Coaching the Coach

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Apr 09, 2024

By Morag Barrett

The use of executive coaches, and coaching techniques, is slowly coming out of the dark to become a mainstream tactic in companies seeking to increase the impact of their talent. Investment in executive coaching in the U.S. alone is estimated to be more than $1billion per year.

Effective coaching programs have the ability to change corporate cultures, influencing the way people relate inside the business, ultimately removing many of the people issues that can get in the way of success.

A recent report by Bersin and Associates, High-Impact Performance Management: Maximizing Performance Coaching, highlights the benefits of developing the coaching capabilities of leaders and managers alike. Their report states, Organizations in which senior leaders ‘very frequently’ coach had 21% higher business results. Further, organizations with ‘excellent’ cultural support for coaching had 13% stronger business results and 39% stronger employee results.”

If the business case is so compelling, why is it that coaching is not more widely accepted as a talent development strategy? Have you ever stopped to consider who is coaching the coach?

HR’s Role in Developing a Culture of Coaching

Developing a culture of coaching is often seen as the responsibility of Human Resources. The HR team is considered the champion of people and leadership development.  There is no doubt in my mind that while HR plays a critical role in developing the coaching capabilities of line managers, this is a business imperative that requires the support and involvement of leaders across the organization. 

Many organizations begin by incorporating coaching conversations into an existing performance management process. This is a start, one that introduces coaching into the organization. Unfortunately it seems to result in a mechanical, checklist style of coaching that tends to be focused on the past—what has already been done.

Transforming coaching from a passive look-back approach to an ongoing proactive process that happens throughout the year relies on the effective follow up, reinforcement, and accountability of all parties.

When coaching becomes something that happens organically, in addition to the structured performance review cycle, you know you have reached a breakthrough in creating cultural change.

HR Challenges in Developing a Coaching Mindset

In our work with organizations around the globe, the following challenges can prevent a positive coaching culture from emerging:

·         “I have enough to do, I don’t have time to coach.”—Coaching doesn’t have to take hours or days to complete. At SkyeTeam we regularly include a “Speed Coaching” activity in our leadership development programs where participants provide peer coaching to each other.  In just five minutes participants will uncover at least one new idea or approach that they hadn’t considered.

·         “My team doesn’t need coaching.”—I would argue that your high-performing teams are the very people who are looking for coaching. A-players are seeking the next opportunity to build their skills and expertise. Much like Olympic champions, learning doesn’t stop just because they excel at what they do; if anything, the intensity and focus is increased. A-players are seeking the feedback to help them remain at the top of their game, and will eventually leave for a new company if it is not offered.

·         “Coaching is ‘soft-skills’ and  that’s what HR is for.”—There is a misperception that coaching is something that only HR does; send your troublesome employees to HR and they will be “fixed.”  Coaching is a critical line management responsibility, no matter your level in the organization, and not something you can hand over to others. If you don’t perceive coaching as an important part of your role, you are unlikely to coach others, let alone invest the time in developing your own confidence and capabilities to coach. Coaching is both a skill and a mindset!

·         “Why should I coach my team? My boss doesn’t coach me.”—A lack of senior role models who embrace coaching behavior can seriously undermine coaching programs. Having executives demonstrate the importance of coaching, both by being coached and acting as a coach, can help to embed coaching in the business.

·         “I don’t know how to coach.”—This is potentially the easiest obstacle to overcome. At SkyeTeam we use the G.R.O.W. model for coaching, a simple acronym that helps ensure that coaching conversations (Whether five minutes or five months) are continually moving forward to action. This can be summarized in four simple steps and questions

Goal: What are you trying to achieve?

Reality: What have you already tried, and what worked and what didn’t?

Options: What could you do?

Way Forward: What will you do next?

Coaching Moments

When leaders are paying attention to the dynamics on their team, opportunities to coach others will appear every day:

·         Someone asks for advice or help: Instead of simply providing the answer, stop and ask a few questions, help the employee to identify his or her own solution, sharing your expertise only as needed, to avoid any obvious oversights

·         Mistakes happen: Once the mistake has been fixed, take the time to help the employee to understand what happened and to learn how to avoid that same mistake in the future

·         A career transition happens: Whenever we are moved into a new role, company, or leadership level, we enter the realm of the beginner. This is where coaching can have a huge impact in helping to prioritize actions and to understand what has changed as a result of the transition.  Few of us have the courage to ask for help at this crucial time, for fear of being judged.

·         A new project is launched: Seeking coaching advice from a more experienced colleague can help to identify the “predictable mistakes and surprises” that can crop up in the early days of a new project.  A coach can share his or her experiences, and ask important questions.

·         Implementing organizational change: Coaching during a period of major organizational change can help accelerate the time to productivity, balancing both the tactical changes needed and the required interpersonal changes.

Coaching from a Distance

What if your team isn’t situated in the same location as you?  The importance of coaching a remote team doesn’t diminish; if anything, it becomes even more critical.  Whether your team is simply dispersed between buildings, across town, or around the world, coaching virtual and global teams simply requires more care and attention.

Schedule one-on-one time with your team members that isn’t focused on business goals; rather, it is focused on them.  Ask questions to understand what they are finding frustrating or to determine what their future career aspirations are.  From there you can coach them to success and build a sense of belonging.

Develop Your Leaders as Coaches

Is developing your leaders and managers as coaches a worthwhile investment? Leaders as coaches are best positioned to provide timely, individual, and goal-oriented coaching support that retains your best talent and prepares them for future opportunities.

Building a community of leaders with the capability to coach extends the reach of your development efforts through the whole organization.

About the Author(s)

Morag Barrett is founder and CEO of SkyeTeam, an international HR consulting and leadership deelopment company. Barrett's experience ranges from senior executive coaching to developing teams across Europe, America, and Asia. SkyeTeam works with clients in a range of industries including Healthcare, Telecoms, Mining, Manufacturing, Engineeing, and Technology. For more information, visit