Are you coaching or telling? 7 skills you need to learn

coaching leaderasacoach Feb 23, 2023
woman leader with team behind her

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. 

Once upon a time, most people began successful careers by developing expertise in a technical, functional, or professional field. Doing your job well meant having the right answers. You would climb the corporate ladder and eventually move into people management.

And that's where the fairytale ends.

In days gone by, as a leader or manager, you knew what needed to be done, you taught others how to do it, and you'd manage their performance. Command and control was the name of the game, and your goal was to direct and develop employees.

But that's not how things work today.


“Coaching is unlocking a person's potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

– Timothy Gallwey

How many times have you heard someone say “I keep telling them they should be using coaching with their team…”? You may not have heard those exact words, but the sentiment is there, right?

So why do so many of the initiatives - and good intentions - to introduce a ‘coaching culture’ rarely work?


In our experience, leaders are often deeply attached to telling their people what to do (and even how to do it) and many of the businesses we we work with still have leaders who are devoted to the “command and control” style of management. Basically, they like telling people what to do!

And who can blame them? they're busy, running around with their hair on fire, trying to keep their heads above the tide of things to be done. And more often than not, they've been promoted because they were good at their jobs, not because they were good at “people stuff,” so the powers that be simply let them just tell their teams what needs to be done, so they can get on with managing the business.

They're not bad people. They're not even bad bosses. They're simply ill-equipped to coach others (although they often think they’re coaching when they’re actually just telling their people what to do!)

Sir John Whitmore, a pioneer of the executive coaching industry, defines coaching as “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance...helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” When done right, coaching also helps with employee engagement; motivating people to bring their expertise to a situation than to be told what to do.

We recently began a series of leadership development days with two groups of existing and emerging leaders. Having been briefed that 'coaching' was a trigger word, we soon realised that this was simply because the leaders in question didn't understand what coaching really is. The good news - for them and other leaders - is that they can improve their coaching skills quite quickly if they are willing to invest in learning how to coach in the first place. 

 In our experience, there are seven leadership coaching skills that you must get right to become an effective leader as a coach.

  1. empathic listening - listening with the intent to really understand what's being said
  2. curious questioning - using open questions to gain further insight or information
  3. focused feedback - learn to both ask for and give feedback
  4. goal setting - get clear on your own EGGs (Extraordinary Glorious Goals) and then support your team in setting and aligning their own goals
  5. recognize strengths - it's easy to forget that coaching isn't just about improving whats not right, it's about celebrating what is
  6. clarify expectations - begin by clearly defining what coaching is, how it differs from other leadership actions
  7. solution-focused approach - helping the coachee arrive at their own solution


Rapid, constant change is now the norm; what worked in the past no longer works now. Leaders and managers simply don’t (and can’t!) have all the answers. Today, leaders are being asked to give support and guidance rather than instructions so that employees learn how to adapt to constantly changing landscapes.  In short, the role of a leader and manager is becoming that of a coach.

Are you coaching or telling? 

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