Everyone could use a good coach.

However, in many organizations, the concept of coaching has typically been reserved for those in more senior leadership positions or those on track to the C-suite. Consequently, it often is referred to as executive coaching, which is all good and necessary, but where does that leave the rest of us?

According to Steve Lundeen, MEd, PCC, CPCC, an executive coach with Capella University, smart organizations create cultures where coaching is encouraged and supported for employees at every level, whether they are C-suite bound or not.

“When you invest in your employees through proactive coaching regardless of their rank, the dividends can be huge,” Lundeen says. “There is both an opportunity and responsibility for all people managers to be a coach.”

Why Bother?

It’s simple. When an organization promotes a culture of coaching, not only are future leaders groomed at every level, but a halo effect can result in a decreased turnover and increased productivity, Lundeen says.

“When your boss takes you aside and says you have real leadership potential and wants to help you achieve that potential, you are more likely to stay with that organization and do your best,” Lundeen explains. “It absolutely helps with retaining your best employees. I’ve seen it. These are people who become more committed and vested in the organization’s mission, and it shows.”

He is quick to add that coaching doesn’t just happen. It’s up to people managers to identify employees with potential and reach out to them to begin the coaching relationship.

“It can be as simple as saying, ‘I really like the initiative you are showing. Let’s grab a coffee and talk about how we can further develop that,’” Lundeen says. “Coaching should be a long-term commitment, but it doesn’t have to be a resource drag. Sometimes the simplest, most organic coaching relationships are the most impactful.”

How to Make It Happen

Start at the top – Like so much in the business world, creating a culture of coaching needs to start at the top. An organization must commit to coaching as a fundamental attribute of the organizational culture and encourage it at all levels, without stifling amounts of oversight and red tape.

“An organization needs to really live a culture of coaching,” Lundeen says. “Coaches in an organization need to be highly visible and commonplace. It should be widely known that coaching is a worthwhile, doable exercise for every employee.”

Let them know – It may seem obvious, but no coaching relationship can happen without a coach offering his or her support and encouragement. It starts with a compliment.

“First and foremost, someone has to show interest and break the ice, and usually that is the coach,” Lundeen says. “The first step is to speak up and tell the person who shows promise that you see that person’s talent and that you believe his or her career could really flourish within the organization. Then offer to coach that person on the journey. Then you’re off and running.”

Ask questions and listen – Once you’ve told the employee you recognize their potential, then it’s time to ask questions and listen. Prompt the conversation by asking things like, “What do you enjoy doing? What are your passions? What do you see yourself doing in five years? Do you see yourself managing people?”

Lundeen advocates for having these conversations in a neutral, safe environment where the person being coached will feel comfortable opening up. Grab coffee. Go to lunch. Most importantly, he says to commit to ongoing conversations and to avoid a one-and-done chat.

“The last thing you want to do is get the person you are coaching excited, paint a picture of a fabulous career, and then drop the ball in helping make that happen,” Lundeen says. “Keep the momentum going and follow up regularly.”

Act and empower –
Sure, praise and compliments feel good, but unless they eventually translate into action, they can come to feel hollow and meaningless. A coach must commit to finding opportunities for the person being coached to exercise their leadership potential. That can happen through exposure to more senior leaders, providing a seat at the table during strategic planning, job shadowing in a new department, etc.

“A good coach is a good facilitator and helps make things happen,” Lundeen says. “What a coach doesn’t want to do is overpromise and under deliver. Rather, set an achievable path forward, and help pave the way to make it happen.”

The responsibility is not all on the coach, however.

“Coaching is a two-way street,” Lundeen says. “The person being coached also needs to ask for help. When the timing is appropriate, that person should respectfully push for taking on expanded responsibilities. We are all ultimately responsible for our own career trajectory.”

Pay it forward – When it’s done right, coaching can become a virtuous circle. One day you are being coached, and before you know it, you are in a position to coach someone else. Lundeen says coaches need to be intentional about keeping that chain going.

“If you have benefited from coaching, pay it forward, and be a coach to someone else,” Lundeen says. “A good coach would never say, ‘You owe me,’ to the person they have coached. Instead, a good coach will say, ‘Now you owe someone else.’”

Develop the skills to be a supportive people leader with an online MBA from Capella University.

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