Coaching has become part method, part technique, and part buzzword when people are describing the process of developing employees. The idea that not only does everyone have the ability to coach, but that it’s now a necessity for effective managers is a leading force in successful organizations.

But coaching is not holding a weekend seminar for magical transformation, although many wish this was true. People do not get better by attending one-off events; they get better through a process, and coaching is not a get-skills-quick proposition. Nor is coaching just about getting results; it’s about getting results for and through others. You can’t do a great job coaching by just believing in yourself — you must believe steadfastly in the potential development of those you lead.

Being a good coach means you’re someone who truly cares about people. You can encourage them to take charge of their own careers and take actions that maximize their potential. You must be searching for the keys to unlocking the potential in those you lead in order to fuel their growth.  

Here are five ways you can do that:

  1. Identify areas of development.

Taking into consideration that you’ve clearly identified the behaviors and skills the job requires, you probably realize no person is going to come in perfectly matched for a role. This creates a question: Do they need skill development or do they need coaching or do they need both?

Let’s say an employee has enough desirable skill for you to hire them for the job, but they’re missing one or two essential skills. This requires skill development. If they have all the skills needed, but they need honing and sharpening, then the answer is coaching. In most situations I’ve been involved with, both skills development and coaching are required.


  1. Encourage initiative and improvement.

You can’t create initiative and energy. You have to make sure they’re present when you make the hire. Assuming you’ve done that, you then need to be the kind of coach who encourages the usage of it. You want your people to always focus, direct, or slightly pull back — you don’t want someone you have to push forward all the time. When your employee takes initiative, make sure you encourage that. The key here is to clearly communicate where initiative is appreciated, rather than leaving them to figure it out on their own.


  1. Express confidence in their ability to perform.

This goes hand in hand with hiring people with initiative — the same applies with confidence. You want to make sure your team members have an adequate level of confidence and a healthy self-esteem. When team members lack these things, you spend more time building up their confidence and soothing over paranoia and hurt feelings than you do working toward improved performance.


  1. Provide opportunities for development.

You need to be looking down the road at least a year or two for each of your team members. As you’re visioning a path forward for them, you need to clarify with yourself what your expectations for them are. What do they need to work on? In what areas do they need to be better? You need to make sure these things are clear to you so you can clearly communicate with them. You don’t have to give them the whole plan, although you can if you want. I prefer to lay out a year down the road then proceed quarter by quarter and add to the development little by little as improvement is demonstrated.


  1. Acknowledge improvements.

One of the biggest causes of employee disengagement is when employees don’t feel that people in charge know who they are or what they do. In smaller teams, this is not as big of an issue as it is in bigger organizations, but the same principles apply. When you acknowledge improvements in your team members’ performance, it creates enthusiasm. Everyone — at least those with a healthy self-esteem — loves acknowledgment and praise for a job well done.


Tony Richards is an organizational and executive development expert and CEO of Clear Vision Development Group, a leadership and strategy firm in Columbia, Missouri. He is one of Inc. magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers and thinkers. His firm’s website is Follow Tony on Twitter @tonyrichards4.


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