19 November, 2020 | Category

Much is written about leadership and how managers and team leaders need to play a coaching role to drive performance. This is true, but coaching confidence is rarely discussed – in the business world at least.  Chris Bates explains why, and what to do about it….

Understanding The Coaching Conundrum

Outside of a professional environment, people are usually much more open to acknowledging a lack of confidence in coaching others – the difference being that they are not being paid!

Away from work I coach my son’s basketball team and his football team, where I am also the Coach Coordinator for the football club. At work, like the rest of our team, I spend a large percentage of my time coaching executives and managers on how to build and lead high performing teams.


In a sporting club it’s often difficult to get people to take on coaching and assistant coaching roles – some will use the ‘I don’t have time’ excuse, but that is hard to argue when talking to another volunteer.

Most people admit that they find the idea of coaching daunting and lack the confidence to ‘do a good job’ coaching a team of kids (even though many of them are responsible for leading teams at work every day).

In a work context, we often hear business owners and executives say,

“I am paying John to be a manager, so I expect him to do a better job of leading and coaching his team”. 

The problem here of course is that most managers and team leaders have progressed their careers by being good doers – having great relevant technical and execution capability. This is particularly so in family and private businesses where lots of people have ‘advanced’ over the years by being good, loyal employees.

The reality is that more often than not, your managers and team leaders are paid well because they are experienced and confident at doing their job, not because they are expert leaders and coaches.

And herein lies the problem – people are more reluctant to talk about their lack of confidence when they think they get paid more to be a manager, that you expect them to be a good one, and their career status is attached to the title. Indeed, some managers will try to bluff their way through, which usually ends up badly for them and your other employees.

Developing leadership skills, particularly coaching skills and confidence, takes years.

It requires a different and broad set of capabilities to those required to ‘do the job’ and comes with the added pressure that managers feel responsible for the careers of their direct reports.

What’s the solution?

The obvious answer here is to invest in leadership and coaching development for your managers and team leaders, but how you go about this will determine how successful you will be:

Open Dialogue
Firstly you need to have an open conversation with your emerging leaders.  Let them know a leadership or management role requires a different skill set to the strong technical and execution one they have spent the past years developing. Be open about what these roles involve (and the skills required) as this allows each emerging leader to make a conscious decision about whether they really want to change the way they work. Explain that every business still needs great ‘doers’, so it’s ok for them to ‘opt-out’ of a management role.

Realistic Expectations
If your (potential) leaders ‘opt-in’, explain that you DON’T expect them to be expert managers straight away – just that they work on the craft and improve over time. Let them know you understand it will take time to build confidence and capability in coaching and other skills and you are willing to invest in them (they will definitely appreciate it).

Encourage Complementary Learning
Encourage them to complement their training with their own learning. This may include getting involved in community sports coaching (and taking time to do so), reading about great coaches and spending time with experienced coaches from different contexts.

One to One Coaching
Make sure your leadership programs include an ongoing coaching element from an experienced and successful coach. If you want your leaders to become good coaches, they need to be coached by an expert.

Consistent Rhythms
Embed a consistent cadence and discipline around your leadership program and coaching feedback loops (at least monthly). Ad-hoc programs and short-courses are not the answer.

Commercial Acuity
Make sure the leadership coach you choose has a full range of capabilities and a clear understanding of the commercial elements driving your business performance.  Coaching needs to complement, not replace, accountability and performance metrics. If your coach doesn’t understand the difference between a P&L statement and a balance sheet, things can go off track pretty quick.

Putting it  together

Ultimately you need leaders who develop a real interest in coaching and are committed to honing their craft over time.

Not unlike golf, good coaching requires capability with a full set of ‘clubs’ and clear decision making to navigate the course and prevailing conditions. No-one steps onto the course the first time and shoots under par!

For further information check out our leadership development programs.

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