Coaching Styles: Finding the Right Angle on Workplace Learning

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As the economy revives and businesses reengage customers, coaching your team is the best way to up your game. But effective coaching needs time and money. And to deliver a return, identifying the right coaching styles for your particular scenario is essential.

This article aims to give you confidence about making these important choices. We look at what coaching is, and online’s pandemic prominence. Next, we consider how coaching differs from training, and can bosses can be effective coaches? (Answer, yes in some circumstances, but with conditions...)

We look in-depth at the different styles. Finally, it’s impossible to ignore sport’s influence on business coaching. We hear about legendary basketball coach Jim Wooden, whose committed coaching served to equip young men for life. Where will your coaching journey lead?

First Step, Achieve Clarity

Coaching teams and senior executives is a big commitment.  Step one is, be clear about your coaching goals. What do you want to achieve? ‘Start with the end in mind’ is Habit #2 in Stephen Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit #1 is, be proactive. You’re being proactive, by reading this…

Coaching Styles in the Workplace

Different people respond to different management cues. Deploying the appropriate coaching styles will enhance your colleagues’ performance and development, and help them achieve their goals. Incidentally, when you commit to coaching but stay flexible about your style choices, that’s situational coaching leadership. So now you know!

What Actually IS Coaching?

Coaching is a professional, helping relationship, focused on the coachees, the people you’re coaching.  Coaching’s a two-way street: the coach responds to information about the coachees’ needs. In return, they receive help through active listening, considered questioning or specific guidance. Or better still, all three. Talking of guidance, the ‘GROW’ model is a simple process coaches use to lead clients towards a goal. ‘GROW’ is an important part of Making Business Matter’s offering as soft skills training providers.

How Does Coaching Work?

The coachee develops cognitive empathy with the coach and bonds with them. They recognise the relationship as beneficial and commit to engaging. From there, the coaching experience unlocks the coachee’s potential.  Coaching is facilitative. The coach enables the coachee’s future self-directed learning and development.

How is Coaching Different to Training?

Training is generally task-based and highly directive – no consultation, it’s all do this, do that. It works best when tasks are practical and well defined, and the group is small enough to supervise individually.

Coaching is primarily focused on finding out people’s strengths and knowledge, helping them establish their competency.  It works best when tasks are cerebral, ambiguous, or open-ended. The process develops people’s ability to act independently and helps them achieve fulfillment, or self-actualisation.

Recognising the Importance of Coaching

We’re continually hearing about skills shortages, from nurses to HGV drivers. Coaching is a recognised method of developing individuals’ capabilities to facilitate the achievement of their employer’s success. The CIPD’s recent Learning & Development Survey suggests 72% of UK organisations find coaching a highly effective development tool.

Lower half of a man holding toolbox
Coaching is widely used as it is an effective development tool

Coaching as a Management Style

Hay McBer’s theory of management styles classifies coaching as a specific style in its own right. Adopting this management style means you focus on your staff’s long-term professional development. This is really positive because you help them improve their strengths and boost their performance.  And they’ll be loyal.

The Coaching Style of Leadership

Coaching is widely recognised as a style of leadership, characterised by collaboration, support, and guidance. For coaching leaders the focus is bringing out the best in their teams, guiding them to their goals. This leadership style is very different to autocratic leadership, which is about top-down decision-making.

Coaching is also at the heart of servant leadership, creating nurturing environments where workers feel heard, appreciated, and respected.

What are the Different Types of Coaching?

There are several different types of coaching that happen in the workplace and online.

Team coaching: The bulk of the coaching we’re talking about in this article is team coaching. The focus is on engaging and inspiring team members of mixed abilities. Building confidence and teaching skills. You’re doing this so they develop and work together towards achieving your business vision. And importantly, you’re motivating them to grow with the business.

Integrated coaching: This is broader-based leadership development, aimed at mid-level managers and others marked out for promotion.

Executive coaching: Executive coaching is generally more high-powered than team coaching, though the same coach could provide both services. An executive coach works with executives and fast-tracked individuals to help them gain self-awareness. They also assist with clarifying goals, helping people achieve their development objectives, unlocking their potential, and providing a sounding board.

Virtual coaching: This type of coaching takes place outside the workplace, and can cover all three coaching types we’ve mentioned. In the pandemic, virtual has become by far the most common coaching type. We know now that people can be coached online wherever they are, at work or at home. So it’ll be interesting to see how virtual coaching develops as staff return to offices.

Can a Boss be a Trainer or a Coach?

Of course, a boss can train their team. They can also coach them, but they must commit to the coaching style of leadership in the coaching sessions. It’s important that the coachees relax, to reap the benefit. Coaching can bring up hang-ups about past criticism. During coaching, we need to focus on the moment, not be distracted by negative feelings from the past.

Boss talking with an intern
A boss can be both a coach and a trainer

Negative Coaching Styles

Speaking of negative feelings, negative coaching can have a severe impact on people. Negative coaching consists of any behaviour, mental, physical, or verbal, that diminishes someone’s wellbeing in terms of:

  • Autonomy – the need to feel ownership of your behaviour.
  • Competence – the need to produce desired outcomes and experience mastery.
  • Relatedness – the need to feel connected to others.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Coaching

The coach responds to information about the coachee’s needs and decides the coaching style to adopt. They need to have flexibility and agility in making their decisions. Let’s explore some popular coaching styles.

Our first set of coaching styles is quite rigid and formal and commonly lacks coachee input. Hence, these styles can feel quite tough for the coachees. However, they’re appropriate in times of major change when people must respond quickly, with no room for debate. These styles pull teams together. They have distinct goals, as in the ‘GROW’ model, and are focused on the outcome.

Autocratic or Authoritarian: Here, the coach takes a firm leadership role. They often decide all the coaching methods and processes. ‘Autocratic’ has negative connotations, but in some situations, a more collaborative approach wouldn’t be beneficial. For instance, there may be high stress or extreme urgency. Or, only the coach knows enough to make the call.

This is sometimes also known as command style because it doesn’t involve much interaction from the team. Instead, it consists of the coach giving commands, which they obey.

Bureaucratic: Again, this is rigid, adhering to specific rules, following a clear model outlining decision-making hierarchies.

Transactional: A task-driven and time-limited style, this is aimed at promoting performance and avoiding stumbling blocks.

When You Can Afford to be More Flexible

The following coaching styles are more flexible and allow greater client input.

Woman being flexible at yoga
There are also coaching styles that allow you to be more flexible

Flexible Styles

Cooperative: A cooperative coach shares the decision-making with the team. This is an adaptable and pliable style, that puts the coach in the role of facilitator. They empower team members to be the best they can be.

Democratic: Again, the democratic coach follows a self-coaching approach. They make the final decisions, after listening to and considering the team’s thoughts. Democratic coaches outline their objectives but don’t restrict the team to one way of doing things. They let people find their own ways of achieving goals. The principle is, give people accountability and let them say what works for them, and they produce results.

Developmental: A helping relationship, with the coach identifying the client’s learning opportunities and supporting their growth.

Laissez-faire: A mostly hands-off approach, grounded in the idea that clients can achieve their own goals and priorities with minimal leadership. The client owns the process. Like the laissez-faire management style, some people dismiss laissez-faire coaching as ineffective. However, it offers a degree of fluidity, when appropriate.

Nondirective: The individual or group is the expert and they set the agenda. The coach is there as the facilitator.

Submissive: In contrast to the command style, submissive coaching is when coaches make as few decisions as possible. Coaches provide little instruction and minimal guidance in organising activities. They only resolve discipline problems when absolutely necessary. Again, the people being coached are the experts.

Transformational: A one-on-one approach involving building a trusting coach-client alliance, with both agreeing on the goals and processes.

Vision coaching: A coaching style with an emphasis on future thinking involves harnessing the power of thought to shape the future. The more we focus on the desired outcome, the more likely it is to happen.

Discover the Softer Side of Coaching

These coaching styles are closer to client-centred therapy than what we generally think of as coaching.

Holistic coaching: Holistic coaching impacts on a client’s life by taking the whole person into account. It is concerned with all aspects of their being.

Intuitive coaching: This relatively spiritual approach supports clients in developing and trusting their inner perspectives.

Mindfulness coaching: This draws on mindfulness practice. It promotes a kind of awareness in which people pay attention to their feelings and thoughts in the moment. They do this without judgement. Mindfulness coaches help clients find a calmer way to respond to stress and feelings of anxiety.

FRAGILE! Coaching With Care

Fragile sticker on parcel packaging
Counselling is also a form of coaching that has been used throughout the pandemic

During the pandemic, many businesses have offered their staff counselling to help with life’s problems. This is also a form of coaching. These coaching styles include:

  • Career coaching.
  • Finance coaching.
  • Mental health coaching.
  • Health and wellness coaching.
  • Relationship and family coaching.
  • Spiritual coaching.

Coaching by Numbers

2 Types of Coaching

Some people have adopted the following methods:

  • Calendar driven coaching.
  • Event-driven coaching.

With calendar driven coaching, the frequency of coaching contributes to boosting clients’ skills. Event-driven coaching occurs after something happens to make a particular learning relevant and there’s a “teachable moment.”

4 Coaching Styles

Individual coaches each have their own way of working to help individuals reach their potential. Different people have contrasting levels of assertiveness and expressiveness, which affect how their coachees respond:

  • Direct: High assertiveness and low expressiveness.
  • Spirited: High assertiveness and high expressiveness.
  • Considerate: High assertiveness and low expressiveness.
  • Systematic: Low assertiveness and low expressiveness.

For technical subjects, a systematic coach is probably more effective than a spirited one. When stirring people up for a sales campaign, a spirited coach is more appropriate.

6 Communication Skills for Coaching

Improving your communication skills will make you a better coach. You need to work on these areas:

  • Listen – check-in by paraphrasing.
  • Be credible – knowledge, fairness, consistency.
  • Use positive judgement – flag up when they’re doing well.
  • Make your messages information rich.
  • Be consistent.
  • Express your emotions.

Emotion in Practice, Empathy in the Game – Coaching Lessons From Sport

Closeup of two people holding hands
Emotion and empathy is also key to effective coaching styles

Any conversation about coaching is bound to draw on sport coaching eventually. The basketball coach John Wooden saw himself as a practice coach, focusing on the process before the game. He taught his teams to do their best to be the best they could be. And let the result take care of itself. His approach involved:

  • Believing, not berating.
  • Explaining, not exclaiming.
  • Inspiring, not insulting.
  • Shouting, but not screaming.
  • Process, not performance.

Other coaches also equip their team to manage stress by being tough in practice as they master the process. Then, during the game, they are empathetic. There are definitely parallels to apply to business.

And Finally: Find the Best Coaching Style – and Then Where Could it Lead?!

Once you’re familiar with the different coaching styles we’ve been considering, follow these three steps:

  • Identify the client’s ideal learning style.
  • Design a programme that will work best for these different styles.
  • Check-in regularly and adjust as needed.

Sports coaches’ achievements aren’t always limited to their sport.  As we’ve said in previous articles, Gareth Southgate is a bestselling author with his book Anything Is Possible. We don’t know where his career will lead.

Back to coach John Wooden, mentioned just now. He went on to develop his Pyramid of Success, a roadmap to being a better person. Qualities include industriousness, loyalty, alertness, initiative, enthusiasm, self-control, friendship, co-operation, intentness, confidence, skill, team spirit, poise, condition, and competitive greatness.

The ‘Coach Wooden Philosophy’ is summed up in this quote. “Success is peace of mind. It’s a direct result of knowing you did your best to become the best you’re capable of becoming.” And it all started with basketball coaching. Where will your coaching journey lead?!

And finally, the acronym ‘GROW’ stands for Goal setting: current Reality: Options: and the Way forwardMaking Business Matter’s ‘GROW’ and Advanced ‘GROW’ Coaching Cards confirm our soft skills training expertise. We also offer Coaching Skills Training and Executive Coaching courses. involving the ‘GROW’ model.

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