Coaching on the corporate level is not so very different from coaching in the sporting world. Your role is to help your players improve. Instead of team of athletes, you are addressing a team of employees. And while professional coach Jan Christophersen is quick to address that a lifetime spent coaching executives certainly isn’t for everyone, a coaching style of leadership is something that everyone should work on.
“Having a coaching style is something that we absolutely have to train. Coaching is a way of communicating with people. It’s about not giving away all the answers but instead asking the right questions,” explains Jan.
Many leaders think that it’s their role to have all the answers. But this is not the coaching style, according to Jan. He points out that it would actually produce more value to the organization if you can stimulate people to think on their own.
The problem is not a problem
“Let’s say a person comes to you with a problem; maybe there is a difficult person on their team and they don’t know how to deal with him. The first step is to understand that the problem is not usually a problem. The problem is the way you are thinking about the problem. The question is not how to deal with that problem but rather what was your contribution to the behavior of that employee,” says Jan.
As a coach, your goal is to open up for a discussion on how a problem is constructed – looking at problems from different angles.
“There are no easy answers when dealing with people. They are the most complex subjects in the world,” he adds.
Getting into the coaching mindset
Jan gives some basic advice for all leaders to get into the coaching mindset.
- You have to like people. Don’t look at them as resources. They are people – an important distinction. And these people don’t like to be used for results. They like to contribute to results.
- Take time to sit down with your people and challenge them. Take responsibility for developing their way of thinking, handling questions, problem solving and the way they themselves are conducting their own leadership.
- Open up your own mind. The best leaders allow themselves to be challenged by others. Instead of giving all the right answers, problem-solve alongside your team.
“You need to look at problem-solving not as a game of being the best or winning, but as a real scientific way of working with things. Telling people what to do is actually taking responsibility away from them. But by asking people to think through what they are doing and making them responsible for it, you are empowering them,” says Jan.
Where does coaching lead?
An empowered team of individuals who think for themselves is what Jan describes as the ultimate outcome of good coaching. Imagine a team in which everyone comes to the table with their ideas, their points of view. They investigate other ways to look at problems. They think win-win and not about rank or position. And they take their time to ask the right questions.
Coaching across borders
Though cultural differences can often come into play when attempting to adopt a coaching mindset in your own team, the coaching style should not be easily dismissed.
“I think everyone, wherever you go, will appreciate being given responsibility for what they are doing. This of course has to be handled with cultural insight and you need to understand these differences. But in any culture, people appreciate being taken seriously, being brought into reasoning, problem-solving together and being challenged for greater responsibility. This is universal,” points out Jan.
He continues, “The important part of coaching is trying to connect what we are going to accomplish with the way we are going to accomplish it. Dig into insecurity; dig into the unknown; dig into honesty, in order to make sure that what you say you will deliver will actually be delivered. Then you are coaching.”
So drop your shoulders and throw all your answers out the window. Forego rank and hierarchy and instead face your team as their equal. Coaching is empowering, according to Jan, and empowered teams are strong teams. It’s time to start asking questions.
About Jan Christophersen
Jan Christophersen has spent half of his life helping corporate executives become better leaders. He is a trained psychologist who has transitioned from manager to consultant and back throughout his 30-year career, all the while honing his skills as an executive coach.