Best Practices for Coaching Employees

As a leader, you are responsible for developing your employees, and, in most cases, this is accomplished through coaching. David B. Peterson and Mary Dee Hicks, Authors of “Leader as Coach,” define coaching as, “the process of equipping people with the tools, knowledge, and opportunities they need to develop themselves and become more effective.” 

Our Behavioral Assessment, the BE Success Survey,  is a particularly revealing, powerful, and relevant tool for developing your employees. Whether you are a newly promoted leader or a seasoned leader, the BE Success Survey is built on actual data the employee has self-selected which  will help in making your coaching sessions more effective You will be able to identify how each employee can be expected to behave in a given role or work situation, and will be able to see what their strength and growth areas are immediately. Here are a few best practices for leading a coaching session using the BE Success Survey.

Acknowledge and Eliminate Resistance 

Inevitably, some people will initially be averse to their survey results. It’s a vulnerable experience to be exposed in that way and it’s important for you to express your appreciation to your employee for being there and show that you admire their courage. To keep the whole experience positive and reduce resistance, it’s helpful for you to tell them that no assessment is a perfect picture of an individual. Rather than argue about what they think is wrong, keep the conversation focused on what they agree with.  It is also important to remind them that the results are reflections of their behavioral preferences, which can always change as they learn and grow. 

Ask Effective Questions

As someone responsible for developing others, it is important that you recognize that the success of a coaching session is dependent on good communication, and the most effective way to connect with others is by asking questions. Questions are a critical piece of any conversation and there is an easy way to use them to build better conversations and depth while communicating within a coaching session.

There are two types of questions that are important to know in order to keep your conversations going and build more rapport with others in conversation. They are Open-Ended Questions and Closed-Ended Questions.

Open-Ended Questions

These are questions that are structured to draw information from people. They cannot be answered. “yes, no, or maybe.” By definition, they are broad and require more than one or two-word responses.Open-ended questions can help develop trust and are perceived as less threatening as they allow for an unrestrained or free response.


Open-Ended Questions:

  • What behavior do you think you can modify that would make the most difference in your life right now? 
  • Are you committed to making this change now?
  • Who would be most affected by this change?
  • What do you think the possible outcomes might be for your relationships?
  • When do you think you could start to practice?
  • How can I support you in making this change? 

Close-Ended Questions 

These are questions that can be answered finitely by either “YES” or “NO.” Closed-ended questions can include presuming, probing, or leading questions. By definition, these questions are restrictive and can be answered in a few words. They can also generate incomplete responses, will require more time, can be leading, and produce a feeling of irritation. They can also be perceived as threatening to the student and result in misleading assumptions/conclusions about the information you are inquiring about. These questions typically discourage disclosure.

However, in some instances these types of questions can be helpful to achieve the following:

  • To focus the employee’s response: “Are you satisfied with your progress?”
  • To confirm what the person has said: “So, your challenge is scheduling your time?”

When asking questions, it’s important to: 

  • Ask what behavior they can and want to change to give them personal ownership over the positive change. 
  • Avoid Prescribing a behavior that you think they should modify. 
  • Avoid saying you’re going to ‘fix’ a behavior that they have that you dislike
  • Focus on their observable behaviors
  • Focus on their strengths
  • Focus on what’s important to them, and not what’s important to you. It’s all about THEM.
  • Make them feel good about themselves for having the courage to grow.

Listen Effectively 

Coaching relies on collaboration and requires a positive, supportive emotional bond between the leader and direct report. A very important way to cultivate that bond is by effectively listening as you’re leading a coaching session.Frances Hesselbein, a former CEO of the Girl Scouts and author of, “My Life in Leadership,” describes the impact of listening and leadership when she wrote:  

“Listening is an art. When people are speaking, they require our undivided attention. We focus on them; we listen very carefully. We listen to the spoken words and the unspoken messages. This means looking directly at the person, eyes connected; we forget we have a watch, just focusing for that moment on that person. It’s called respect, it’s called appreciation – and it’s called leadership.”

For a more technical explanation of  “effective listening,” we turn to Dr. Scott Williams from Wright State University in which he defines it as, “actively absorbing the information given to you by a speaker, showing that you are listening and interested, and providing feedback to the speaker so that he or she knows the message was received.” Within both of the quotes, what we can conclude is that listening is something that is active and, for most people, requires practice. For an in-depth guide to practicing effective listening, visit this post.

Practice Positive Body Language defines Body Language as “nonverbal, usually unconscious, communication through the use of postures, gestures, facial expressions, and the like.”Our bodies can often expose more than we are aware of with regards to our motives, our desires, and our true feelings. Unaware of this important component of their communication, many leaders have had a negative impact on the people they work with. On the positive side, body language, also known as non-verbal communication, is something that we can learn to change so that we can be more effective communicators.

All leader’s express enthusiasm, warmth, and confidence, as well as arrogance, indifference, and displeasure through their posture, their facial expressions, hand gestures, and use of space.

There are times when we send mixed messages – we say one thing yet our body language reveals something different. This non-verbal language will affect how we act and react to others, and how they react to us. One of the most important factors that we must consider about our body language is that the effectiveness of what we are trying to communicate depends less on what you meant, and more on how most people interpret those signals.

In the video below, Rick talks about how you can be more aware of your body language and exude positivity and warmth through your facial expressions and gestures so that you can lead a more effective coaching session. 

Interested in learning more about yourself and getting more advanced tips on how to better lead and develop your people? Check out our Executive Coaching Process.

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