Capturing coachable moments for best practice, time-effective leadership

By Sangeeta Pilger

Friday October 23, 2020


Sangeeta Pilger outlines the steps to capturing coachable moments consistently and tackling unproductive self-talk/self-doubt.

Evidence-based research confirms that managerial coaching achieves significant benefits in the workplace through increases in employee engagement, performance and wellbeing.1

While there are many definitions about what managerial coaching is, one that brings together common elements from several definitions is: “a helping and facilitative process that enables individuals, groups/teams, and organisations acquire new skills, competence, and performance, and enhance their personal effectiveness, personal development, or personal growth”. 2

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Managerial coaching can take the form of structured, prearranged sessions or can occur casually. This latter informal type of coaching occurs when managers are alert to recognising ‘coachable moments’. These are informal and often unplanned or unexpected opportunities for a manager to have a conversation with an employee aimed at facilitating the employee to problem solve or learn from a work experience.3 These informal interactions can take place in the hallway, tearoom or through virtual platforms.

Despite informal coaching being recognised as an effective practice, research confirms that managers utilise it infrequently. There are two key barriers contributing to this.

Firstly, managers feel more confident with conversations they can plan for. Secondly, a lack of time due to workload pressures deters managers from utilising coaching. Instead they take on tasks themselves or are more prone to telling others what to do. This points to a need to support leaders to get better at recognising and capturing coachable moments because these informal shorter interactions are less onerous on time and are enormously powerful

Let’s explore what’s required to capture coachable moments and put it into practice with a strategy.

Steps to capturing coachable moments consistently

1. Bring a ‘coaching mindset’ to daily interactions. A coaching mindset is the belief that every conversation can provide the opportunity for growth, new thinking, learning and employee-driven problem solving. This occurs through the consistent application of coaching behaviours outlined in the four points below.

Effectiveness with questions: Do you ask results-oriented questions that help others think through issues?

Overcoming roadblocks: Do you help team members manage obstacles they perceive to be in their way?

Ownership and accountability: Do you hold team members accountable and not take over their responsibilities?

Hold back: Do you hold back from providing answers or telling team members what to do?5

2. Identify a challenge in which you want to improve outcomes. Focus on consistently applying these coaching behaviours and building your capability to integrate quick and effective strategies into both unplanned and planned conversations.

3. Implement and review. Commit to reflective practice to build capability.

Capturing coachable moments has become even more important in the context of COVID-19.  For example, reduced interpersonal connections through remote work as well as ongoing ambiguity and uncertainty often result in self-doubt and unproductive self-talk.  Below I have provided an ‘In the Moment Coaching’® strategy to address this challenge.

Tackling unproductive self-talk/self-doubt

Step One:
Think about a situation that triggers unproductive self-talk/creates self-doubt in you.

Step Two:
Spend 5 minutes writing down your thoughts to the following questions:

  • What are you saying to yourself when this happens? How useful is that?
  • How does that make you feel? What happens in your body? What would people observe?
  • What is an alternative approach about what you could say to yourself instead when you experience these triggers? What would be the benefits of that?
  • What do you need to do to make this alternative approach a new habit? Who can help you? What will keep you accountable?

As a leader, when you experience self-doubt or unproductive self-talk, put these questions into practice. The benefit of this is the authenticity of your experience and the story you develop  about what you have done to create a shift in yourself. Also, guide your team members by sharing or asking these questions when you sense or they share an experience of self-doubt. Sharing your story adds further credibility.

Leaders who integrate quick and effective strategies into everyday conversations bring best practice to their leadership without it feeling onerous. It becomes a daily, informal act that easily integrated into everyday work rather than an occasional or formal event.

Free pass

Access a free pass to the Inspirational Leadership Summit (online) between 10-12 November 2020. Enjoy a line-up of prominent global leaders sharing insights on leadership, culture, performance, teams and resilience. I will be presenting at this summit on the topic of ‘Leading with In the Moment Coaching® Conversations. Get your free pass here


  1. McCarthy, G, & Ahrens, J 2011, Challenges of The Coaching Manager, Research Online
  2. Hamlin, RG, Ellinger, AD, & Beattie, RS 2009, ‘Toward a profession of coaching? A definitional examination of ‘coaching,’ ‘organization development,’ and ‘human resource development”, International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 13-38
  3. Turner, C, & McCarthy, G 2015, ‘Coachable Moments: Identifying Factors that Influence Managers to take Advantage of Coachable Moments in Day-to-Day Management’, International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching & Mentoring, 13, 1, pp. 1-13
  4. McCarthy, G, & Ahrens, J 2012, How and why do managers use coaching skills? Research Online
  5. Ellinger, AD & Bostrom, RP 1999, ‘Managerial coaching behaviors in learning organizations’, Journal of Management Development, no.9, p.752

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