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Jackie Clifford

Clarity Learning and Development


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Ten ways to use coaching and mentoring as effectively as possible

Coaching and mentoring are crucial to leadership development and must be clearly defined and prioritised

I have designed and delivered many management and leadership development programmes and sessions during my 30+ years in L&D. 

I find it interesting that we still have some of the same debates in 2023 as we did in the 1990s. 

These include:

  • Why do we promote technical specialists into people management roles and expect them to perform effectively with little or no support?
  • What is the role of qualifications in leadership and management development?
  • How can we help individuals to develop leadership and management skills quickly and effectively?
  • How can we ensure that any off-job learning around leadership and management is implemented back in the workplace?

Delving into the ‘how’

From listening to these debates and working with new managers as they talk about their roles, challenges and the support that they need, I have come to the conclusion that coaching and mentoring are crucial methods to support managers to develop both their leadership and management competence and their confidence. 

In this article, I’d like to share a few top tips and ideas around how to use coaching and mentoring as effectively as possible.

  1. Be clear about what you are expecting from your leaders and managers in terms of:
  • Activities, which can be categorised as either leadership or management
  • Behaviours – in line with your values and desired culture
  • Changes that you wish to see in leadership and management across the organisation
  • Knowledge and skills that you would expect leaders and managers to demonstrate
  • What good management and leadership looks like on a daily basis

Coaching and mentoring are crucial methods to support managers to develop both their leadership and management competence and their confidence

Deciding on definitions

2. Decide how you are going to define ‘coaching’ and ‘mentoring’ in the context of leadership and management development.

It may be that the traditional definitions of coaching and mentoring (where these are two separate disciplines) don’t quite fit. 

Many managers need space to explore their challenges, identify options to address them and decide on a way forward – this sits within a definition of coaching. 

On other occasions the individual wants to hear the thoughts and ideas of someone who has ‘been there, done it and got the t-shirt’ i.e. mentoring. 

My experience is showing me that, particularly with new managers, there is a hybrid way of working. 

Finding the right combination

A combination of coaching and mentoring might look like: 

  • Questions that help the individual to identify the key features of their challenge
  • Questions to explore the risks and implications of the specific challenge for the manager, their team and the organisation
  • Questions to help generate options for addressing the challenge
  • Input on some ideas, models and techniques which could be applied to the scenario
  • Questions to explore the pros and cons of each option
  • Discussion and questioning to help the individual reach a decision on a course of action

Reviewing learning activities and roles

3. Consider what learning activities managers and leaders are currently undertaking:

  • Are individuals participating in a formal programme of learning e.g. a tailored development programme or an apprenticeship?
  • Are individuals learning in a self-directed way via books, podcasts and other materials?
  • How are individuals currently applying their learning from these methods?

What barriers exist to learning transfer?

4. Review the current role of the line managers of the individuals who are developing their leadership and management skills. 

To what extent are the line managers supporting their team members to create and work on a development plan which has specific focus on leadership and management skills?

Plans and support

5. Use existing systems and processes to establish (or enhance) development plans so that they not only cover technical skills but also leadership and management skills.

6. Identify appropriate coach-mentors – this might be from inside the organisation or by sourcing external support.

Ensure that the coach-mentors demonstrate their competence and that they are aware of what the organisation is working towards in terms of leadership and management development.

7. Set up feedback and development loops which involve the coach-mentors, their coachees and the line managers of the coachees.

Use this framework to monitor progress.

Learning in action 

8. Put in place mechanisms that support all managers and leaders in the organisation to apply their learning and change their behaviours.

Reward the small, incremental changes that individuals make as they implement their learning.

Hold individuals to account for actions that they have committed to on their development plans.

Provide regular and ongoing feedback so that individuals can see the result of their learning. 

Hold individuals to account for actions that they have committed to on their development plans

Prioritise coaching sessions

9. Ensure that coaching sessions are viewed as a priority so that they don’t get pushed out of diaries because of operational demands. 

Encourage individuals to diarise a block of coaching sessions so that dates and times are firmly scheduled.

10. Regularly review progress against desired outcomes and measures of success so that there is an incentive to continue learning and developing. 

Learning from experience

These tips come from my own experience of working with individuals and groups of managers. I hope that you see that they are also grounded in good practice around learning, development and learning transfer

For those of you who have your own experiences, please do share them so that the list of tips can grow and support the use of coaching and mentoring within leadership and management development. 

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this, read: How routines and rituals influence a coaching culture


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Jackie Clifford


Read more from Jackie Clifford

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