Coaching Solutions: Coaching Skills Every Successful Manager Must Use

By Lawyer and Executive Business Coach, Irene Leonard

Reprinted with the permission of the Association of Legal Administrators Puget Sound Chapter, June 2008.

Legal administrators become highly valued in their law firms when they use coaching skills as a part of their management toolbox. Coaching skills help you develop highly effective management teams, and help you help your staff excel in the performance of their duties.

This article is the first of a two-part series that describes ten coaching skills that every manager should practice. The purpose of these articles is to identify these key coaching skills so that you can decide how you can use them to enhance your management style. You might decide to learn more about coaching skills by getting specific coaching training, reading more about coaching, hiring a coach, or simply practicing these skills to learn what works best for you.

In his book Coaching For Performance, John Whitmore asserts, "Good coaching is a skill that requires a depth of understanding and plenty of practice if it is to be delivered to it's astonishing potential."

Here are the first two of ten coaching skills that can help you take your management skills to a higher level.

1. Ask Effective Questions

The single most important coaching skill to master is the ability – and it is an ability – to ask effective questions. Effective questions are those that help you help the person you are coaching (the “coachee”) identify the problem and develop a solution.

Telling people what to do is not as effective as helping people figure it out for themselves. When working with people to solve a problem, it's not empowering to tell them what to do; they need to understand the problem for themselves. When they do – and they solve the problem – they find more satisfaction in their work, and become enthusiastic about taking the initiative to solve future problems.

You help people solve their own problems by asking them thought-provoking questions (such as the ones listed below) and then waiting for the answer from the coachee. Do not supply the answer. Be patient, even if it means waiting what may seem to be a long time.

Your plan to increase your influence should include demonstrating that you are credible, reliable, honest, conscientious, and extremely trustworthy — to all current and future decision making partners.

Effective questions are open-ended – not leading – questions. They are not "why" questions, but rather "what" or "how" questions. "Why" questions may be good for soliciting information, but they can make people defensive; so be thoughtful in your use of them.

The following are examples of effective open-ended questions you can use in managing your staff.

Questions to Identify Issues
When you want to help the coachee identify the source of difficulties, use these questions:

Questions to Elicit Further Information
When you want to help the coachee examine the issue or problem more fully in order to bring further clarity, understanding, and appreciation of the issue, use the following questions:

Questions to Expand the Scope
When you want to help the coachee get beyond beliefs that limit their approach to a problem, use these questions:

Questions to Obtain Specific Results
Helping the coachee start with a specific result and then plan backwards is a very effective problem solving approach. When you want to help the coachee determine results, use these questions:

Questions to Determine Impact
When you want to help the coachee figure out what impact he or she is having on the other people involved, use these questions:

Questions to Elicit an Action Plan
Helping the coachee develop a course of action is often necessary. When you want to help the coachee come up with an action plan, use these questions:

Questions to Promote Taking Action
After you've helped the coachee examine the problem and come up with solutions, it's important to help him or her follow through. When you want to help the coachee take action, use these questions:

2. Practice Non-Judgmental Listening

Once you've asked your effective questions, it's very important to stop and listen non-judgmentally to the answers so that you give the coachee an opportunity to come up with solutions. Non-judgmental listening includes:

An additional eight coaching skills will be identified in the August edition, including skills that will make it obvious to your coachee that you are listening.


©Irene Leonard. After more than 19 years as a business lawyer, Irene Leonard offers professional development coaching services as an executive business coach. She helps lawyers improve their ability to manage and market. Go to her website or contact her at 206-723-9900 for more information.