Telling vs. Coaching: What’s Your Leadership Style?

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On November 8, 2019

Are You Coaching or Telling Your Employees What To Do?

Coaching vs tellingOne thing that I repeatedly impress on clients as an executive business coach is the importance of great leadership. I’m a firm believer that if you want to grow your company by 10x you also have to grow your leadership by 10x.  Part of that growth involves taking a look at how you lead. What’s your leadership style? Do you coach employees (especially key leaders) to help them improve? Or do you tend to tell them what to do? Let’s look at a few ways you can coach your employees rather than just telling them what to do.

Ask Coaching Questions

Believe it or not, your job as a leader is to lead—not to know all the answers. Sure, you need to keep learning and discovering answers, but how do you even know what you need to know? It begins by asking questions. I’m not talking about asking the kind of questions that reveal what your employees know or don’t know. I’m also not talking about asking questions that set you up as the answer man.

So, what kind of questions should you ask?

  • Ask if your key employees really understand your vision
  • Ask if employees understand exactly what’s expected of them
  • Ask if your staff has the resources (financial, educational, C-level support) they need
  • Ask workers to summarize their greatest challenges
  • Ask employees how THEY would solve key problems

Listening To Employees

Naturally, it’s not enough to ask questions. You need to listen to the answers. This doesn’t mean you nod your head and act empathetic. You need to be an active listener. That means asking follow-up questions. It means giving employees a chance to speak to the issues that concern them. Good listening also involves giving your team the freedom to ask questions themselves. But listening also needs to lead to action. You may or may not change direction as a result of what you hear, but you need to get back to your employees and let them know that you’ve thought about what they have to say.

Developing Rather than Using

One significant part of scaling up is doing things differently. That means that even if you have hired great people, you need to prepare them for the new challenges that scaling your company will bring. As Marshall Goldsmith so succinctly said, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” You need people who are capable of taking your company to the next level. Hiring great people isn’t enough — you have to develop your people. You have to make sure that you are equipping them to deal with new challenges.

Leaders who only tell their employees what to do miss out on equipping them to be better employees. They also run the risk of missing out on great ideas their employees may have about taking the company to the next level. Leaders who coach come alongside team members and ask questions. They listen and then they act.


What is your leadership style like? Are you coaching or telling?

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