Leadership Coaching [Main Focus Areas + Coaching Questions]
It's never been a more exciting time to be a leader! Virtual and remote working is now common, and calls on all professionals to boost their leadership capability whether they're in a formal leadership role or not. All this means Leadership Coaching is a fast developing coaching niche.
We live and work in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) context. In today's reality where teams form and disband rapidly, more employees than ever are having to work remotely. This requires people to work more autonomously and be more self-sufficient. In addition, matrix relationships (where we must work together across team boundaries) is the new norm for many.
As a writer, coach and program designer, leadership has been the focus of my work for almost three decades now. What's interesting is that the skills required for today's leadership are quite varied.
Back in 2013, I shared this list of 12 Core Leadership Skills:
Communication Skills (including feedback and difficult conversations) Coaching and Mentoring Skills Influence Relationship Building/Relationship Management Team Leadership including team development issues and working with different Personal Styles Project Management or Program Management Presentation Skills/Train the Trainer Building Trust and Respect Performance Management Goal Setting Creating a Vision, Working with Values Conflict Management
In recent years I have updated this list to include skills in:
Technology Skills and
Leadership Coaching in the Workplace
As a coach, it's likely that at some point during your coaching career you'll coach a leader and/or their team.
Helping these professionals build awareness of where their skills are effective, where they need developing and any blindspots, can create a foundation for a series of different coaching conversations. For example, this might involve individual coaching conversations where you help clients go deep into their own areas of focus or skill. It might also entail an exploration of leadership skills in a group coaching process with leaders of all kinds exploring leadership skills together, and learning from each other's experiences.
Increasingly in the virtual and remote team context, it's important to build capability and strength in a majority of these leadership areas with all employees. Because for most employees today, leadership has a purpose; they want to be able to do things better, quicker and with more impact. That means leadership coaching requires a practical focus.
There are many ways Leadership Coaching can support clients in the workplace including:
Individual Leaders: Get each leader to self-assess where their strengths and areas for growth are. Individual Leaders or Team members: Create a Leadership Coaching Wheel for people to self-assess around. You might use (some or all of) the labels included above, and explore some of these questions: Rate yourself on a scale of 0-10 on each one of these leadership areas.
What is your skill level in each area?
What do you notice about your strengths?
Which areas need attention?
What could you do to develop yourself further in these areas?
11 Areas of Leadership Coaching to Explore in the Workplace, with Questions to Explore Further
I have chosen 11 areas of leadership capacity that coaches may be touching on with clients, especially in groups or teams. And below you will find several questions you can use in the individual, team or group coaching conversation to explore these topics.
Communication takes place across a variety of channels today - phone, face-to-face, email, video/streaming, instant messaging, chat rooms and apps. What are the core ways you communicate?
What's working around communication? What's not? Thinking about your team, what are their preferences around communication? What are your preferences around communication? What are the strengths you bring to communication? What are your communication blindspots? What difficult conversations need to happen?
In today's virtual and matrixed team environment, we're working across relationship boundaries all the time. This includes internal and external stakeholders, our supervisors and also our peers. Learning to manage up - and across - with people who we may have no direct line reporting requires that we utilize the skill of influence.
What does influence mean for you? What does influence look like? Where is influence most important to you in your role/team/department? What's working for you around influence? What's not? Who models influence well in your organization? What can you learn from them?
3. Relationship Building
As virtual and remote professionals, we may be part of multiple teams and interface with a wide variety of internal and external stakeholders. And even though we may work in isolation, our project success usually involves others.
What are the key relationships you want to put attention around? What's currently working in your relationships? What's not? What do your key relationships require from you? What's going to help your key relationships thrive? Who models relationship building well? What can you learn from them?
4. Team Leadership
Team Leadership is a core Leadership Skill. Leadership Coaching in this area may take us into the areas of micro-monitoring rather than micro-managing; empowering others; developing your team; coaching skills and understanding the unique needs of each team member.
Leadership Coaching Questions to Explore with Clients:
What does the team need from me? From each other? What are the different support needs for each team member? What unique skills does each team member bring to the team? What does it mean to micro-monitor, rather than micro-manage?
5. Program and Project Management
An increasing number of leaders are managing both projects and programs. In the virtual space where team members work interdependently, skills in matrix management and teamwork can also be of benefit.
What projects are on the go for the team? How are you planning these? Monitoring these? And how are you learning from these projects? What projects and programs require design? What Program and Project management skills, tools and technologies do you need to develop? What is going to keep the project/program in scope, on time and in budget?
With professionals at all levels spending an incredible amount of time in meetings, are meetings the most efficient they can be?
How do you currently keep meetings on track? What's working? What's not? What could make your meetings more efficient? Are the right people "at the table"? What type of conversation/touch point is going to cover this material best? What will you do to make meetings more efficient?
Getting your message across in a way that is understood and relevant is critical in all types of presentations - team meetings, formal presentations and presentations with peers.
As you consider an upcoming presentation, here are Coaching Questions to Explore with Clients:
What are your 3 key bullet points? What are you going to do to capture people's attention at the start? What's the call the action? What can you do to make the presentation more meaningful for the audience?
8. Conflict Management
When working across distance and time, conflict is likely. This is one area that many teams struggle with, and when things go virtual, conflict may fester as things are swept "under the rug" or ignored. This leads to a decline in trust, engagement and relationships.
Leadership Coaching Questions to Explore with Clients
What is your approach to conflict? What do you get triggered by? What is the team's default approach to conflict? Are there any "hot topics" within the team? What is being done to resolve these? What can you do? As you consider conflict and its resolution, what's important about the relationship? What outcome are you looking for?
9. Working Across Differences
From different styles, to strengths and preferences, the ability to work across differences is a foundational focus in our work with clients - leaders and teams. The ability for clients to be skilled in working across differences is becoming increasingly important in the business context today.
Coaching Questions to Explore with Clients
When you think about the people you work with, what's important to them? What are their needs? What are their preferences? What does the role of team, organizational or individual culture play? What adaptations do you need to make to your styles and approaches?
10. Performance Management - including Feedback and Difficult Conversations
Providing feedback is a key focus for employees today. This is also an area which can prompt concern and is not always well modelled. Supporting leaders in having difficult conversations is another area of support. From "Radical Candor" to "Crucial Conversations" and "Fierce Conversations", there are several different models we can point teams and leaders to for resourcing.
Leadership Coaching Questions to Explore with Clients
What are the conversations that need to be held? What are the differences between performance conversations, feedback and difficult conversations? What are the positive and constructive points of each? What is your skill level with these types of conversations? What are your strengths? Which areas need attention? What could you do to develop yourself further in these areas? When considering a particular conversation, what message do you need to communicate? What is going to be best understood? What follow-up is required? When?
11. Coaching and Mentoring Skills - Building Capability Within Your Team
Building capability within your own team is critical for success, especially in the virtual or remote environment. This may involve anything from equipping leaders with coaching and mentoring skills to building peer coaching skills across the team, or providing more peer-to-peer support.
Coaching Questions to Explore with Clients
What are the differences between coaching and mentoring at your organization? What are the hats you wear in building capability within your team? As a leader, how are you supporting others around: Goals?
Accountability? What support does your team need to build capability?
Leadership is currently a hot topic, and a vast field that coaches may find themselves exploring over multiple sessions with clients. It's important to remember that across industries there may be a variance as to which leadership skills are most needed, so coaches will need to tailor their approaches to suit the client.
While not comprehensive, the leadership areas highlighted in this article can be a starting point for the conversations with both leaders and team members in the workplace.
Questions for you to consider: What resonated with you in this article? Where could you develop your leadership skills? What are the starting points for your leadership coaching conversations?