Organisational Development

Coaching skills for managers

Coaching is "unlocking people's potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them" - Sir John Whitmore, a pioneer of the executive coaching industry. Learn how to utilise a coaching approach to engage, inspire and support your team.

Using a Coaching approach

As a manager, you can employ key coaching skills using effective questioning techniques to provide helpful feedback on an individual’s performance, whilst challenging and supporting that person, to help them reach their full potential in a specific area. Coaching approaches can be used to enhance an individual’s skills, knowledge or work performance and can be used for different situations, including:

Coaching as a Manager workshop

Organisational Development offer the Coaching as a Manager workshop as part of the Management Essentials programme. These workshops run on a rolling basis every term and are open to all staff with or taking on management/leadership responsibilities.

Workshop attendees will learn how to utilise the coaching mindset and apply coaching skills, and experience a short self-coaching exercise with impact. This workshop covers:

  • The value of adopting a coaching mindset as a manager
  • How and when to take a coaching approach with your team
  • The core skills involved in coaching
  • An introduction to the GROW model.

View the Organisational Development events calendar to see upcoming workshop dates and book a place.

The benefits of coaching

Adopting a coaching approach, as opposed to a telling or directive approach, can offer several benefits in various personal and professional contexts.


  • Empowers team members
  • Respects diversity of the team and different ways of doing things
  • Demonstrates interest in team members and their contribution
  • Recognises effort, investment, and team ownership
  • Encourages self-reflection and learning
  • Engagement and energy


  • Limits opportunities to take initiative and test new approaches
  • Assumes one "right" way of doing things
  • Greater focus on output alone
  • Retains ownership (manager may assume credit 
  • Limits opportunities for growth
  • Can lead to disengagement

Coaching in Practice: Setting the coaching space 

“Everything we do depends for its quality on the thinking we do first. Our thinking depends on the quality of our attention for each other” - Nancy Kline, Founder of the Thinking Environment and President of Time to Think.

After years of research and observation, Nancy Kline recognised that people generate their best thinking when treated in particular ways by those around them. Kline’s book ‘Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind’ is a very interesting read that elaborates how to integrate the concept of the Thinking Environment in different settings. It also expands on the ten principles and how to construct incisive questions for maximum impact.

The 10 components of a Thinking Environment

  1. Attention - listening with respect, interest and fascination
  2. Equality - treating each other as thinking peers
  3. Ease - offering freedom from rush or urgency
  4. Appreciation - practising a 5 to 1 ratio of appreciation to criticism
  5. Encouragement - moving beyond competition
  6. Feelings - allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking
  7. Diversity - adding quality because of the differences between us
  8. Incisive questions - removing assumptions that limit ideas
  9. Information - providing a full and accurate picture of reality
  10. Place - create an environment that says back to people: "you matter"

Applying the Thinking Environment principles: Active Listening

In terms of effective listening, our focus for practice is on four of the key components: Attention, Equality, Appreciation and Ease. This approach aims to promote a positive and respectful listening environment that encourages open communication and understanding.

  • Set the intention to step into an active listening space
  • Keep your eyes on the person, ideally on their eyes, even when they look away
  • Create a sense of ease; remove any urgency or rush
  • Listen with active interest
  • Convey a sense of appreciation for the person as a thinker
  • Try to hear the meaning beyond the words
  • Allow silence while the other person pauses to think
  • Let the coachee know that this is their time and that you won’t interrupt. Then don’t.
  • Much of what the coachee says will be the result of your effect on them.
  • Your job is to help your colleague think for themselves, not to think for them.
  • Remember that the expression of feelings is often part of the thinking process

Using the GROW model

The GROW model, developed by Sir John Whitmore and his colleagues in the 1980s, is a widely used coaching framework designed to guide individuals through a structured process of goal setting and problem-solving. 

GROW stands for Goal, Reality, Options, and Will; representing the key stages in the coaching conversation where individuals explore their aspirations, assess their current reality, generate potential options, and commit to specific actions to achieve their goals. Example questions or phrases you may want to use in each stage include: 

A question mark sketched in pencil


  • What would you like to achieve?
  • Where do you see this work/role taking you?
  • What would you like to get out of this time?
  • How will you know you've achieved what you wanted?


  • Where are you now in relation to X?
  • Tell me more about that.
  • Who else is involved in this goal/project?
  • What action(s) have you taken on this so far?
  • What were the effects of that action?


  • What could you do next?
  • What else could you do?
  • How long do you think it would take?
  • If you had the budget/time/support, what would you do now?
  • Who else might be able to contribute?


  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident do you feel that you will take this action?
  • Do you foresee any hitches/blocks?
  • When do you plan to complete this by?
  • How realistic does it feel?

Incisive questions

Incisive questions are precise and focused, cutting through ambiguity or surface-level details to reach the core of a topic. These questions are commonly used in various contexts, such as interviews, problem-solving sessions, discussions, or debates, where a clear understanding or a well-thought-out response is essential. Incisive questions can help stimulate critical thinking, encourage thorough exploration of ideas, and promote a deeper understanding of the subject at hand.

Examples of incisive questions include:

  • What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?
  • How would you like it to be?
  • What will it feel/look like when you've achieved it?
  • How will you know when you've reached it?
  • If you did have the budget, then what would you do?
  • If you had more time to work on this, where would you take it?
  • How would you know if you had resolved this problem?
  • What would need to happen to make you feel truly engaged with your work?
  • How do you reward yourself?

Further resources

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Contact and advice

Organisational Development
Sussex House SH-230
01273 075533 (ext 5533)