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Increasing coaching capabilities for managers

Clarity and radical listening are two of the four steps Marlene Chism outlines for leaders seeking to increase their manager's coaching skills.

5 min read


coaching capabilities

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Marlene Chism

Whether we describe those in charge as supervisor, boss, manager or leader, the terms and roles have become outdated. Inspired by Art Petty’s article “The old model of manager is broken,” we need to rethink manager development as well as the title, perhaps envisioning managers of the future as coaches. If you embrace the idea of transforming your managers into coaches, here are four skills to dramatically increase coaching capabilities. 

Leadership clarity

Where there’s conflict, there’s always a lack of clarity. The lack of clarity could be policies that are outdated and no longer align with strategic objectives. The lack of clarity could be in roles, job descriptions, definitions, or any number of areas. 

A common mistake is jumping into problem-solving before accurately describing the situation or immediately looking for fault. Before seeking accountability, leaders need to look at the situation dispassionately by answering two questions:

  1. Where is there a lack of clarity?
  2. What is happening that should not be happening?

Until you’ve answered these two questions, it’s a waste of time to think about details, history or who’s to blame. 

Mastering your narrative

Human beings are meaning-making machines, and leaders are no exception. We interpret situations, create meaning, then make decisions based on emotion rather than facts and observed behaviors. The new employee didn’t report to work, and you’ve called, but they didn’t answer. You texted but got nothing. You suspect it’s because they didn’t like your conversation two weeks ago about returning to a hybrid workplace. You’re angry and see more evidence they aren’t cooperative. Later you discover they had a medical emergency and were rushed to the hospital. 

Unchecked narratives and high emotions impede problem-solving, making a leader incapable of coaching others. Here’s how it works. Something unwanted happens and triggers a thought. The thought triggers a feeling. Thought and feeling blend together to create a story. If you want to coach others, you have to be able to gain control of the narrative, separating fact from fiction by using these two questions:

  1. Is this a fact or my interpretation?
  2. What else could be true?

If there’s strong emotion, chances are there’s a story lurking somewhere. When you learn how to master your narrative, you gain the skill to see how other people’s narratives affect their experience, giving you an inside edge on coaching others and mediating conflict.  

Radical listening

It’s difficult to listen when you’re angry. Suppose you’re in a difficult conversation, and your employee says something like, “That’s not fair,” or “I knew you’d say that.” Every bone in your body wants to defend, explain and seek understanding. Radical listening means putting aside your need to be understood in favor of understanding others first. Radical listening requires self-awareness and self-management. Signs you’re triggered include anger, impatience and feeling the need to prove a point. If you don’t have the capacity at that moment, delay the conversation by telling the other person you need space to process the situation. Once you’ve regained control, there are two things you can say, depending on the circumstances.

  1. Walk me through your thinking. 
  2. I hear you.  It sounds like you’re frustrated (or any other emotion you perceive). 

As a radical listener, your end game is to put your needs last, understand their point of view and make them feel acknowledged. Once someone feels acknowledged, they’re often ready to be coached.

Speaking to the vision

When problems arise, it’s easy to focus on what’s going wrong, the obstacles and the past. Any time the conversation starts to resemble verbal ping pong, it’s a sign to refocus. 

“No, I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did.”
“I knew you’d say that.” 

Notice the distraction. Shift the conversation by speaking to the vision. Here are two examples:

  1. It seems like we’ve gotten distracted. I want us to figure this out together. 
  2. What is our objective now? 

When you focus forward, the phrase “I don’t want to argue” becomes “I want us to come to an agreement by the end of today.” When you speak to the vision, you leave the past and blame behind, giving a clear vision of what’s next. What we once considered soft skills will take priority in the future of leadership. Leaders who work on their communication skills and coaching capacity will outpace the old model of supervisor and manager.  

Like any skill, coaching is a practice, not a one-time event or a singular workshop to attend. Start with any one of these coaching skills and practice daily. You’ll see how much easier it is to build bridges, get collaboration, increase accountability and get things done. 


Marlene Chism is a consultant, speaker and author of “From Conflict to Courage: How To Stop Avoiding and Start Leading.” She is a recognized expert on the LinkedIn Global Learning platform. Connect with Chism via LinkedIn or at

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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