7 Ordinary Habits of Super Effective Coaches

August 4, 2022

7 Ordinary Habits of Super Effective Coaches

Habits are things you automatically do every day. It’s your morning routine, how you make your favorite drink, or the fact that you always leave every cabinet door open when you leave a room (according to my wife). It is the actions you perform without even thinking because they are so ingrained into who you are. Researchers at Duke University estimate habits account for 40% of behaviors each day. Which daily habits are serving you well when it comes to coaching and developing others?

Many people have had the good fortune of having someone who provided them with coaching support and made a significant difference in both their performance and job satisfaction. What made that person’s interactions with you rise above many others? What did they do differently?

We have had the privilege of gathering data on over 4,000 coaches, wherein their skills were evaluated by their direct reports using a multi-rater assessment. We immediately noticed a very strong correlation between the effectiveness of a coach and the level of engagement of their direct reports. Engagement was measured by asking each direct report to respond to eight items in an engagement index. The graph below shows the least effective coaches had direct reports with engagement at the 23rd percentile, while the most effective coaches’ direct reports were at the 73rd percentile. That matters because highly engaged employees are more likely to love their job, give extra effort, and are less likely to quit.

Relationship of Coaching Effectiveness with the Engagement Level of a Leader’s Direct Reports

Most Effective Coaches Have Higher Employee Engagement

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7 Habits that Made the Biggest Difference

As my colleague Jack Zenger and I studied these effective coaches, we began to understand some of the secrets to their success by looking at the ratings of their direct reports. It was clear these leader coaches had developed some valuable habits that made a significant difference. Incorporating these habits into your routines will dramatically elevate your effectiveness as you coach others.

HABIT 1: Give Ample, Focused Time and Effort to Developing Others. One of the biggest concerns leaders have when learning coaching skills is the amount of time it will take to coach another person. Leaders are inevitably busy, and they are often a bit overwhelmed. While they want to help, their time is valuable and in short supply.

Many of us have been in a situation where a manager was more interested in getting us out of their office than they were in really providing helpful coaching. The most effective coaches make direct reports feel they are more valued than a few minutes of the manager’s time. Ultimately, we believe the time spent was not that different between the best and the worst coaches. Rather it was the feeling the manager created. The most effective coaches made their direct reports feel that they were more important than getting the interaction done quickly.

HABIT 2: Thoughtfully Select Developmental Job Assignments. If you look back on your most impactful learning and development activities, they frequently are connected with a job assignment where just doing the work helped develop new skills. This starts when managers take the time to know their direct reports’ aspirations and passions. Most people can think of a job assignment where their skills improved significantly by just doing the job and learning from their experiences. Many coaches imagine their job is to teach others new skills, then place people in those jobs. Finding a challenging job provides people with a learning environment where the job actually does most of the teaching, and the coach encourages and supports them.

HABIT 3: Consistently Provide Specific, Honest Feedback. When many people see the word feedback, they think it means letting others know when they make mistakes. Our research validates that the most helpful feedback is more positive and reinforcing than negative and corrective. Unfortunately, most people have grown up and worked in environments where the vast majority of feedback was corrective, which has often taught them to do whatever they can to totally avoid feedback. Letting others know what they did well and that you recognized their efforts and willingness to work hard puts them in a position where they are willing to listen and learn from corrective feedback. Once people believe that you have their back, then providing suggestions for improvement will be a great benefit to direct reports.

HABIT 4: Exude a Positive Energy that Inspires and Motivates. The best coaches create an environment where direct reports want to do something extraordinary and make a real difference. They create energy and excitement. They bring passion with them to work. They are aspirational in their goals and encourage others to do more and be better.

HABIT 5: Strive Daily to be a Role Model. Less effective leaders ask others to keep standards they themselves do not keep. Often people believe that having a higher position gives them the right to behave differently than the way they require or expect others to behave. The best coaches are role models and know how to walk their talk.

HABIT 6: Encourage Others to Stretch toward Excellence. Great learning opportunities are created when people are asked to do something difficult and outside their comfort zone. That is the learning zone, but it is also the zone where people recognize that they did something that made a difference. In our research, we have found that when team members accomplish a very challenging objective, one they thought was impossible, their engagement and personal satisfaction go up significantly. Accomplishing hard things makes people feel more valued and reinforces the fact that they are competent and capable.

HABIT 7: Balance Obtaining Results with How It Impacts Individuals. The best coaches did an excellent job of balancing business results with how it impacts the personal welfare of colleagues. Many times, these are the seemingly little things that end up being very important, such as attending a child’s school program or supporting an elderly parent who needs help at home. Too often, managers believe that it is the responsibility of the direct reports to let their manager know about these situations, but often direct reports are uncomfortable passing that information on. Ideally, managers take the initiative to get to know their direct reports to the point where they open up and share this kind of information. Only then can managers find ways to provide the balance that others need.

After reading through this list, you might feel that there is a lot to do in order to be more effective as a coach. Think of these habits as building blocks. The more you have, in whatever order, the higher you can build. Unlike a chain where a missing link renders the entire chain worthless, each one of these is valuable on its own.

Using our data, we simulated the impact of high performance on just a few of these behaviors. The analysis revealed that if a leader had high performance (e.g., 90th percentile) on just three of the behaviors, their coaching effectiveness would move to the 79th percentile. Our advice is to read through the list of behaviors and select the three that would help you most right now. Being an effective coach not only can have a dramatic positive impact on your direct reports, but it will positively influence how others view you as a leader in general.

—Joe Folkman

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