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Relational Leadership Strategies for Coaching Employees

A brightly lit lightbulb hangs over a group of focused professionals, symbolizing relational leadership in the workplace.

Relational Leadership: How a Coaching Leader Can Build Employee Resilience in Challenging Times

The job of a people leader grows more multifaceted by the day. From integrating AI into roadmaps to navigating relationships with executives, dealing with the changes brought on by the pandemic, and keeping pace with our rapidly shifting world, people leaders now shoulder increasing amounts of responsibility.

Something else that has become more evident is that the world is hurting, and so are our people. The working world is becoming more delicate as we navigate the resilience it takes to live on a planet experiencing record-setting natural disasters, war, global pandemics, and political unrest. The global traumas we are all enduring ask that we find the right balance between work and the rest of our lives while recognizing our shared humanity. To avoid burnout in an emotionally taxing role, people leaders must also prioritize self-care in their approach to work.

After crashing from the demands of my own role a couple of years ago, I entered a coaching fellowship. Watching coaching in action made me think, “I need to learn what my coach is doing for the benefit of my own profession.” I realized learning coaching skills could reignite my passion for the people field while equipping me to handle the complexities with more ease. I became obsessed with all things coaching, learning everything I could.

Simply put: Coaching became the antidote to my burnout. And more than that, it fundamentally shaped the way I lead and how I view myself as a leader. 

With the workplace growing more fluid, organizational coaching skills have become more crucial for people leaders. In this post, I’ll share how adopting a coaching mindset helps leaders meet challenges with empathy, empower teams, and cultivate continuous growth.

How to Have a Coaching Mindset

People leaders wear many hats, but one I always keep on is that of coach. This coaching approach lets me tackle leadership challenges in a way that eases my own burden while empowering others. It means shifting focus from problem-solving to empowering growth through coaching. Here’s an example of handling a common issue through a coaching lens.

Listen Deeply

First, listen deeply. I used to think that whenever someone came to me with an issue, I had to have the answer — or better yet, I had to solve it for them. What I’ve noticed over time is that 9 times out of 10, people just want to be heard. Simply being fully present as someone explores their thoughts in a safe space can be one of the most helpful things you offer.

That said, listening comes at a cost. Sometimes there’s an employee you might feel you’ve listened to too much. True deep listening requires you to be in touch with the gentle balance of challenging and helping that person gain traction and action from their thoughts. That’s where powerful questions come into place.

Say you have an employee who has approached you several times about feeling overwhelmed with their workload. Start by creating a space where that employee can express themselves safely. Ask questions like these: “What aspects of your work are causing you the most stress?” “How do you currently prioritize and organize your work?” “Can you provide more details about a specific instance that felt overwhelming?”

Empathize & Reflect

Next, it’s important to empathize and reflect. As humans, we want to feel validated. We all want to feel understood. Show you care by validating their struggle, by saying you can imagine how challenging it must feel given what they described. You could also reflect what you heard: “It sounds like prioritizing so many tasks is overwhelming.” “What I’m hearing is that you often procrastinate the first couple hours of the day because you don’t know where to start.” “It sounds like you have a value around balance.”

Empathizing and reflecting are crucial in the coaching process for a people leader. My perspective shifted when I began leaning into this tool within coaching. Rather than absorbing the emotions of staff members and feeling the need to respond and solve all their problems, I discovered that simply validating and reflecting can relieve the pressure to be the hero. It subtly empowers staff members to take responsibility for their emotions all while feeling they’ve been heard. So, how do you help them shift from this emotional space? By using the fundamental aspects of coaching: the ability to ask powerful questions.  

Ask Powerful Questions

People Leaders armed with this skill can unlock deeper insights into their teams' motivations, aspirations, and challenges. Powerful questions stimulate reflection, ownership, and pave the way towards accountability. At this point, you could ask "What strategies have you considered for prioritizing tasks?" or "If you woke up less stressed tomorrow, what would be different?" 

Answering these questions and beginning to ideate on how to break through any given situation opens a new paradigm, quite literally. According to an article in Fast Company, questions “prompt the brain to contemplate a behavior, which increases the probability that it will be acted upon. In fact, decades of research has found that the more the brain contemplates a behavior, the more likely it is that we will engage in it. That’s not all. Just thinking about doing something can shift your perception and even alter your body chemistry.” 

As people leaders, like coaches, it’s not our job to solve these problems for the employees. Asking powerful questions allows employees to reclaim their responsibility in solving problems. It allows them to gain clarity and insight into how to reframe and come out of their current state, walking away with more clarity and action. 

Encourage Employees

Lastly, encourage them. Of course, conversations vary. But this method often ends with the employee thanking you for the helpful talk and proactively identifying actions to try. You become their accountability partner, following up on their progress. When done right, you’ve coached the person, not the problem.

In our evolving field, leaders must adopt new approaches to meet rising challenges. Coaching provides a mindset to transform people leaders into change agents. By embracing coaching’s potential, HR leaders can build resilient, empathetic teams and workplace cultures centered on growth and wellbeing. You also encourage employees to drive their own development. Rather than handing solutions, coaching stimulates self-discovery.

Embracing the Transformation: Your First Step as a Coaching HR Leader

The journey towards becoming a coaching HR leader begins with a simple commitment to learn and apply these invaluable skills — a commitment that has the potential to revolutionize not only your leadership style but also the lives of those you lead.

Gabrielle Gonzalez Profile Photo
Written By

Gabrielle Gonzalez

Gabby Gonzalez brings 10+ years of People experience and coaching to CTI. She’s worked in the non-profit, social impact, and tech sectors and was most recently the first Head of People at Sayge where she built out the People function from scratch. Before that, she was the Head of Culture at and went back to school to become a coach. She’s a true people generalist at heart which has made her versatile in her expertise. Gabby has been described by her peers as innovative, strategic, empathetic, authentic,  self-starter, inclusive, and funny. Growing up as a multiracial woman in New York City,  born to immigrant parents, she has been deeply influenced by her own experiences.  These experiences shape her approach to work, as she consistently brings authenticity,  best practices, and candor to everything she does. With a commitment to transforming our relationship with work, Gabby focuses on incorporating DEI and coaching in all aspects of people strategy. She empowers clients, employees, and individuals to reach their full potential while ensuring that a company’s mission has its greatest impact. Gabby lives in Cold Spring with her fiancé Max and fluffy grey cats, Panda & Pepper. In her own time she loves the outdoors, traveling, has 1 too many plants, will do just about anything to be in the sunshine, beads, and does pottery. 

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