Jobs and the Future of Work

Effective leaders don’t give advice — they coach

To be an effective leader stop prescribing advice and start helping people come up with their own solutions.

To be an effective leader stop prescribing advice and start helping people come up with their own solutions. Image: REUTERS

Ian Burke
Writer, Big Think
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  • Although managers who constantly give advice might mean well, the best managers are those who help their employees set actionable goals, give constructive feedback, and practice compassionate directness.
  • Unfortunately, the percentage of managers who use coaching as a leadership strategy is slim.
  • As an effective leader, this is your opportunity to point your employees in the right direction and allow them to find their own paths toward success.

All managers want to see their employees thrive, but it can be tricky to maintain a balance between guiding and hand-holding.

While some managers might think the best way to lead is to constantly offer their employees advice, recent research suggests that coaching employees or helping employees maximize their own performance potential is a more effective leadership style. Unfortunately, the percentage of managers who use coaching as a leadership strategy is slim. In fact, a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review shows that the majority of managers act as consultants rather than coaches. In other words, they lead their teams by micromanaging and prescribing advice — not by helping them learn to come up with their own solutions.

Unfortunately, the percentage of managers who use coaching as a leadership strategy is slim.
Unfortunately, the percentage of managers who use coaching as a leadership strategy is slim.

The importance of coaching for effective leadership

Although managers who constantly give advice might mean well, the best managers are those who help their employees set actionable goals, give constructive feedback, and practice compassionate directness. Here are three simple Microsteps (small, science-backed, too-small to fail behavior changes) to help you avoid management pitfalls and become a better, more effective leader.

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To be an effective leader, start each of your meetings by telling everyone what the goal is.

There's nothing worse than ending a meeting with the feeling that you didn't accomplish what you set out to do. An easy remedy for this is to begin each meeting by setting an actionable goal for your team, and allowing your employees to work towards that goal as a unit. By immediately and clearly stating the meeting's purpose, managers are able to foster a sense of team unity around achieving the shared goal.

Before your next one-on-one, pause to reflect before giving feedback.

Considering your employee's point of view is a crucial step in the feedback process, but reflecting on your current state of mind is just as important. If you're feeling stressed, rushed, or burned out, you're more likely to deliver feedback without compassion or empathy — even if that's unintentional. In your next meeting, before you offer any feedback, try pausing and taking stock of your emotional well-being before offering constructive feedback. As an effective leader, this is your opportunity to point your employees in the right direction and allow them to find their own paths toward success.

Each time you have constructive feedback, share it with compassion.

Above all, remembering to always practice compassionate directness is key to being an effective leader and strengthening employee-manager relationships. Compassionate directness — or empowering employees to speak up, give feedback, disagree, and surface problems in real time, rather than waiting for structured employee reviews — allows teams to foster a healthier, more trusting company culture. Even when delivering criticism, always remember to be straightforward, kind, and understanding. This lets employees know that you're not trying to put them down, but rather give them the feedback they need to grow as individuals. Giving compassionately direct feedback is how we course-correct and come up with many of our best ideas.

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Related topics:
Jobs and the Future of WorkSocial InnovationWellbeing and Mental Health
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