Must-Have Coaching Skills for Managers and Leaders

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

Increasingly, businesses are forgoing an authoritarian leadership style for a more collaborative approach.

Instead of honoring bosses who are distant and pass down commands from above, organizations now recognize employees respond well to managers who provide empathy, clear communication, and support.

Employees no longer want to work just to keep their job. They want 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 find out 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 give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

What Are Effective Coaching Skills?

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

Unlike the skills used in psychotherapy, for example, ‘effective’ skills in the realm of coaching may be more subjective. In particular, the notion of a manager or leader as a coach is a relatively new phenomenon that warrants further study (Hagen, 2012).

Overall, there are many variants of managerial coaching that entail different types of skills. Take, for example, hierarchical coaching and team coaching.

Effective coaching skills for hierarchical coaching

According to the hierarchical coaching model managers simply coach their subordinates (Beattie et al., 2014).

Here are a few critical skills for effective hierarchical coaching (Hamlin et al., 2006):

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

These skills increased 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 sports, 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).

Because team coaching requires attention to the dynamics between and within individuals, being able to have a big-picture perspective is a key skill (Center for Creative Leadership, 2022).

Other skills specific to team coaching include:

  • A clear understanding of organizational dynamics within and around the context of the team. How does the team itself operate? How does it operate in the context of the organization as a whole?
  • Flexibility and adaptability. The ever-shifting dynamics of a team mean managers and leaders must go with the flow, taking their direction from the team’s strengths and momentum.
  • Comfort setting clear boundaries. With so many moving parts and inter- and intra-relational dynamics, managers who are coaching teams must be comfortable and skilled at creating firm boundaries – for themselves and for the team.
  • A long-term view. Coaching teams isn’t always driven by clearly defined short-term objectives. Often, the benefits of effective team coaching unfold slowly and more subtly over the long run.

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.

1. Favor specific praise over group motivational speeches

In a team context, focus on celebrating individuals’ hard work and accomplishments. By recognizing a hardworking employee’s efforts, that employee will get the opportunity to feel valued and appreciated.

Research based on self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000) has demonstrated that positive feedback motivates individuals to continue pursuing goals and fosters vitality (Mouratidis et al., 2008).

2. Make decisions collaboratively

Managers with effective coaching skills work together with employees to develop ideas and implement plans collaboratively.

When individuals believe that their leader’s decision process is fair and well communicated, they are more committed to a final course of action (Rawls, 1971).

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

3. Embrace failure

Remember that failure is part of the process toward success. Effective leaders help their team to learn from their errors to avoid them in the future.

Furthermore, this approach to managing mishaps builds trust between leaders and subordinates creating the psychological safety for team members to admit their mistakes and ask for help rather than sweeping them under the rug (Edmondson, 2002).

4. Capitalize on your team’s strengths

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.

5. Practice emotional awareness

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

Effective leaders understand the transferability of emotions—a process sometimes referred to as emotional contagion (Hatfield et al., 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.

6. Be respectful and empathetic

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.

7. Practice 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 et al., 2006).

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).

8. Use active listening

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
  • Request permission before providing unsolicited feedback
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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.

The manager might help the employee understand how they can use their personal strengths to overcome whatever obstacle is blocking their productivity.

Here’s another work scenario. Imagine a team is facing a major crisis and needs their manager to approach the situation with a cool head.

Instead of swooping in to “fix” the problem, skilled managers may ask for input and ideas from all team members, generating more ideas and potential solutions. 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 a new employee who is visibly nervous about their new role. Their manager spots their discomfort and links them with another professional. The two are encouraged to set goals together and hold each other accountable. This coaching skill enables teams to collaborate and create social connections that will build community.

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

7 Ways to Improve Your Coaching Skills

Improve Coaching SkillsSimilar to a self-development journey, developing your coaching skills will take effort.

A coaching course is always a great idea, but you can start improving these skills today, whatever your budget might be.

1. Improve emotional intelligence in the workplace

Higher levels of job satisfaction and performance are linked to higher levels of emotional intelligence. (Singh, 2013) Boosting your emotional intelligence as a leader will have a spillover effect with all other improvements in your coaching skills.

2. Put effort into forging partnerships

When leaders intentionally build on existing strengths and collaborative growth, the organization benefits as a whole (Gilley et al., 2010).

3. Build individual competencies that arise from collaboration

Effective leaders 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).

4. 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.

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5. Celebrate motivation

Educate yourself on how motivation works.

Then be sure to develop ways to apply the science at work.

6. Recognize that performance evaluation is an essential part of managerial coaching

It’s possible to evaluate the effectiveness of coaching by looking at what is measured and how it is rewarded. Managers can and should be held accountable for their coaching skills through this evaluation process.

7. Foster a purpose-driven environment

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).

As a final note, 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 skills for effective leadership

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 lifelong learning and compassion. Their products and services are highly regarded as organization changing. Their client reviews are outstanding.

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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 that will provide you with insight into areas where you can improve. Check out this Instructor Feedback Form to get valuable information from your coachees and use it to develop your skills.

Effective communication skills are essential. You can improve your ability to listen and encourage a person to continue with our Using Small Rewards worksheet. It guides you with effective words to use and 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 leaders 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 for practitioners. 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

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