Organizations are better able to engage employee talents and contributions to effectiveness when there’s a sense of confidence and optimism.

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Companies lose millions of dollars every day due to turnover caused by managers who don’t know how to coach people. The good news is, they can learn, according to research recently published in the Harvard Business Review.

But what, exactly, is coaching?

“It’s not telling people what to do,” says Viviane Lopuch, director of the Organizational Leadership undergraduate program within Seattle University’s School of New and Continuing Studies. “You can be put into a management job and be good technically, and able to tell people how to do something.”

“But as a leader, you need to listen to individuals reporting to you, and whom you support. You can develop a collaborative relationship and help individuals feel they truly are being heard, by actively listening and asking powerful questions.”

Leadership coaching, organizational benefits

One industry survey conducted interviews with 900 organizations and found that while just 17 percent have invested in building a strong coaching culture, those organizations boosted employee engagement by 12 percent and productivity by 13 percent, compared to other organizations surveyed. Training managers in coaching skills is an essential element to building a strong coaching culture, said 87 percent of the companies.

“High-performing organizations think differently,” Lopuch says. “Leaders use a coaching style to form a strong relationship with their team that enables the entire organization to move forward, everyone to be engaged, and gives everyone individual purpose and goals.”

That doesn’t mean it happens overnight, she cautions. “Evidence shows that when leaders use a coaching model and it’s sustained over time throughout the organization, filtering into core mission and values, that organization will improve over time,” she says.

Many executives receive coaching, Lopuch says. But a coaching mentality can be offered to everyone within an organization, from the top to entry level. At a recent leadership summit, a Red Robin Burgers executive discussed how the company embedded coaching style throughout the workforce, and turned their business around, Lopuch says.

“Benefits will be seen over time in terms of innovation, revenue and customer satisfaction,” she says.

Organizations are better able to engage employee talents and contributions to effectiveness when there’s a sense of confidence and optimism. “Even if you have problems at work, you’re in an environment where you know you’ll be coached through it versus corrected,” Lopuch says. “It makes a big difference.”

One sustainable result? Employees come up with their own solutions to issues. While a traditional manager might issue a reprimand in response to an employee’s inability to meet benchmarks, a coach-leader will encourage employees to consider the challenges and arrive at their own solutions, accompanied by a means of accountability.

“That methodology allows the employee to maintain their feeling of competence and grow confidence. It demonstrates respect for the individual,” she says, when leader and employee work together as a team.

Indeed, workplace coaching improves an individual’s performance and skills, well-being, coping, work attitudes and goal-directed self-regulation, according to research from The University of Amsterdam, published in The Journal of Positive Psychology.

Learning to be a coach-leader

The Seattle University NCS program is increasingly focusing on coaching strategies, and weaving coaching into the very DNA of the program. When taking a class on leading teams, students learn how to coach teams. In an understanding leadership course, students learn how to understand the leader’s role as a coach.

Courses such as Organizational Communication might offer an in-class exercise such as “The Pillow Method,” in which students learn there are more than two sides to a disagreement. Interestingly, the exercise was first developed by Japanese schoolchildren to resolve conflicts, who felt a problem has four sides and a middle, like a pillow. Exercises like these build active listening and empathy skills, when students see an issue from five different points of view.

Students might play with “I’m right, you’re wrong,” then “you’re right, I’m wrong.”  Then, “Both right, both wrong,” and “the issue isn’t important as it seems.” And finally: There is truth in all four perspectives.

This correlates to how successful leaders work, Lopuch points out: “They engage in reflection and self-work,” which ultimately means taking time to understand all perspectives, and coaching employees to help find successful solutions.

For more information about Seattle University’s School of New and Continuing Studies, please visit