Gaining high performance through releasing and enabling the innate talent of their direct reports.

Our starting point is always to establish clarity about what coaching really means. Most people have been exposed to the concept yet there are a wide variety of interpretations of what coaching is. So it is good to create a shared understanding of what we are talking about.

Defining what Coaching is
Coaching has now become a certified profession with a significant amount of research and literature behind it. There are many skilled executive coaches who are equipped to work in depth with leaders and managers on their career development or an acute intervention to address some immediate behaviour or competence needs.

EMCC (European Mentoring and Caching Council) defines coaching as ‘Coaching is a process limited to a specific period of time that supports individuals, teams or groups in acting purposefully and appropriately in the context they find themselves in. The coach supports clients in achieving greater self-awareness, improved self-management skills and increased self-efficacy, so that they develop their own goals and solutions appropriate to their context.’

While ICF (International Coach Federation) defines coaching as “Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment. Coaches honour the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole. Standing on this foundation, the coach's responsibility is to:
• Discover, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve
• Encourage client self-discovery
• Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies
• Hold the client responsible and accountable
This process helps clients dramatically improve their outlook on work and life, while improving their leadership skills and unlocking their potential.”

Coaching skills for Managers
When we focus on managers as coaches this level of skilled knowledge is not the ambition. Rather it is equipping the manager with an understanding and a set of tools to be able to have useful coaching conversations when it is appropriate. Central to this is:
1. Understanding – many managers confuse coaching, mentoring and directing. They can see coaching as giving guidance and providing answers. The first obstacle to overcome is to change their perception to understand that coaching is about asking questions to enable the other to find their own answers.
2. Value – coaching needs time and, being already very busy, managers are wary of engaging in a process that requires time unless they see an appropriate value in it. So it is always important to demonstrate the value that using a coaching process will bring:

  • Increased competence and commitment from the coached direct report through discovering the own solutions and increased confidence.
  • Increased opportunity to delegate more complex tasks and projects through increased capability of coached direct reports thus freeing up managers’ time for other things.

3. Time – the frequent response from managers we work with is that I don’t have time to coach. So, for example, one of the early exercises our colleague Elizabeth Moon does when working with managers is to get them to analyse their time and how they are using it. It becomes clear in this process how much time managers tend to give away and so by changing this they can make space for coaching.
4. Coaching tools – Managers will likely have developed some of these tools already so the focus is on refining their use and developing their skill in deploying them. Tools such as:

  • Building rapport – creating the conditions for the other person to feel secure and open to exploring potentially challenging issues.
  • Contracting – being clear and agreeing with the coachee what the process will be and what things are confidential and what are not.
  • Effective listening – this is often difficult for some managers who can think that as the manager they must always have the right answer so they can be constructing the answer or response rather than actively listening.
  • Questioning techniques – understanding how and when to probe and how deeply to probe.
  • Powerful questions – these are questions which are open ended and help the person think and explore the particular issue in a deep way.

5. A simple but useful coaching framework – We use the GROW model developed by Graham Alexander, Alan Fine and Sir John Whitmore. This provides a robust process that managers can quickly understand and use effectively.

Generating feedback to improve practice
In addition it can be useful for managers to benchmark how they are currently behaving as coaches. We use two approaches for generating feedback for the manager:

  • Firstly, working in learning trios on live coaching exercises where each person in the trio has the opportunity to coach another on a real current issue and receive feedback. This exercise can often be an eye opener for managers in seeing and appreciating the value of coaching.
  • Secondly, using an instrument we have developed called the “Coaching Mirror” ©PPI, which we use to gather and report on 180° or 360° feedback on observed coaching behaviour.

Sustaining the application
Some powerful methods that we have found for ensuring managers sustain the application of coaching in practice, once they have been mobilised and skilled through a development intervention, include:

  • Promoting that they have continued regular meetings and reviews with their learning trios, or training partners, with a view to sharing and coaching each other on how well they are applying the approach and how they might overcome any obstacles to continued application.
  • Having a follow up review individually and/or collectively with the external expert to review, refine and reinvigorate their practice.
  • Being regularly asked by their own manager to report on how their application of coaching with their own people is going.

Should you want to find out more about how PPI enables managers to develop their coaching skills contact Gerry Buckley at


About the Author

Gerry Buckley

Gerry Buckley

Gerry Buckley is a Managing Partner of Performance Plus International (PPI) and a founding member of the PPI Network. He has a depth of experience in management development and training built up over many years, initially in Ireland, then in Africa and for the last 25 years in Europe based in Belgium.