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Coaching Powerfully

Tips and Techniques

Over the past 18 months, I’ve had the good fortune to coach more than 50 leaders at various levels within a number of organizations. In the process I’ve gained valuable experience and increased confidence using the LPI®360, and wanted to share a few reflections about what I’ve learned about coaching powerfully.

As Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner write in The Leadership Challenge, “Leaders need to provide coaching, because no one ever got to be the best without constructive feedback, probing questions, and active teaching by respected coaches.”

The more I’ve worked to help my coaching clients get the most out of the LPI® I’ve come to more deeply understand what Jim and Barry mean. After each coaching session it is reinforced that we are the leader for the leader.

Coaching, at its best, is the ability to strengthen others, to Enable Others to Act. And that requires vulnerability. Developing greater competence and skills as a coach allows those being coached to identify developmental needs, anticipate the struggle of change, and develop a plan of action. From my experience, here are a few important learnings about what I believe it takes to be the best leader-coach to our leaders:

Build relationships. Be genuinely interested in the person and their journey. As coaches we must be able to give trust in order to receive it. Give away your power and make them more powerful!

Be curious about people. Be a role model by asking questions that demonstrate how to build relationships, how to sense what is going on and what might come next. This not only shows your interest in them but it also shows ways that they can utilize those same or similar questions with their colleagues and team members.

Ask good questions. As you probe into a leader’s journey of self-discovery are you asking enabling questions? Are you asking for clarification on their responses? Are you showing appreciation for their vulnerability? Are you keeping them focused on the subject even when they stray? As my mentor Renee Harness, Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge®, has reminded me, “Great leaders ask great questions.” The reality of this becomes clearer to me as I go deeper with The Leadership Challenge.

Be an active listener. Focus all of your attention on the person being coached! If you are conducting your coaching session in person, demonstrate active listening through your body language: maintain eye contact, face the leader, be attentive but relaxed, and pay attention to the nonverbal cues.

Listen without judging. Do your best to not pass judgement. Listen to the words and stay focused for key themes or phrases. Do not interrupt or jump in with solutions; rather, wait for the leader to pause before asking clarifying questions. As an active listener, be focused on giving respect and understanding to the leader with the goal of obtaining information. Give regular feedback as a good listener so that the individual being coached knows you are listening and following his/her train of thought. Restating what has been said is a true demonstration of active listening.

Let others find their own solution. My personal favorite question to ask is, “What would this look like if…?” This question truly guides leaders from problem-solving to a possible result. Is this the outcome they want? If not, they will immediately start rethinking a solution.

Paint a picture of what is possible. If you do what you say you will do (DWYSYWD), then “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Acknowledging that coaching is a step-by-step process, and not one big jump, makes all things possible. While celebrating those small wins is important for the leader, it is just as important for the team or individual contributor, too! This is their chance to determine both small and big wins.

During my first two years of coaching, I have learned that coaching well—coaching powerfully—can be challenging. It takes intentional practice to create a safe, welcome, and open environment for growth and candid discussion.


Denise McDonald
is a Certified Master-in-Training of The Leadership Challenge® and a member of the Leadership and Management Team for the Texas Department of Family Protective Services. With over 40 years of experience helping leaders, teams, and families make better lives for themselves, she can be reached at Denise.McDonald@dfps.state.tx.us.

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