Developing Your Team Through One-on-One Coaching

Convention Extra - Management Principles

Well-executed individualized training can be a catalyst for attracting and retaining the best people.

October 5, 2018

Effective one-on-one coaching ability is one of the most important skills a great leader must possess. Well-executed coaching inspires in others an internal drive to act ethically, without direction, to achieve goals. Effective coaching drives performance, builds competence and confidence, and ultimately enhances relationships. The best coaches help their team members find ways to make things happen instead of creating excuses for why they can’t happen.

Effective coaching also requires you to believe in yourself. You need to believe that you can have an impact in the workplace, and that you can inspire others to reach their goals they otherwise might not achieve. The real question is not if you will make a difference, but what difference you will make.

Respectful, transparent, and regular face-to-face communication between leaders and their team breaks down barriers and builds trust. What you can see in a person’s eyes or other body language can be very revealing. While technology can be effective at times, it will never replace human contact for discovery and inspiration.

The most impactful leaders are adept listeners, and don’t allow their egos to become roadblocks. When egos are alive and well, listening ceases, effective coaching environments disappear and organizations suffer.

Here are three recommendations that can help you raise the bar with your ability to coach others.

1. Create a positive and open environment for communication.

People listen to and follow leaders they trust. They engage in meaningful dialog with people they trust. They are not afraid to disagree with people they trust. Trust provides the foundation for a positive and open communication environment where connections between people can thrive.

When people connect, they learn about each other. They enable understanding of cultures, individual strengths and challenges. Knowing your teams’ unique capabilities and desires helps you focus on how to help them be successful.

Knowing your people also reduces the probability of promoting someone into a management position who does not want it or is not otherwise qualified. Not all service technicians want to be managers. Not all sales representatives want to be sales managers. Not all customer service representatives want to be call center supervisors. The costs can be exorbitant to an organization that wrongly promotes someone into a management position.

There are four questions that can help establish this open line of communication: What is on your mind? What can I do for you? What do you think? How am I making your life more difficult? When asked with genuine interest, people respond with more honesty.

Meeting with your people regularly helps break down barriers — not just in your office or in the field, but in the break room and in the cafeteria. Talk to folks outside the work area like the jogging track, grocery store or your kids’ soccer games. The informal sessions can be wonderful enablers of opening the lines of communication.

2. Establish agreed upon goals and strategies to achieve.

Most people want to know what success looks like. They want to be clear in their goals as an individual and, if appropriate, the leader of a team. Well-defined, measurable, relevant goals on paper help your team gain clarity on what it will take for them to succeed. Assigning responsibility with authority helps inspire an individual’s commitment to be successful. Success also includes instructing people on how to reach their goals. Strategies are developed and agreed upon by the manager and team member so that both understand each other’s roles. The probability of success increases dramatically when strategies and accountabilities are well defined.

3. Enforce accountability by assessing performance.

There are many and significant consequences when people are not held accountable for achieving goals or otherwise performing up to standard. Integrity disappears. Discipline erodes. Morale evaporates. Leaders are not taken seriously. Problem employees become a cancer in the organization. The best people leave. Results are not achieved.

Effective coaching demands assessment of performance. Without this assessment, no system of accountability will be achieved. If the senior leader does not hold his or her executive team accountable, subordinate leaders are likely to think “Why should I?”

Consistent, regularly scheduled coaching sessions with your people are the key to ensuring effective follow-up assessments to not only celebrate successes but to review failures and identify ways to improve.

STRATEGIZING TIPS. Coaching session agendas will vary based on a variety of conditions. A good place to start is outlined below.

First, review the individual’s goals and those of the organization. Ensure alignment of both these goals in order to clarify where the individual is contributing to the mission of the organization.

Second, discuss what is going well. Where do both the coach and the individual agree on successes? Provide positive recognition for achievements where important.

Third, discuss the challenges or areas for improvement. Underwrite honest mistakes in the pursuit of excellence so people can learn. Determine how you as the manager can help. Gain a clear understanding of the shortfall in the individual’s ability and desire to achieve the goal and what resources or assistance the individual needs to be successful. When unsatisfactory performance occurs, managers must address it. Leaders who never take action to remove an underperformer are doing a great disservice to their institution. All too often, good people serving in leadership positions fear the task of confrontation. They hope, magically, that something will happen that will turn the underperformer around and all will be well in the end.

Hope is not a strategy; the magic seldom happens. Your goal as a leader and coach is to inspire a willingness to succeed. When coaching, it is often easier to criticize and find fault. Think before you speak — find ways to praise.

Fourth, as the manager, seek suggestions for how you can be a more effective leader for them. This question can change the dynamic of the coaching session and can provide powerful feedback for the manager in his or her quest to be the best they can be. Doing so will enhance their trust in you and help build confidence in their own capabilities.

Remember, effective one-on-one coaching can be the catalyst for attracting and retaining the best people, and that will ultimately help your organization to unprecedented results.

The author is a recognized speaker, executive leadership coach and author of “Rules and Tools for Leaders.” He is a West Point graduate and retired as a Brigadier General having served 32 years in the U.S. Army. Drawing on his unique military experience, Foley uses his singular insight to build better leaders. For more information on Jeff Foley, visit