The Leader as Coach

Values and Vision

Author: Dave Thomas

A very educational piece from “The Harvard Business Review” about how being a leader is now becoming more about being a coach.

Once upon a time, most people began successful careers by developing expertise in a technical, functional, or professional domain. Doing your job well meant having the right answers. The role of the manager, in short, is becoming that of a coach.

You’re Not as Good as You Think

For leaders who are accustomed to tackling performance problems by telling people what to do, a coaching approach often feels too “soft.” What’s more, it can make them psychologically uncomfortable, because it deprives them of their most familiar management tool: asserting their authority. So they resist coaching—and left to their own devices, they may not even give it a try.

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The GROW Model

One of the best ways to get better at non-directive coaching is to try conversing using the GROW model, devised in the 1980s by Sir John Whitmore and others. GROW involves four action steps, the first letters of which give the model its name.
The four action steps are these:


When you begin discussing a topic with someone you’re coaching, establish exactly what he wants to accomplish right now. Not what his goals are for the project or his job or his role in the organisation, but what he hopes to get out of this particular exchange. People don’t do this organically in most conversations, and they often need help with it. A good way to start is to ask something like “What do you want when you walk out the door that you don’t have now?”

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With the goal of your conversation established, ask questions rooted in what, when, where, and who, each of which forces people to come down out of the clouds and focus on specific facts. This makes the conversation real and constructive. You’ll notice that we didn’t include why. That’s because asking why demands that people explore reasons and motivations rather than facts. In doing that, it can carry overtones of judgement or trigger attempts at self-justification, both of which can be counterproductive.


When people come to you for coaching, they often feel stuck. “There’s nothing I can do,” they might tell you. Or “I have only one real option.” Or “I’m torn between A and B.”
At this point your task is to help them think more broadly and more deeply. To broaden the conversation, sometimes it’s enough to ask something as simple as “If you had a magic wand, what would you do?” You’d be surprised how freeing many people find that question to be—and how quickly they then start thinking in fresh, productive ways. Once they’ve broadened their perspective and discovered new options, your job is to prompt them to deepen their thinking, perhaps by encouraging them to explore the upside, the downside, and the risks of each option.


This step also doesn’t usually happen organically in conversations, so again most people will need help with it. The step actually has two parts, each involving a different sense of the word will.
In the first part you ask, “What will you do?” This encourages the person you’re coaching to review the specific action plan that has emerged from your conversation. If the conversation has gone well, she’ll have a clear sense of what that plan is. If she doesn’t, you’ll need to cycle back through the earlier steps of the GROW process and help her define how she’ll attack the problem.

Leadership Coaching In Organisations

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