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9 coaching skills every leader needs
We’re all capable of learning, growing, and bettering ourselves.
But our journeys to better ourselves — and our organizations — hinges on one key component: coaching. To be able to grow and develop, we need people with coaching skills to be able to help us along the way.
Whether you’re coaching a team or an individual, good coaching skills can be the difference between thriving and languishing. For organizations, it’s a business imperative to invest in developing leaders with coaching skills. Skills that will help employees to flex into different strengths and capabilities. Skills that help build self-awareness and self-efficacy within employees. Skills that will help your business reach its fullest potential.
In this post, we’ll talk about key coaching skills — and why they’re important. We’ll also talk about ways you can develop coaching skills in your leadership team. And ultimately, you’ll walk away with a framework for implementing coaching skills into your workplace.
What are coaching skills and why are they important?
There are plenty of types of coaching. But when we break down the skills, there’s overlap between the skill sets needed. First, let’s take time to understand the concept of coaching skills. With any good coach, there are a key set of capabilities, behaviors, and approaches that help them coach others well.
Coaching skills are key competencies that are leveraged by a coach or leader to help develop others. For organizations, coaching skills are the secret ingredient to unlocking your team members’ full potential. Like most capabilities, coaching skills aren’t necessarily innate to each person. It’s a skill set that requires work, effort, and intentionality.
But with good coaching skills come a host of benefits. At BetterUp, we’ve studied the benefits of coaching in the workplace. With good coaching skills, employees build mental fitness that unlocks a host of benefits for both the employee and the organization. It leads to teams that are more productive, more resilient, and less likely to leave voluntarily.
When leaders invest in their coaching skills, employees benefit. Employees report lower stress, higher purpose, and higher resilience after one customer's manager went through 4 months of leadership coaching training.
9 essential coaching skills for leaders
Let’s break down the top essential coaching skills for leaders.
9 essential coaching skills for leaders
- Inclusive leadership
- Effective communication
- Psychological safety and trust
- Emotional intelligence
- Active listening
- Ability to give (and receive) feedback
- A growth mindset
1. Inclusive leadership
One of the most important coaching skills a leader can develop is inclusive leadership skills. A good leader makes all employees feel a deep sense of belonging. An inclusive leader builds a level of self-awareness to help address their own biases, both unconscious and implicit. In the end, inclusive leadership skills help the coachee to tap into their capabilities and strengths.
Fostering a sense of belonging in the workplace isn’t just good for your employees. It’s a business imperative. BetterUp Labs found that employees are 50% more productive, 90% more innovative, and 150% more engaged. Inclusive leadership also results in 54% lower employee turnover.
2. Effective communication
One of the most necessary effective coaching skills is communication. A great coach has great communication skills. They’ve invested in building rapport with their coachees as part of their coaching approach. They’ve found a way to use effective communication as part of their coaching technique.
For many great coaches, communication is the bedrock of any successful coaching relationship. Without it, coachees lack clarity in direction. They might miss out on opportunities to make needed behavior changes. Or they might not understand what key takeaways to leverage leaving a coaching conversation.
3. Psychological safety and trust
The coaching relationship is one that hinges on trust. Let’s face it: coaching can be hard. Sometimes, a coach will give advice, feedback, or direction that the coachee doesn’t want to hear. It can be uncomfortable and illuminating all at once.
But that’s why it’s critical for coaches to build trust. A great leader needs to have the trust of their team members for coaching to be effective.
4. Emotional intelligence
While it might not seem intuitive to the coaching process, emotional intelligence is critical. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand feelings. People who are high in emotional intelligence understand how feelings and emotions can impact thoughts, behaviors, and actions.
So, for coaches and leaders, emotional intelligence is needed to understand how team members will react to a certain decision, process, or project. In many ways, emotional intelligence can help leaders become better at navigating challenges within the team. Ultimately, it can help buffer and deter problems from arising in the first place.
5. Active listening
Any good coach relies on their active listening skills to address a problem at hand. Listening skills help leaders to evaluate a situation at hand. Listening helps the coach observe and understand a problem to be able to better understand how to find a solution. But most importantly, listening can help guide the coach or leader to ask the right open-ended questions.
Much of listening manifests itself in questions. For example, let’s say an employee has been hitting roadblocks with a project. This cross-functional project has a lot of moving parts to it. And throughout the project, the employee has found difficulty working with one particular team member.
By putting on active listening skills, the leader is able to deduce a misalignment in priorities. By asking some good questions, the employee is better able to find where to focus on building the relationship.
6. Ability to give (and receive) feedback
One key coaching skill that helps to make long-lasting behavior change is the art of giving feedback. But as anyone knows, giving feedback isn’t an easy task. It can be uncomfortable — and it requires a good amount of practice.
But feedback is often the difference maker in employee performance and behaviors. After all, without feedback, it would be impossible to course correct to better ourselves and those around us.
But one aspect of feedback is often overlooked, especially in leadership: receiving feedback. Make sure you’re investing in building your feedback-receiving skills, too. Feedback is a two-way street.
And that sense of showing up as a whole person requires a deeper level of empathy. Leaders need to get to know their employees are human beings. They should understand what’s going on in their personal lives as well as work lives. After all, our personal levels impact how we show up at work.
An effective leader and coach is goal-oriented. We all need goal-setting to be able to push ourselves to reach the next level. Without a roadmap for our own personal and professional development, we risk wandering aimlessly.
9. A growth mindset
Last but certainly not least, it’s important for every good coach to have a growth mindset. The reality is that we all have room to grow. We all have the opportunity to better ourselves — and our coachees — in different ways.
So, adopting a growth mindset is critical to reaching that next level of success. It will look different with each coaching relationship. But every coaching framework hinges on the idea that we all are capable of human transformation and growth.
How effective coaching benefits all employees
There are plenty of ways coaching benefits employees. And according to BetterUp Labs, coaching has a widespread positive impact on many key components of your workplace. We’ve outlined some key benefits of coaching for your workforce:
- Employees see an 87% increase in growth mindset for those who start out low
- Employees see a 2.7X increase in self-awareness for those who start out low
- Employees see a 90% increase in social connection for those who start out low
- Employees see a 92% increase in emotional regulation for those who start out low
- Employees see a 54% increase in relationship building for those who start out low
- Employees see a 35% decrease in burnout for those who start out low
- Employees see a 34% increase in engagement for those who start out low
Learn more about the benefits of coaching in the workplace.
Implementing coaching skills in the workplace
If you’re ready to start implementing coaching skills in your workplace, here’s a six-step guide to help you get started.
- Identify your goals. Every workforce has different goals. Your human resources team might’ve conducted a recent employee engagement survey that identified some key areas of improvement. Or you might have some data on things like burnout, employee performance, and productivity.
Whatever your goals may be, start by looking at where you’d like to improve. Take some time to reflect on what you’d like to see in your workplace. From there, you’ll be better equipped to figure out your roadmap to building your workforce’s coaching skills.
- Assess or audit your current coaching practices. After you’ve identified your goals, do some digging on where coaching is currently showing up in your workforce.
For example, do your leaders use coaching in their regular one-on-ones with direct reports? How often is coaching discussed as part of your performance review process? Does your HR team have coaching embedded into its professional development offerings? How are you encouraging learning and development within your organization?
- Encourage professional development. If you’re serious about building coaching skills within your workforce, you need to invest in professional development. What ways can you make sure your employees are investing in their own development?
For example, can you offer professional development or training around giving feedback? Or is there an opportunity to build business coaching into your strategy model? Are you encouraging your leaders to ask the right questions to help coach their employees to invest in their own development?
- Make feedback a priority. A lot of coaching relies on feedback. And while feedback is critical to any organization’s success, it’s sometimes avoided like the plague.
Make feedback a priority for your team. With the right support, feedback can be the secret to tapping into your team’s potential.
- Build psychological safety and trust. For your employees to make behavior and mindset changes, they need to trust leadership. And for many organizations, we know this can be tricky. After all, our data reports that 38% of employees don’t trust their co-workers.
How are you building psychological safety with your teams? Do your direct reports feel they can trust their leadership teams? Do your employees trust one another?
- Consider how BetterUp can help. BetterUp can help build coaching muscles with your workforce. With access to virtual coaching, BetterUp can be the support system needed to build effective coaching skills across your business. Consider how access to coaching can help open up new opportunities for your organization.
NetApp, a BetterUp customer, talks about how implementing coaching skills in their organization helped to develop a thriving workforce.
How to level-up your coaching skills
If you’re a leader looking to level-up your coaching skills, try starting with these four tips.
- Reflect on what areas you’d like to improve on. First, start with some self-reflection. What coaching skills have you developed well? What skills need some extra love and support? You can try journaling or taking a career assessment to help identify areas of opportunity.
- Get good at asking questions. Powerful questioning has powerful results. But we often get bogged down by information and can forget about clarifying questions.
When you’re working to develop your coaching muscle, remind yourself to press pause every now and then. What questions would give you a better understanding of the problems at hand? How can you use good questioning to optimize how you’re spending your time? Get really good at asking good questions.
- Refine your feedback muscle. By now, hopefully you know that feedback is critical to any coaching relationship. Building that feedback muscle will be a must-have for both you and your coachee.
Don’t forget about the power of upward feedback, too. Asking for feedback on how you’re doing as a coach is just as important as giving feedback.
- Lean on your coach. Last but not least, lean on your coach. Everyone needs a support system, especially leaders. We know leaders are being asked more of than ever before, which can feel daunting. But with the support of your coach, you can help identify what’s most important and what will have the most impact.
Build your coaching skills
Let’s face it: coaching skills don’t come naturally to people. It requires a lot of time, effort, and self-awareness to build coaching skills in the workplace. But as our coaching model has discovered, it’s well worth the effort.
And with a measurable, data-driven approach, BetterUp can help your workforce become more productive, effective, and resilient to change and uncertainty.
With BetterUp, you can be better equipped to focus on what matters most for your own learning journey as well as those around you. We can help you build the coaching skills you need to reach your full potential. Together, we can build a culture of coaching in your organization.
Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.