Coaching Skills For Managers: 5 Essential Skills And How To Develop Them


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Coaching Skills For Managers: 5 Essential Skills And How To Develop Them

Faced with the “Great Resignation” or the “Great Reshuffle,” organizations are placing more emphasis than ever on retaining, engaging, and developing their existing talent.  

The famous Gallup statistic showed that half of the employees who leave do so because of their manager—the statistic is so famous it’s become as much of a saying as it is a stat. “Employees leave managers, not jobs.”

The question then becomes how do you train your managers to support, engage, and develop their employees?

To address this question, companies are quickly moving toward a model where managers support employees, not tell them what to do. In short, companies are teaching managers how to play the role of a coach.

Why Train Managers in Coaching Skills? 

Training managers in coaching skills can help them have better conversations with their teams. David Morley, a senior partner at the law firm Allen & Overy, described how he convinced senior leaders at their firm to care about and adopt the coach mentality: 

My pitch was this: As a senior leader, you have roughly 100 conversations a year that are particularly high value—in the sense that they will change your life or the life of the person you’re talking to. We want to help you acquire the skills to maximize value in those 100 conversations, to unlock previously hidden issues, to uncover new options, and to reveal fresh insights.

When managers have better conversations with their teams, they:  

Improve team morale. Coaching skills help managers to do things like give employees autonomy and trust, and inspire and motivate them to grow.

Improve productivity. By helping their team grow and helping team members to reach their potential, managers can easily improve bottom-line productivity. 

Talent Development. Managers equipped with coaching skills are better set to develop those below them to prepare them for a promotion. And, managers equipped with coaching skills are also better prepared for more senior leadership roles.

Reduce turnover. Considering that an employee’s relationship with their manager is the number one reason they leave, it makes sense that managers who have more impactful conversations with their employees are better able to retain them.

How to Improve: 5 Essential Coaching Skills For Managers

Each of the five skills below are essential to a manager’s ability to coach their employees: 

Listening. You have to be able to listen carefully enough to understand what’s really being said. You also have to be skilled enough at listening to actively adjust your approach to fit the conversation you’re having. You have to know, for example, when to sit back and when to speak, when to use the power of silence and when to ask a question. 

Empathy. Empathy enables managers to understand what’s going on beneath the surface. Empathy is the key to unlocking what it is your employee really wants or needs from the conversation and from their role on your team. Empathy enables you to treat employees as individuals and act with compassion instead of pushing, guiding, or jumping straight into problem-solving mode at every turn. Through empathy, you can help employees find the path of growth that fits them best. 

Accountability. Central to a coaching mentality is the idea of “giving out trust, and holding people accountable for key results.” Coaches hold employees accountable without being overbearing, micromanaging, or naggy. They enable employees with freedom but hold them accountable when their performance isn’t up to snuff. 

Self-awareness. Research around self-awareness confirms how crucial it is to a leader’s ability to succeed. Awareness of your own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, personality, and style can all help you to better connect with and coach your team members. 

Goal setting. Without dictating their employees’ goals, a skilled manager should be able to facilitate conversations that help their employees to set powerful goals. For example, many coaching managers will use the SMART goal framework—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Based to help their team stay motivated, and devise a plan that works for them.

How do you train for each of these five skills? It’s somewhat meta, but a great way to improve a manager’s ability to coach is to coach leaders on how to coach. Try group coaching for a more affordable, interactive approach. The added benefit of management coaching to train managers on coaching skills is that they can see an expert coach using the skills that they’re learning.

Additional Resources: 

7 Key Questions To Ask 

In his book, The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier cites the stat that while 75% of managers receive training in how to coach their employees, 73% of employees say that they never receive coaching. And of the employees that actually do receive coaching from their managers, only 25% believe it was beneficial. Ten percent even said their coaching was actively harmful. 

His solution is to introduce seven key questions that managers can easily begin to add to their repertoire to be more coach-like in their one-on-ones and other key conversations. 

  1. The kick-start question. Ask, “What’s on your mind?” This gets you started in the right direction by showing your employee that you value what’s on their mind ahead of what’s on your mind. 
  1. The AWE question. Ask, “And what else?” This question helps make your employee feel more comfortable opening up and speaking in detail about the challenges they face and the things on their mind.
  1. The focus question. Ask, “What’s the real challenge here for you?” By getting to the heart of the problem, you can better understand what your employee wants and needs. 
  1. The foundation question. Ask, “What do you want?” It’s easy to mistakenly assume going into a conversation that you know exactly what the other person wants and why. The foundation question helps you avoid falling into that trap.
  1. The lazy question. Ask, “How can I help?” Encourage people to tell you exactly what they need. 
  1. The strategic question. Ask, “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?” This helps people think through priorities and protect their time. 
  1. The learning question. Ask, “What was most useful about this conversation?” The learning question helps the other person focus on how they can get the most value from your conversation.

3 Essential Books To Help Managers Develop Their Coaching Skills  

There are a ton of books out there about coaching and skills tied closely to coaching. But, at LEADx, the following three books have become essential guidebooks to coaching: 

The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier. In this book, Bungay Stanier breaks down the seven key questions we introduced above. He shows how these questions and their variations can be applied to make coaching a habitual part of your style of interaction; not just in one-on-ones or moments of “coaching.” By making these questions habitual, you can improve your entire conversational approach. 


Coaching For Performance by Sir John Whitmore. Sir John Whitmore is a 2nd baronet, a former racecar driver, and most importantly, an absolute pioneer in the world of executive coaching. In this book, Whitmore introduces the GROW model to coaching. 

Goal: Figure out what the other person wants out of this conversation. 

Reality: Get specific about the other person’s plan. Ask questions using “what, where, who, when.” Stay out of the other person’s way. 

Options: People get stuck. Try to help them open their mind w/ questions like “If you had a magic wand, what would you do?”

Will: Ask “What will you do?” They should have a clear course of action by this point. The second “will” at play is their “will” to act. They should be motivated to act by this point.

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The Advice Trap by Michael Bungay Stanier. In this book, Bungay Stanier shows the number one trap we all can’t help but fall for: the advice trap. We all tend to give advice and try to solve problems. But, we don't realize that our advice is often less informed and useful than we think. In this book, he shows you how to break free from advice-giving. Instead, he shows you how to ask good questions and shift your mentality toward supporting others.

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Developing A Learning Plan That STICKS

Focus more time and energy on application than on learning. Get managers to practice the coach approach on the job.  

At LEADx, we recommend the “3-to-1” learning framework in our training. It’s simple and actionable. For every one formal learning objective, you should design and facilitate at least three on-the-job application exercises.

A simple example related to teaching Effective Feedback:

* Week 1: Live workshop to learn and practice 

* Week 2: Participants ask team members to give THEM feedback 

* Week 3: Participants give team members POSITIVE feedback 

* Week 4: Participants give CONSTRUCTIVE feedback 

At the end of each week participants could submit a red/yellow/green light reflection exercise. For example, they write “what went well, what didn't, questions, and more.” 

CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at