Coaching and mentoring skills for line managers

Here’s an article summarising coaching and mentoring skills for line managers. In my previous blog, I described the benefits of coaching and mentoring. I described the benefits from a number of different perspectives: the coachee/mentee, the team, the organisation and the coach her/himself.

For this article I’d like focus on the line manager’s perspective. What skills would we need in a line management role in order to coach or mentor our team members effectively?

There are lots of different skills required to coach and mentor and many of them are complimentary but different from the skills required to supervise and line manage. I’m going to draw upon the International Coach Federation ‘Core Competencies’ in order to structure this article. The interpretation of these core competencies presented in this article is entirely my own.

So let’s get started:

The author W.Timothy Gallwey (‘Inner Game of…’ books) offers the following formula: Performance = Ability x Effort x Support.

He suggests that performance is being able to carry out the skill and behavioural requirements of a job role to a consistently high standard. The ‘Support’ element of this equation is what I’m interested in here. Team members can be supported in many different ways, with coaching, mentoring and supervision being some of the most obvious methods chosen my line managers (or the organisation).

Ethics, Professional Standards and Boundaries

To me this section represents the ‘necessary basics’. Let me speak plainly for a moment: if you can’t get these right, you shouldn’t be coaching or mentoring anyone.

The key to getting the ethics, professional standards and boundaries right is self-awareness. Anyone wishing to support the learning of another person needs to have the recipient’s best interests at the front and centre of their mind.

The line manager needs to know the all of the relevant professional standards and know the expectations that the context imposes upon the relationship. Both parties should know / recognise when the limits of the relationship have been reached – when the ‘support’ has gone too far – become (psycho)therapy, parenting, consultancy, friends et cetera. The best approach here is for both line manager and team member to be open and transparent from the start, agreeing together individual preferences for learning and the appropriate style and nature of the support offered / required.

‘Line manager as coach / mentor’ can present some ‘boundaries issues’ for me. On the training courses I run, this is always a lively discussion (and will be discussed in own future blog posts).

Building Relationships and Positive Role Modelling

In order to develop other people there needs to be trust in the relationship. I would suggest there is a positive correlation between trust and ‘challenge’. The greater we wish to stretch an individual’s thinking / abilities the greater the level of trust required. So for the line manager, developing basic work-based skills or improving task-level behavioural improvements through coaching and mentoring should be easily possible with moderate levels of trust and cooperation. To really stretch someone and generate deeper (perhaps transformational) insights i.e. big shifts in thinking, may be harder for someone in a line management role. Some may argue it is best left for an in-house or external coach or mentor.

Effective Communication

I think role modelling the giving and receiving of high quality feedback is a cornerstone of effective line management. The key skills here are to have choice over your approach / style of communication. Active listening, powerful questioning and direct communication take time to learn well. In the workplace setting, it is important to recognise the barriers to effective communication and work hard to reduce them. This becomes even more important when coaching and mentoring a team member, as often these one-to-one interactions put both parties ‘under the spotlight’.

Facilitating Learning and Results

This is where it gets a lot more fun. As a line manager we often have unique insight into getting things done effectively at work. Like me, you can probably see where other people (your team members? your manager?!) are under developed. So as a coach or mentor we can help people plan better, prioritise, make decisions, develop better judgement or solve problems on their own.

The skill a line manager needs here is to facilitate learning: to help others to reflect, support them to evaluate their own performance, to create opportunities to learn, to plan and monitor their achievements and progress. And do all of this without offering the solution.

In conclusion, I think coaching and mentoring skills are essential (and transferrable) leadership skills that are fun and interesting to learn. They offer someone in a line management position the ability to increase levels of team and individual performance. They enable team members to think for themselves. And they represent a competitive advantage for the business too.

If you are interested in developing your coaching / mentoring skills do get in touch.

There are lots of options on offer. I offer CMI Level 5 Award and Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring in conjunction with Mandy Underwood from Developing U. Details of our course can be found here.