Traits of a Great Coach

As leaders, we’re driven to be the best at everything we do, including leadership. It’s easy to get caught up reading, researching, listening, and watching everything you can in search of how to be a real leader—and a good one at that. 

What I’ve learned is that the best leaders approach leadership like coaching. Instead of focusing on their title, they see themselves as a coach. When you apply a coaching mindset to leadership, you replace power, command, and control with an entirely different set of traits.


Ability to Influence People

Even as a leader who holds a significant job title, you have to recognize that titles are irrelevant in the face of influence. Your ability to influence people by coaching them is what makes you an effective leader. Your title may land you respect in the short term. You can even use your title to convince someone to do something they don’t want to do as they acquiesce out of inferiority and deference to your position, but that’s not really leadership.

Your title cannot motivate your team to care about your organization or get them to invest their energy in working toward achieving specific outcomes that lead to a team’s success. That’s coaching. That’s influence. The interactions you have with your team determine your ability to influence them and, in turn, your ability to lead them.


Ability to Communicate Effectively

To effectively use your influence as a coach, you must work hard at your communication skills. I often tell colleagues that communication is 10 percent what you say and 90 percent how you say it. That “how you say it” is essential because it determines how well you wield your influence. Communication isn’t just about being a commanding orator. It’s about giving constructive feedback, motivating, and connecting with people on a meaningful level to ensure that they do their best.

If paying attention to “how you say it” is the first step of communication, the more important step is what comes next—listening. Use active listening to engage with your team and, most importantly, ask questions. This is where your influence as a coach and a leader happens. Listen to what your team is saying, ask them questions to learn more, and then respond to what they’ve said. Coach them through the conversation and help them reach the same conclusion that you already have in mind or, better yet, work with them to develop the solution.


Ability to Build Strong Relationships

Effective communication goes hand in hand with another necessary skill: the ability to build strong, mutually respectful interpersonal relationships with the people in your organization—from the top down and from the bottom up. An organization is only as strong as its weakest link, and it’s your job as a leader and a coach to strengthen as many links as you can. 

Building strong relationships with your team starts with the idea that you shouldn’t treat any two people the exact same way. Don’t assume because you effectively managed one person one way that you can manage another person that same way. Use your communication skills to listen to everyone you come across and get a strong understanding of who they are, what’s important to them, what dreams they have, and what challenges they face. Explore how they can adapt to fit within your organization’s culture and how your culture can adapt to fit them.

One key trait separates a good coach from a great one—the average coaches from the John Woodens of the world. It’s the skill to see ability and foster passion in others. Your job as a leader is to connect with your team. Recognize their strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes by building strong relationships with them, and then use your ability to influence and effectively communicate as you coach them toward their abilities and passions.


Lead Like a Coach

Your job as a leader in your business is no different from that of a coach on the field. Instead of benching your shortstop, you may have to tell your intern that he’d make a better art director than copywriter. This can be hard, but your ability to influence your team, communicate with your team, and relate to your team will help you lead and coach them through challenges.


Questions to Consider

  1. Is everyone on your team motivated to do their best work for the betterment of the team?
  2. How do you, as a leader, motivate your team collectively and individually?
  3. Do you think about and choose your words before meeting with people on your team?

If you’d like to discuss how to apply a coaching mindset in your leadership philosophy, contact me. I’d love to help you push yourself beyond what you believe you can achieve and guide your leadership development.