As we argued in one of our previous columns, coaching has become an essential component of leadership in the work place.

Pragmatic leaders--those interested in the practical aspects of execution--understand that the key to success is enhancing the capacity, competence, and skills of those they work with. They appreciate that they have to be there for the people they lead. They have to be more than directors, supervisors, or even visionaries. They have to be partners--genuine partners. They understand that success is embedded in the accomplishments of those they work with.

As such, pragmatic leaders grasp the critical importance of coaching. They are aware that the coaching partnership is highly dependent on how they interact with those they lead. Nothing is more important than how they listen, take in, reflect, question, and give feedback in the context of the coaching dialogue.

Successful pragmatic leaders are aware of the five key rules that are essential to a coaching dialogue. They are:

1. Listen with Curiosity

When we speak about listening with curiosity, we're talking about conveying a genuine interest in what others are saying. This is of particular value in the coaching dialogue. All too often we listen with impatience and a lack of attentiveness, which in turn hampers dialogue. We are focused on our next argument or our own agenda. Be genuinely curious. Don’t do all the talking, and keep interruptions to a minimum.  Pace the conversation, and don’t be afraid to keep it focused and on-target.

2. Take in What You Hear

Sometimes you can project all the necessary nonverbal cues to give the other person a sense that you're listening with curiosity, but you could still not be taking in any information. While projecting a sense of curiosity, don't forget to absorb and register what is being said. You need to hear the words, read the gestures, and take in the thoughts, ideas, and emotions of the other party. To take in what you hear, you need to pace the conversation and put yourself in the shoes of the other party.

3. Reflect with Accuracy

Reflecting back with accuracy shows the person you’re really listening and confirms that you have digested the right information. It also allows the person to hear back what he or she has said and to check within him or herself: Is it exactly what he or she meant to say?

You can reflect back by:

a. Paraphrasing Restate the essence of what you heard in your own words, or repeat what you heard using the same words the other party used.

b. Summarizing When you hear a lot of information, you may want to summarize the main message into short and concise sentences. When people have conversations, sometimes information doesn't emerge in an orderly way. You want to help your protégés focus on what seem to be their most important issues.

c. Repeating meaningful words When you repeat meaningful words, you let the other person know that you heard what is really important to them. It enables them to sense that you're listening and understanding them.

4. Questioning for Exploration

Asking questions extends the conversation and allows for a more proactive dialogue. Ask open-ended questions that allow more exploration to occur. By asking open ended questions, you give your protégés an opportunity to find answers within themselves.

When protégés discover the answers for themselves, it empowers them. When you question for exploration, you reinforce in their minds that you believe in them and that their opinions, knowledge, and experience are worthwhile. You build their confidence.

5. Provide Feedback for Development

Feedback is often thought of as being inherently critical, but that need not be the case. Successful coaches are careful and discriminating about how they employ feedback, knowing that poor or incomplete feedback could stifle their protégés or even cause feelings of inadequacy in them. The successful coach avoids the common mistake of using feedback as a vehicle for asserting expertise. Unclear, arrogant, or dismissive feedback can drive your protégés into defensiveness and destroy the trust so critical to your relationship.
When providing feedback, coaches should strive to make it clear, make it relevant, make it non-evaluative, make it helpful, and make it positive.

If you listen, reflect, question, and provide the right feedback, you can easily build trust in the coaching relationship.