10 coaching skills every leader should master

Coaching is a leadership skill. If you think about it, getting the best out of people is fundamental to make a business fly.

Originally published on www.elitebusinessmagazine.co.uk 25 November, 2019

Coaching is a leadership skill. If you think about it, getting the best out of people is fundamental to make a business fly. So stop thinking about coaching as external professionals coming in to offer their expertise. Instead, think of coaching as a collection of vital skills that can be quickly learnt and put into practice immediately. Especially for SMEs and start-ups where every “body” counts, coaching will save you time and significantly improve your outcomes. It should even make it less likely that you have to pay those high fees for an executive coach! Here are our top ten coaching skills and why they will make a difference to you. Note that learning these takes practice – as with all skills. Yet, crucially, they do not require age or experience to learn. Whatever level you are working at, from your first job to CEO, you can and should start now.

1. Listening

If your first reaction in reading this is to think, ‘Oh no. Not another softy telling me I don’t listen properly’ we ask one simple question: Have you ever practiced listening? If not, how do you know you are any good at it? (and by the way, our own business experience suggests we were hardly softies!)

We advocate generative listening. The point is that a skilled listener allows the speaker to notice what they are saying more clearly, to think more clearly, and to find their own way forward. In this way the listener has a role in generating better outcomes from simply listening. Equally important for a leader is that you are tuned in sufficiently to hear what is being said. To avoid your own assumptions (I know the solution, we’re going to do this my way anyway) that get in your way. The result is that you will learn more. And be able to delegate more.

2. Questioning

As with listening, there is a skill to effective questioning. Think of those people who seem to be able to get underneath the topic and discover the hidden truths. Not in an investigative way or through trapping someone, but through constantly maintaining their curiosity. Showing deep interest to understand more. Asking innovative, unusual and exciting questions, ‘what would your pet cat do if faced with this dilemma and what do we learn from that?’ ‘what else are you thinking?’ ‘what would your favourite superhero do?’. You know you’ve hit the spot when someone stops and says ‘great question’ make it your goal to get people to say that to you.

3. Contracting

Contracting is the term used to establish the purpose, context and requirements of any conversation or meeting. It comes at the start, but also continues to have a role throughout an interaction. For example, when a colleague asks if you have a spare moment consider, ‘How long do you need (I have a meeting in 14 minutes)? What outcome do you want? What role do you want me to play? Shall we turn our phones and laptops off? Are we in the right location (this is the corridor after all)?

This process brings focus, certainty and confidence to all parties and ensures a greater likelihood of success. If you have ever tried to sell something in a meeting booked for 60 minutes only for the potential buyer to announce they have to leave after 30 minutes just before you’ve reached your critical point, this should ring bells!

4. Being Present

When other people are speaking do you find that you have half your attention on them and the other part of your brain is thinking of something else? This affects the speaker’s thinking and trust in you (you know when other people are not listening to you, so the opposite will be true). You are multi-tasking. All research shows the outcomes of multi-tasking are worse than if you undertake the same tasks sequentially. You must practice being present, to give other people and the specific tasks you are working on your full attention. There are techniques to help you focus in this way.

5. Using Pause-Points TM

Pause-PointsTM represent a couple of different concepts. Here we focus on just one – the use of silence when listening. Remaining silent when others are thinking or speaking brings out useful details. Your team will offer ideas, ideas they may not have realised they had, simply because you offer them the space to speak. This is known as a great negotiating skill for the same reason. People will fill the silence. As a leader this provides vital information and helps people think and move forward. Ironically, pausing often means you go faster in the long run.

6. Creating awareness

As a leader-coach you need other people to notice what they think and know. Often in the hectic world people fail to realise they already know what to do when faced with difficult issues. Draw their attention to it, ‘I think I just heard you suggest we should offer a 2% discount?’ ‘A moment ago you said you had no idea what to do and yet you’ve offered four ideas already.’ This will also build their confidence and awareness – and they will need to rely on you less and less.

7. Building Trust and Rapport

The greater the trust and rapport you have with people, the more they will share. The more ideas you will hear, the more problems you will discover and the more solutions you will hear. All from other people. Building trust requires that you share some of your own vulnerabilities and uncertainties. As a leader of others, you have to take the first step. Be authentic and honest so that others can learn from you. Building rapport involves many steps, including the other nine in this list.

8. Giving Feedback

Raise your hand if the very idea of feedback makes you nervous? Well, that’s most of us then. And yet giving and receiving feedback is critical to performance. There are models and techniques out there. Find them and practice. Start by giving easy positive feedback, ‘well done today. Thanks for hitting that deadline.’ And learn to do this on-the-go and in the moment, do not save it up for later when it’s too late. Your other coaching skills including being present, building trust and creating awareness will help you. Eventually it will be just part of your daily life. And everyone’s performance will benefit.

9. Changing Perspectives

When faced with a dilemma it is often helpful to take a different perspective. Coaches use this technique all the time to help people realise what they already know and yet cannot see. ‘How do you think the CEO would deal with this?’ ‘Imagine you were in our clients’ shoes, what would this look like?’ Using your listening skills to help them generate their own solutions.

10. Creating Actions  

This one may sound odd as most start-ups and SMEs suffer from having too many actions and not enough time. The skill we’re talking about, however, is helping others to notice when something is an important action for them to find their own personal way forward to achieve the goal that has been set for or by them. ‘What you just said sounded like an important first step. When do you want to do that by?’ You are empowering them and moving work away from you.

As a busy entrepreneur or leader, coaching is an important tool for you to bring out the best in people. Like anything new it takes a little practice to make the execution of these skills flawless. But, like going to the gym it gets easier and the rewards are greater.



A national newspaper recently asked us to comment on how CEOs lead culture change. Here's an extract:

'For too long, Business Schools and Consultants have peddled the notion that leaders are at the front of culture change and their job is to “sell” it to others. Now, there is a new set of ideas taking inspiration from the origins of the word leadership which lie in the Norse word 'laed' - to set a direction for a ship. This recognises that a group of leaders are needed to change direction and culture – hero leadership is no longer an answer because no leader leads alone. Force of personality is not the route to being effective. CEOs build listening and understanding, so that a collaborative leadership community motivates and truly empowers the business.' 

Doesn't that sound like coaching?


Originally published Oct 24, 2019 by Irish Tech News 

Leadership is far more than the position we occupy on an organisation chart: we are all leaders if we choose to be, irrespective of whether we have people reporting into us or if we are just in charge of a project. As individuals we make leadership choices that affect those around us.

As with all things ‘leadership’ there are many perspectives on what it means to be authentic.  Often, people think that authenticity is synonymous with consistency: that one has to always hold steadfastly to a fixed view. Because that’s your view or your style. Instead, our view is that authenticity means aligning our actions with our values. Crucially this means that authenticity is not ONE way, there are lots of different ways that individuals can lead depending on the situation and the needs of those around you.

Authenticity is built when you share the real you with your team and colleagues. This means not pretending to be invincible and sharing your feelings as well as your thinking. Of course, there are limits to this. If you are the CEO, divisional leader or simply the leader of a small team there will be occasions when it is not appropriate to share something you know about the organisation or team’s future until the right time – new strategic directions, issues of reward for example.

It would also be inadvisable to share that you have significant doubt in your own abilities. Imagine the scene, ‘Thank you to the Board for promoting me to CEO. I feel like an imposter and I’m not sure what to do next.’ Feeling inspired? Unlikely.

However, the more you can share about your perspective in general, your opinions and the factors that affect your style and thinking, the more respect that will generate. The more you can share general normal doubts, ‘I’ve never done this before so I’m a little uncertain’, the more people will believe you are normal and the more they will trust you.

In the complex and ambiguous world we live in today it is not wise to be certain about everything – indeed, acknowledging this very uncertainty is wise. Also, sharing your doubts encourages others to contribute more. A very wise leadership scholar once said that “saying ‘I don’t know’ is a strong act of leadership”.

Of equal importance we argue, an authentic leader consistently builds trust and rapport because the ideas of genuineness and trustfulness are intrinsically linked.

We see rapport as being the sense of connection that you have with someone. Good rapport is like being ‘in sync’ with someone, where you are mutually interested in each other and often hold consistent emotions. This involves giving people your undivided attention – and if you cannot give that now, acknowledging it and doing so later.

It involves careful respect and interest in what they are saying – not in your view of what they are saying (I’ve heard all this before) but listening from their perspective (what is making them share this again). As a leader and as a coach, being in rapport with each person individually shows that you respect and recognise their very individuality.

If you’d like to experiment with this human side of leadership, consider for a moment the following:

Ask yourself how you demonstrate that you’re human? Consider the following:

  • ‘Without acting the fool, how do I encourage people to laugh and have fun at work?’
  • ‘When I make a mistake, how do I acknowledge it?’
  • ‘How do I make each member of my team feel special and cared for?’
  • ‘If someone asked my team / my peers / my boss whether they trust me, what’s my best guess about the response?’

This also raises the question of vulnerability. Depending on your personal beliefs about leadership, you may hold onto a view that leaders need to be strong and invincible. You may think that leaders never admit to making an error of judgement or showing an emotion. But what you do needs to be authentic to you and culturally appropriate. Remember that everyone is a boss watcher, so if you don’t share the ‘real you’, your team and peers are unlikely to share the real them.  And this sharing is vital.

For an authentic leader building trust and rapport is critical because without it people will hold back on sharing. Which means you will hear fewer good ideas and fewer innovative solutions. Another reason that having trust and rapport is so important is that it frees up people to share their thoughts and concerns without worrying that others will take advantage of their vulnerability.

In fact the opposite is the case. By sharing the human dimension of work people are able to believe that they can personally flourish and achieve greater success because they are confident they will receive the support and personal development that they need. They sense that the leader who builds rapport is there for them, to hear them and to guide them to their own routes to triumph.

We feel that organisations are beginning to forget that these skills – which draw heavily from another discipline, that of coaching – are also core to leadership. Coaching is a leadership skill. And, crucially, we are all leaders. Whether you are in a team (we all are) or leading one, building trust and rapport will generate the same advantages for you, your colleagues and your business. Don’t wait until you get promoted – if you start practicing now, that promotion will come more quickly and the transition upwards will be much easier.


Uncertainty and change is all around us now. Effective coaching enables the coachee to embrace uncertainty, identifying a next step without knowing the final solution. Similarly the effective leader coach also needs to embrace this uncertainty and share this with their team. Acknowledge it. Name it. Outcomes may be unexpected. We’d encourage everyone to ask themselves, am I truly openly acknowledging this with my peers and teams?


What are the habits that you've developed through your career, that have served you well. But. Which might now be limiting you? This is the question was asked last week at our book launch for #coachingonthego. By way of example, I offered that my habit is the habit of saying "yes" to everything - I'm excited, so I grab opportunities. It is now limiting me, because I fail to be strategic because instead I am busy. @Phil Renshaw offered that for him, it is organising.


One of my favourite questions to help others with their thinking is, 'And what else?' Wonderfully open and always seems to trigger deeper thoughts. What question do you find consistently powerful in your work? Maybe we can create a Top Ten! #coachingonthego #coaching #leadershipdevelopment


The word SOMETHING is a little bit magic. It allows you to point to a schism in the conversation, or a behaviour, or a fact that needs unpacking. You don’t need to be more precise than that. Just, “something’s not working”, or “something’s out of kilter” or “something is getting in the way”. That’s all you need to do.

It allows specificity, without identifying the actual issue, and it is neutral. By asking about something, you invite others to join you in discovering what’s going on. You can read more about “something” in our new book #Coachingonthego or request a free chapter.  

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Got 10 minutes? Then you can become a better coach using this accessible and practical book. It offers tools, tips and techniques covering a wide range of workplace challenges that most managers face every day. Unlike some books on leadership, there is no dogma or rigidity here. Compassion emanates from every page, providing just the right conditions for learning and growth. This book is like a beautiful buffet spread where you can select what’s most appealing on your first round, then go back for more. I know that I’ll be returning many times in the future…