7 Coaching Skills That Leaders Should Have

One of the critical paths to business success as a leader is by adopting a coaching approach. In a study conducted by Bursen and Associates, it was concluded that those organizations that had senior leaders who coached achieved 21% better business growth than those who didn’t.

However, coaching is not a skill that comes naturally to everyone, and it doesn’t come easily in the process of acquiring managerial skills.

Managing is most effective when an organizational culture is Market focused (getting the job done) or Hierarchy focused (doing things right); whereas coaching as a leadership approach is most effective in organizational cultures that value innovation, breakthrough growth, and are more dynamic and entrepreneurial.

Coaching is also a skill that works best for developmental purposes, when there is team of competent professionals, already performing at a high level.

Though hiring external coaches has proven to be an effective strategy, some organizations prefer to make leaders and senior team members available as coaches, and modify their management style to be more coach-like.

So what is it to be “coach-like”?

Below we outline 7 crucial skills that managers must possess to be coaches to their direct-report or their teams.

  1. Creating a safe and trusting environment

Possibly the most important aspect to a successful coaching relationship is the creation of a safe, and trusting environment. Confidentiality is critical to the relationship. If the coachee believes that any information they share with you may be used against them, they will be defensive and the relationship is doomed from the start. Build trust. Provide a safe space to grow and discuss. Be supportive. Tell them how you will create a safe and trusting environment.

  1. Non-Directional

One of the core principles of great coaching lies in the premise that the person being coached (coachee) already has all the answers they need. The objective of the coach is not to provide the answers they can see, but to facilitate the coachee to arrive at their own conclusions. Being a manager, and being expected to know all the answers or provide direction is very different from being a non-directional coach, and refrain from giving solutions. Instead focus on helping your coachee to find their own answers. Questions such as “what do you think?”, “how will that help you” or “what are the pros and cons of your idea?” can help direct the conversation from problem solving to solution seeking.

  1. Non-judgmental

The importance of being non-judgmental cannot be over-emphasized. Some may argue that it is almost impossible to be completely non-judgemental – so in that case at least suspend judgment for the duration of the coaching session. Bringing in Judgment will kill the trust and curiosity a great coach brings into the relationship. An effective coach would leave their ego out of the room and understand that the only truth that matters during the coaching is the coachee’s perception of it. The question “WHY?” is a judgmental question. Of all the questions a coach can ask, this can be avoided – this question will place the respondent on the defensive. Rather than ask “why did you do that?” ask “what prompted that decision”. This will lead the discussion to understanding specific behavior patterns and not knee-jerk defensive answers

  1. Challenge Boundaries

Of course, sometimes the coachee’s “truth” is shrouded in limiting beliefs. In that case, it’s the coach’s responsibility to challenge these limiting beliefs. Challenge assumptions. Be curious. Push boundaries. In order to be able to challenge assumptions, you must be aware of your own limiting beliefs and core assumptions. Rather than understanding why something cant be done, challenge your coachee to think about HOW it can be done.

  1. Listening

Listening is a key skill for any Leader, but Active Listening is paramount to being a successful coach-like leader. Active listening is not just listening to the words being said, but also listening to the tone of voice, the emotions, and seeking to understand what is unsaid. Active listening cannot happen in noisy environments, or while multitasking. So, focus on the coachee, give them your full attention, be present in the moment, and make them feel heard. Some things you can do to listen better is to make eye contact, lean in, acknowledge, repeat/ paraphrase and don’t try to provide answers or solutions.

  1. Curiosity

Curiosity is discovering the stuff you didn’t know you didn’t know! Being curious is wanting to know more, genuinely. Be authentic, ask open ended questions, seek to know more about your coachee.

  1. Action and Learning

Finally, all those curious, non-judgemental, safe challenging discussions will throw out a lot of action points. What your coachee does or doesn’t do with these action points will determine how much they develop and grown. At the end of every coaching meeting make sure they commit to some action, and build in some form of accountability ( how will you know they have taken action). After the action (or inaction) there is always learning. Being a great coach is to take the action and help your coachee understand and learn from these new experiences.

Coaching is not for everyone, and may not be the most appropriate leadership action in all situations.
It is important to be clear about when is the right situation to coach and when not to coach. It might be useful to co-create an agreement with your coachee at the beginning of the relationship, outlining the situations that are best suited to coaching.

In conclusion, building the coaching relationship is a dynamic process which nurtures honesty, trust, reliability and curiosity. Building Coaching into your organization can nurture creativity and innovation and spur business growth.


Neeru is the Founder and Managing Director of the Marya Leadership Academy FZE, a Dubai based coaching and leadership development firm, focused on developing women leaders in the region. She is a certified coach and has over 18 years of experience working with fortune 500 companies, and extensive experience coaching executives, leaders, fresh graduates and social entrepreneurs in the Middle East and Africa region and India for over a decade. Neeru is also Head of entrepreneur management at C3 an innovative platform for scaling social enterprise in the region.

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