources for seekers on aforementioned subject.

  2. Stephen Hampton

    This is fantastic information. Thank you for sharing! I’ve been searching for content around “coaching as a professional competency” and your article hit the mark. More and more, I am realizing that coaching is a legitimate and valuable skill set, just like project management, financial acumen, etc.

  3. Chet

    Wow! This is a really comprehensive, insightful article. Thank you so much for making it available for everyone to benefit from.

  4. Maria Dulce

    Thank you for this article, this is so informative.


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