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  • Writer's pictureCristine Saxon

A Coach Approach – 9 Coaching Hacks for Leading Alongside People

Updated: Apr 18

Effective people leaders have various approaches to fit each need. They’re good at changing hats. On goes their director hat when fast action is needed. They switch to a facilitator hat for some team meetings. They may finish the day wearing their cheerleader hat. Many leaders are also being asked to wear a coaching hat, to lead alongside people. Coaching empowers employees to come to their own solutions and grows their confidence and capabilities.

Wooden chess pawns representing people standing in a row with the leader in red alongside yellow employees

You might be thinking that’s great, but where’s the coaching manual? I can help you get started. Here are 9 coaching hacks that you can use right away to develop a coach approach.

1. Hold People Capable

"Yes You Can!" Written on a note pad sitting on a table

Think of a competent person you respect. In your own mind, you hold that person capable, believing in their ability to come up with their own solutions. Now think of someone you doubt or don’t believe in. Perhaps confirmation bias is in play and you’re unconsciously watching for evidence that they aren’t capable. A coach approach requires that you hold people capable, in your own mind. The reward for switching your perspective? You get to watch them grow. Allow yourself to be surprised.

2. Ask More Than You Tell

Paper thought bubbles with question marks cut out of the middle

A coach approach for leaders involves asking questions that challenge your team members to think critically and find their own solutions. Allow yourself to be alongside people, stimulating their thinking and encouraging them to come up with new ideas. For example, instead of telling someone what to do, you could ask, "What options do you see for solving this problem?" or "How could you approach this differently?” Resist the temptation to solve it for them or give advice. Sometimes less is more.

3. Listen Actively and Openly

Manager listening intently to an employee

We all need to be heard. The simple act of listening and validating someone is a powerful part of a coach approach. Yet many leaders jump in, offering their opinions or telling employees what to do. This likely comes from a good place, such as wanting to help. And it gets in the way of listening openly, without the need to contribute or solve. Here’s a coaching hack as an antidote – reframe listening as being generous with your silence. Hold space for people. Listen to hear, not to fix.

4. Invite Employees to Think Differently

Group of people standing in a row looking up at illustrated lightbulbs while thinking

A coach approach is about inviting or challenging team members to consider new opportunities or perspectives. Notice when someone is exhibiting closed thinking and invite them to consider a more open approach. Be curious with them about what might be getting in the way. Help them consider how to embrace innovation or challenge the status quo to be playful and embrace the unknown. Then listen for breakthroughs or realizations and reflect them back to them, using their words. And watch them keep going.

5. Encourage Employee Growth

Various sized plants growing in a row from shortest to tallest

Team members will reach greater heights, and deeper depths, through a coach approach. It helps when people are holding back or stuck. When you notice fixed thinking, welcome them to explore how a growth mindset could help them get unstuck, and what might be getting in the way. Reframing stuck phrases to possibility statements can be powerful, such as “how would you feel about this upcoming conversation if you framed it as important, rather than difficult?” Coaches listen for stuck points, reflect them back, and invite people to step into feeling or thinking differently. Then watch them grow.

6. Foster Mutual Trust

Group of people in a huddle with their hands stacked in the middle

Trust is key. A coach approach involves vulnerability by the leader. Coaching isn’t about being right, fixing things or rescuing. This can feel uncomfortable for some leaders. The value of a coach approach is that when you allow yourself to be more vulnerable and authentic, your employee is more likely to follow suit. By trusting yourself to not be perfect as a coach, you signal to employees that they can trust you and also not strive for perfection. You can be perfectly imperfect together.

7. Replace Feedback with Feedforward

Person standing on a arrow pointing forward

A coach approach is less about feedback, and more about shining the light on the employee’s realizations or ‘aha’ moments. While feedback is about giving your opinion on what already happened, feedforward is about sharing what you noticed and asking how this awareness could help them in the future. Try saying things like “you just came up with a new idea - how might it help next time” or “how do you feel about your presentation and what would you like to do differently, or the same, next time?”

8. Foster Employee Confidence

Business woman looking confident and happy

Confidence is a powerful feeling that drives positive performance. With your coaching hat on, you can help your team members to combat the negativity bias that is so strong in humans by watching for what is going well. Innovation results when employees feel safe and have clear expectations. Then they get to make mistakes and learn from them. Ask them what obstacles you can get out of their way. When they make an error, be sure to have their back and move forward. See them, hear them and catch them showing up the way they want to. And don’t hesitate to throw in a few ‘you’ve got this’ statements at opportune times.

9. Care for Them, Celebrate with Them

Manager and employee high-fiving in celebration

Coaching a team can enhance performance and productivity. Caring about a team can create magic. Recognize people’s individual strengths. Listen for what matters most to them and motivates them. Value their well-being and success. And watch how a group of people becomes a team. Be open and generous with your heart. Celebrate and care for each of them in ways that fit with their needs and preferences. While some like a cake and balloons to celebrate their growth, others may want a quiet cup of tea.

Watch for moments when a coach approach could help - when you believe someone can move a stuck project forward, resolve an interpersonal situation or come up with an innovative solution. A coach approach is a unique way of being beside employees, and with practice and helpful hacks, you can become the coach they need you to be. In The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone Zander offers us this question: Who am I being that they are not shining? Put on that coaching hat, shine your light on your people and watch them shine.


About Cristine Saxon, MA

Cristine Saxon

Cristine Saxon is a Certified Leadership Coach, an Associate Certified Coach for the International Coaching Federation (ICF), leadership consultant and an instructor at the U of R's Centre for Continuing Education. She writes regularly on LinkedIn and publishes video shorts on her YouTube Channel from the cockpit of her kayak in the ocean near her home on Vancouver Island.


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