One to Ones ~ Leader as Coach: When to use a Coach Approach

When to use a Coach Approach  – Overview

Previously, you’ve read here that it’s more difficult for a leader to coach his or her team members directly, due to the conflict of interest that you have: you want them to perform well in this role, where they may want to discuss a move to a new role for example.  Despite this difficulty, you can still use a coach-approach, contracting at the start, asking more questions than telling, listening rather than advising, supporting and challenging them towards action, getting a commitment.

In this new series, I will write about all the different kinds of conversations where you, the leader as coach, can use a coach-approach with your team members:



  • One-to-ones
  • Giving frequent feedback
  • Team meetings
  • Corridor conversations
  • Career Change discussion
  • Re-joining the workforce
  • Coaching a new joiner
  • Coaching for a change in role
  • Coaching someone who is moving roles internally
  • Coaching for promotion
  • Coaching upwards
  • Coaching before and after training
  • Coaching when leaving the organisation

Let’s start with one-to-ones.

One to Ones

First thing to say is that I hope you are, indeed, having one-to-ones on a regular basis.  They need your focused time to enable them to move forward. What’s the right cadence?  I’d suggest once every two weeks at a minimum.  Less than that, and you risk them losing momentum on the key deliverables in their portfolio of work.  You look good if your team makes progress!


When you delegate a task or project, you will need to be clear about expectations.  Though this is not a time to use a coach approach!  Ensure you are both clear on what success looks like.  Discuss the outcomes you are both aiming for early and often:

  • outcome that is needed – the deliverable and any standards for meeting that
  • deadline and milestones between now and then
  • context, and where this fits into the business strategy
  • barriers to success
  • resources that are required
  • tools available
  • people who might be affected

Delegate early, because the employee will need more time to complete this the first time around.

Delegate whole tasks – if you truly want the experience to be meaningful to the employee, transfer as much of the task as possible (e.g., rather than only delegating the creation of a report, delegate the analysis of it and the presentation of the themes in a meeting etc).

Here’s a set of questions that I suggest you might use in a one-to-one to keep them moving forwards with each task or project that you have delegated.  Edit the questions, make them yours, but do ask questions that get them to be independent, critical thinkers.  By using a Coach Approach, you want them to be self-reliant when you are not there, so helping them to figure it out for themselves will get them into that groove, where telling them what to do will make them more dependent on you and more likely to stall when you are not there to answer their questions.

Focus on the most important, value-added tasks/projects that the individual is working on this week.  For each task/project, ask:

  • Last time we met, you said you were planning to__________.  How did that work for you? [Congratulate them for their progress and successes]
  • What challenges and problems are you facing?
  • How might you resolve those?
  • How are other people reacting? How are you dealing with that?
  • How can I help you? [this is not about doing it for them, rather helping them to think through how to knock down the barriers]
  • What actions will you take next week to move this forward?
  • What are you learning? [Give them feedback on what you are noticing about their behaviours and outcomes; this could be constructive feedback and/or positive feedback]
  • How are you developing others through this big rock?

I’ll share more about the feedback piece next time.  In the meantime, I challenge you to experiment with this coach approach to see how much further it takes you and your employee.