HomeEmployee ExperienceEngagementThe leader-as-coach model: a critical paradigm for employee retention and professional development

The leader-as-coach model: a critical paradigm for employee retention and professional development

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Workplace leadership expert Paul Falcone presents the leader-as-coach model as a crucial method for strengthening cultures, performance, and development

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Paul Falcone

Employee retention is a hot topic in this post-COVID reintegration period because talent is so difficult to come by. However, Gen-Y Millennials and Gen-Z Zoomers are the most studied generational cohorts in world history, and we know that career and professional development ranks highest in many surveys, along with working for an ethical company and a management team that cares about them personally.

Wise employers will look to these priorities to build their teams and strengthen their cultures going forward. And it’s not as difficult as it sounds: all it takes is a simple change to your sponsoring thought about who you are as an organization and who you choose to be. This is the foundation of the leader-as-coach model.

What is the leader-as-coach model?

The key to the leader-as-coach model lies in asking the right questions and making space for your employees to gain traction in their careers. Those questions—well thought out and strategically placed at key points in the employment relationship—go a long way in helping workers find new ways of motivating themselves while contributing to your organization in light of its changing needs.

Asking the right questions rather than telling employees what to do creates a sense of empowerment and professional growth and ownership that most employees respond well to.

Turning departmental leaders and front-line managers into coaches, rather than unilateral decision-makers and disciplinarians, creates a subtle culture shift in a fairly short amount of time—as long as managers know what to ask and feel comfortable doing so.

Coaching questions in the interviewing process

The employee development paradigm can actually begin during the pre-employment process when you interview candidates for a position. The three following questions can go a long way in encouraging career introspection and helping job applicants articulate out loud what they’re truly looking for in their next position:

  1. What’s your primary reason for considering leaving your current company, and how would joining our firm help satisfy that need?
  2. What criteria are you using in selecting your next career opportunity, and what would joining our organization do for you in terms of building your resume and LinkedIn profile over the longer term?
  3. If you were to accept this position with us right now, how would you explain that to a prospective employer five years from now? In other words, how would this role serve as a link to your future career progression?

These aren’t easy questions to answer. But they’re challenging because they require a certain amount of career introspection on the candidate’s part. Most candidates will walk away feeling impressed by an organization that takes such an interest in them personally and in their career needs.

Coaching questions for employee development

Building employee accountability stems from a combination of trust and expectations of high performance. Telling your employees what to do, micromanaging, or otherwise holding their hands won’t get managers very far.

In comparison, stretch assignments, goal-setting, and allowing employees the freedom to execute in their own unique way will often beget high levels of loyalty, appreciation, and trust. The development of a strong talent bench stems from leaders who trust and respect their workers as well as those who create an environment where employees can motivate themselves.

The following coaching questions tend to work well every quarter to strengthen performance, achievement, and accountability:

  1. What makes you stand out among your peers? How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors, and how can I help you do your best work every day with peace of mind?
  2. What professional or career-related opportunities are you most excited about pursuing? How can we make one of your annual goals about or build your individual development plan around what’s most significant to you at this point in your career?
  3. How can I support you more in terms of gaining greater organizational exposure, educational certification, or leadership development?

Leaders following the leader-as-coach model likewise typically focus on helping employees codify and quantify their achievements in terms of dollars or percentages.  The more that managers can help their staff members develop an “achievement mindset,” the better they’ll be able to sort through the weeds and keep their eye on their goals.

The importance of questions and communication

Coaching by asking appropriate questions may take a little getting used to, but your management team may just find profound results over time with this simple shift in leadership focus. Provide your operational leadership team with the appropriate questions to ask at critical junctures: during the pre-hire interview process, during quarterly development meetings, and while preparing for annual performance reviews.

Treat adults like adults: ensure that they set the time on your calendar and prepare the agenda for those quarterly meetings. Managers should explain that their role in those meetings is to serve as coaches and mentors.

Likewise, communicate that quarterly reviews are a formal part of the annual performance appraisal process. And let staff members know that you expect them to capture and quantify their achievements throughout the past quarter or year in “bullets”. You can help them with this and ask them to tie these to core organizational goals.

The leader-as-coach model will grow the next generation of talent

Selfless leadership is the name of the game when it comes to effective internal coaching. Nowhere does it show itself more than in your current leadership team’s willingness to foster and grow the next generation of talent. In fact, it may be just what an organization needs to transition the culture to be more team-oriented and selflessly focused.

This, and the leader-as-coach model, all begins with the questions that managers ask and their willingness to make time for employees to focus on goal attainment and professional development. One thing’s for sure, though. No employee will leave your organization feeling that management “doesn’t care, doesn’t get it, and is totally tone deaf” to their needs. Your management team will likewise be able to develop a leadership mindset that helps them grow strong teams and become people’s “favorite boss.” That’s a gift that keeps on giving. It is a portable skill that they can pay forward. Lastly, it’s an opportunity to give to others what they want for. This is a truly a valuable benefit for their own career and professional development as well.


Paul Falcone is principal of Paul Falcone Workplace Leadership Consulting, LLC in Los Angeles, specializing in management & leadership training, executive coaching, international keynote speaking, and HR advisory services. He is the former CHRO of Nickelodeon and has held senior-level HR positions with Paramount Pictures, Time Warner, and City of Hope. He has extensive experience in entertainment, healthcare/biotech, and financial services, including in international, nonprofit, and union environments.

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