BRIEF COACHING - A Strength-based Coaching Framework for Managers

Coaching is one of the most powerful ways to help employees unleash their potential. BRIEF Coaching is a unique, proactive alliance, whereby a manager orients employees to the realities of the workplace and helps them to maximize their performance by leveraging on their strengths and resources.

Achieving results means helping all individuals on the team operate at the highest performance level of which they are capable of.  To do this well, managers need strength-based coaching skills. Effective Coaches (Managers) are developed, not born. They have over time, acquired the skills and attitudes to create an environment that nurtures learning and development.

As the business environment becomes more challenging, strength-based coaching can help to build a new foundation with employees.  To be effective managers will have to learn to base their coaching relationship with employees around trust, accountability and ownership.  They will have to meet employees where they are; listen more than they talk; be more patient and be willing to find the ‘coachable moments’.  They need to speak candidly and ask penetrating and discovery questions. They must learn to approach resistance and reluctance to change with curiosity, and create a supportive environment for employees to grow and develop.


Brief Coaching, being strength-based, can positively impact performance for several reasons:

  • Trust – In a coaching relationship, both managers and employees are open to learning and willing to explore possibilities.  Team members work with their manager as coach in solution building in the spirit of positive improvement. And the coach, through observation and questioning, can help employees go beyond their current performance.

  • Respect – Improvement relies on mutual respect and commitment from both employee and coach.  The most successful coach knows their team members well; this insight enables them to share information, experience, and encouragement in a way that an employee can easily embrace and transform into higher performance.

  • Patience – Patience is the glue that holds all the elements together.  Coaches need patience to carefully and accurately assess their team member’s ability and commitment level in order to choose the most effective coaching approach for that person.


Employees welcome coaching

Employees want to be coached.   When employees are asked what contribute to extraordinary performance, they typically mention factors like:  supportive management, guidance, direction, mentoring, and coaching. They want coaching that creates a productive workplace and actively contributes to their professional development.  They appreciate what managers can do to launch them on a journey of self-discovery.


The BRIEF Approach

Strength-based BRIEF Coaching shifts an employee’s focus from a problem orientation to one of solutions and success.  Instead of emphasizing on problem solving and determining the root cause of the problem, emphasis is focused on expanding possibilities, solutions building and achievement.  BRIEF Coaching typically follows a simple five-step process.


1.  BUILD a Coaching Relationship – Connecting with your employee is the pre-requisite to coaching, allowing you to create a safe environment for a mutual exchange of ideas and information.  Asking ‘What is going well?” instead of ‘What is not working?’ is more useful. Even when things are not going well, asking “How did you manage to cope and hang in there?’ will reinforce the confidence of the employee. Being positive, upbeat and validating your employee’s effort will create a supportive climate for your employee to learn and grow.   They will be more open to sharing and receiving. They will see the manager as a personal advocate and challenges become manageable. Believing in the potential of the employee is the foundation for brief and effective coaching.

Questions you can use:

What is going well for you?

How has your week been?

How can I be helpful?

How do you spend your day?

What has been happening in your work (or life) that you’d like to share?

What would be the best use of our time today?


2. REVIEW What’s Important to the Employee - Often in the beginning of the coaching session, the real underlying need may not be apparent to both the coach and the employee.  The coach needs to gain an understanding of the real need. He needs to explore the current situation and the benefits of resolving the situation and to listen for what is not said and ask questions until he can uncover the real need.

Once the coach understands the needs and the expectations, he needs to reach a mutual understanding of what the employees want.  Employees are more motivated to seek coaching if they are in control of the process. Asking employees what would help and letting them drive the process and using a non-directive approach works better.

Questions you can use:

           What is important for you to achieve?

           What are you trying to accomplish?

           Suppose the problem is resolved, how would things be different?

           What needs to change?

           What would be some benefits of achieving this goal?


3. INQUIRE into the Employee’s Strengths and Resources – After identifying the need and knowing what to coach on, the coach can leverage on what the employee already knows.  Most people have answers within themselves. Telling is less helpful than asking. We don’t want to prescribe yesterday’s solution for today’s problem.  Building on past successes will point the way forward and looking at exceptions (times when the problem does not occur) will help employees to view situations with fresh perspectives.  They feel validated, not judged.

Questions you can use:

What is already working?

What are your strengths in this area?

What has worked in similar situations in the past?

When were times a successful interaction took place?

Where are we making progress, even a little bit?


4.  EXPAND on Strategies and Small Steps  – This involves skillfully rehearsing employees through their plan and assuming personal leadership and be part of the solution. Employees usually have a clear sense of what is needed to be done. Therefore, helping employees in generating options, removing barriers and gaining commitment to change becomes more meaningful.

Toward the end of the coaching conversation, the bulk of the input should come from the employee and not the coach.  This “power shift” enables the employee to contribute to the overall effort through his own talents and abilities.

Questions you can use:

What are your thoughts on how you can handle this?

What do you think will work?

How might you go about doing it?

What is one thing that you can do to take you a step closer to your goal?

What else can you do differently?


5.  FACILITATE Progress to Ensure Sustainability - Coaching is a continuing cycle of observation, affirmation, action and evaluation.  As a coach, you must provide the objective feedback that helps employees to improve or keep them on the growth track.

How are you going to keep track of your progress?

How will you know when things have changed for the better?

Who will notice the change?

What structure and support needs to be in place to help you sustain progress?

What are you going to do before our next meeting?


BRIEF Coaching will work if organizations care enough about professional improvement to dedicate time to it.  When this strength-based coaching culture is cultivated, managers won’t be spending 80% of their time driving the organization.  Instead, managers would be spending one-third of their time leading the organization, one-third of the time developing their employees and one-third of the time taking good care of themselves, a true leader.


For more information on coaching proficiencies, coaching models, coach certification and strength-based coaching skills program, please contact


Article contributed by Simon Lee, Accredited Master Executive Coach.

Simon LEE