ORG Blog

6 Tips for Employee Engagement from the Executive Coaching Playbook

6 Tips for Employee Engagement from the Executive Coaching Playbook

Executive leadership coaching is a powerful intervention for professional development and organization change.

Individuals and teams at all levels of organizations worldwide are working with professional coaches, with great outcomes.

So, what does an executive leadership coach do?

A coach serves as an objective thinking partner, someone who doesn’t give advice or provide the answers. Instead, the coach engages in a focused conversation, tapping curiosity, asking powerful questions and actively listening to help the “coachee” come up with their own best answer.

Coaches have a bias for action, so a coaching conversation ends with a commitment by the coachee to take specific action, and the coach agrees to hold them accountable.

Today, many leaders also tap the skills from the professional coaching playbook use. Why? Because the coaching approach works! More asking/less telling, intentional rapport building to boost trust, and bringing a genuinely collaborative approach help employees feel valued, heard, and respected.

Expand your leadership toolkit with six tips for employee engagement from the coaching playbook.

1. Get curious. 

Suspend your assumptions. Resist and quiet your “advice-giver/fixer” reflex. Instead, set the intention to understand the other person’s position, aspiration, or challenges. Curiosity means “wondering” and being inquisitive, to stir insights to help understanding and ideas emerge.
2. Unplug; be present.

Turn off technology. Remove distractions. Make your mind up to just be with the other person.

Coaching and effective executive presence both tap the ability to pay exquisite attention to the person you are engaging with. Good eye contact. No distractions. Just be present and listen. This is such a rare thing today, yet something we all need is to be seen and to feel heard. You know whether or not someone is really present and listening. (So, don’t try to fake presence, it doesn’t work!) 

3. Ask powerful questions. 

Power-up your questions by framing them as open-ended. This naturally draws out more qualitative information. Unlike the typical closed-ended questions, powerful questions aren’t answered with “yes” or “no” alone. Asking open-ended questions that begin with
what, how, who, when, where opens up new possibilities, eliciting more detail. (However, avoid why questions. These can sound like an inquisition or attack. Instead, soften why questions, using what questions instead.)

Here are some examples of how to make questions more “powerful.”

Less powerful question: Did you make the presentation?

More powerful questions: How did the presentation go? What went well? Who asked questions during the presentation? When will you hear about the outcome?

You can also frame as an invitation or observation, which can also elicit more information: Say more about the presentation response. Please tell me about your takeaways. It sounds like you made quite an impact.

4. Listen to understand, not to respond.

Ask a powerful question, then be quiet and listen. Be present. (This is probably the hardest part for most of us!) Put aside your urge to formulate a response, and be present with them. You will come up with the appropriate response when it’s your turn. Your only job at this moment is to listen. Notice the urge to respond boiling up? Take a breath, put it aside, and return to listener mode.

5. Inspire action by asking not telling.

Coaching approach conversations usually end with decisions and action steps. Rein in the urge to provide advice and direction for a few moments longer. (You can share your own ideas later, if necessary.) Instead, use powerful questions again, this time to draw out their own ideas about possible action steps. This helps build ownership for them, which is critical to effective engagement.

Examples of powerful question examples for action planning: So what do you think is the next step? When do you think this could happen? Where do you think we can find a resource? Who else do you think should be involved? What support will you need?

Nice job on resisting the urge to solicit advice or direction so far, boss! Now that they have some clear, resonant action steps, now you can provide some advice or direction. (That wasn’t so hard, was it?)

6. Commitment and accountability are key. 

Summarize what you’ve heard, with specific action steps and deadlines. Things are more likely to get done if we know that someone heard us commit and is expecting to hear about outcomes. In coaching, we frame it as: What will you do, by when will you do it, and how will you let me know?

Want to supercharge their commitment? Give them a line-of-sight vision between actions and goals. Help them make this more real by asking them to imagine success, with powerful questions like: What will be different when you’ve done this? How will we know this is successful? Or, make it in the form of a request: Tell me what success looks like.

So, here’s a powerful question for you . . . What do you think might be different, using the coaching approach to your next employee conversation? 

Why not give these six steps from the coaching playbook a try? They can help leaders at any level shift what could have been the usual transactional conversation to an interaction that informs, engages, co-creates, and, perhaps, also transforms. 

What's your management style? Where does your organization sit on the Engagement Spectrum? Get our free assessment guide to find out.

Get Assessment Guide

Tim Kincaid, EdD, is CEO of Kincaid Associates Coaching & Consulting, LLC, a provider of executive coaching, change management communications consulting, and leadership development training. An experienced professional coach, he holds certification from the International Coach Federation (ICF). Tim is also a member of the Overland Resource Group Consulting Consortium. He can be reached at

Read more articles by Tim.

Enhance performance with our interactive Impact workshop

Topics: Employee Engagement Coaching