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  • Writer's pictureKarim Harbott

5 Essential Coaching Skills For Agile Leaders

5 Essential Coaching Skills For Agile Leaders
5 Essential Coaching Skills For Agile Leaders

It's a common belief that while many aspire to change the world, they're less inclined to change themselves. This sentiment is especially relevant for senior leaders. Traditional leadership models once prioritized leaders who had all the answers, praised for their extensive knowledge, detail-oriented approach, and command over problem-solving and directive giving.

However, the rapid evolution of the business world, characterized by increased market volatility, complexity, and unpredictability, necessitates a different leadership style. No leader, regardless of their intelligence, can single-handedly make all decisions effectively due to limitations in cognitive capacity, knowledge scope, and physical presence. Attempting to do so can lead to inefficiencies and hinder organizational agility and speed.

Effective leadership in uncertain times means decentralizing decision-making and empowering teams at all levels to develop their own solutions. Achieving this requires leaders to foster clear, unified objectives, aligning the goals of individuals, teams, and the organization, and enhancing people’s abilities to tackle complex problems methodically. Leaders must first transform themselves to make their organizations more agile, innovative, and adaptable. In an era where having all the answers is impossible, the emphasis shifts to asking the right questions.

This is where coaching skills become vital. Coaching fundamentally involves aiding others in growth and potential realization. However, many leaders lack these skills, and coaching techniques are often absent from MBA and leadership training programs. Based on my experience with executives, I've identified five key coaching skills essential for modern leaders in an uncertain world:

  1. Establishing Rapport and a Safe Environment: Trust and psychological safety are crucial for any relationship. Leaders can foster this through their language and behavior, setting the stage for open, honest communication - a cornerstone of coaching.

  2. Engaging in Active Listening: Often underutilized in business, active listening involves genuine care and interest in others. It makes people feel valued and is rare in business contexts. Effective leaders balance expressing their own views with understanding others. This involves being fully present, maintaining eye contact, clearing your mind of distractions, and giving others space to express themselves.

  3. Clarifying Growth Goals: Understanding the desired outcome is essential before beginning any journey. Leaders should encourage individuals to set and own their development goals, offering support and guidance. This process requires time and focused attention.

  4. Asking Insightful Questions: Powerful questioning can lead to deep reflection and new insights, not just in formal coaching sessions but in everyday conversations. Providing solutions can be momentarily satisfying, but it robs individuals of the opportunity to learn and grow. Leaders should instead focus on asking questions that encourage self-discovery.

  5. Holding People Accountable for Growth Actions: Identifying goals is one thing; acting on them is another. Replacing annual reviews with ongoing coaching conversations about progress and future steps, possibly tracked through objectives and key results (OKRs), can ensure continual development and support.

In this modern context, agile leadership is about developing people as much as it is about setting organizational direction. Leaders should be seen not as omnipotent figures but as facilitators of growth, akin to gardeners who create conditions for plants to flourish rather than growing the plants themselves.

Just as plants need the right soil, nutrients, water, and sunlight, people need an environment where they can thrive. Success in high-level positions and complex businesses increasingly relies on the leader's ability to elevate those around them. Future CEOs must be not only adept managers and strategists but also proficient coaches.


If you would like to dive more deeply into Agile Leadership and Business Agility, we have three great options to help you grow in that space:

1) Check out Karim’s best-selling book, The 6 Enablers of Business Agility.

2) Check out Karim’s self-paced, on-demand Agile Leadership & Business Agility course.

3) Attend Karim’s live Certified Agile Leader (CAL) class.

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