The coaching leadership style is an approach to leadership which focuses on developing individuals within an organisation. Leaders act as coaches to guide and support their team members, helping them to unlock their potential and achieve their goals.
Coaching leadership is increasingly important in today’s competitive business environment, as it helps promote both individual and team development. It also enhances employee engagement, improves communication and collaboration, and contributes to talent retention within businesses. Its emphasis on guidance, support, and empowerment makes it an effective leadership style in the dynamic and evolving business landscape.
Jarvis (2004) states that there are three main reasons for an organisation to incorporate coaching; namely, to improve individual performance, deal with underperformance, and improve individuals’ productivity. These are all also compelling reasons to incorporate a coaching style of leadership within any organisation.
This article will begin by defining the key characteristics of the coaching leadership style. It’ll then explain the role of a coaching leader, breaking down individual traits that they should show. It’ll then present some situations within which coaching leadership can be practiced, followed by some of the common challenges faced when trying to implement coaching leadership.
What is a Coaching Leadership Style?
Defining Coaching Leadership
As defined in the introduction, coaching leadership is a style which emphasises the leaders acting as coaches to enable the growth and development of individuals within their organisation. Leaders are encouraged to guide and support team members, and ultimately empower them to get the most out of their work.
In a coaching leadership style, good leaders work collaboratively with their team members, focusing on building work capabilities, skills, and confidence.
A coaching leader must strive to create an environment which encourages learning and growth. They should provide guidance, feedback, and support to help their team members overcome challenges, develop new skills, and optimise their performance.
Key Characteristics of Coaching Leaders
There are several key characteristics which should be displayed by coaching leaders, which separate them from those incorporating other leadership styles. These include:
- Active Listening: Coaching leaders should be adept at active listening. They must listen to their team members, looking to understand their perspectives, concerns, and aspirations. By actively listening, coaching leaders can build trust and create an open and supportive environment. Hargie and Dickson (2004) state that for effective coaching, key communication skills such as listening, reflecting and self disclosure are of the upmost importance.
- Empathy: Coaching leaders should demonstrate empathy and understanding towards their team members. They can put themselves in the shoes of those they are leading, considering their individual circumstances, strengths, and challenges. This allows them to provide personalised guidance and support tailored to each team member’s needs.
- Powerful Questioning: Coaching leaders must utilise powerful questioning techniques to encourage critical thinking and self-reflection from those they are leading. They should ask thought-provoking questions that stimulate creativity and problem-solving behaviours. Through effective and powerful questioning, leaders can help individuals explore their own ideas and find solutions independently.
- Feedback Providing and Recognition: Those implementing a coaching leadership style should provide constructive feedback and recognition to their team members. They should offer specific and actionable feedback to help individuals improve their performance and develop their skills. They also acknowledge and appreciate their team members’ efforts, fostering a positive and motivating work environment.
- An Overall Development-Oriented Approach: Coaching leaders must prioritise the development and growth of their team members. They should provide opportunities for learning, skill-building, and professional advancement in those they are leading. They should encourage individuals to set challenging goals which will ultimately aid their own development.
Differentiating Coaching Leadership from other Leadership Styles
Whereas the Coaching Leadership Style focuses on empowerment, collaboration and the individual growth of those being led, there are also many other leadership styles, which don’t take the same approach. Some of these, alongside their main difference from a coaching leadership style, include:
Command and Control Leadership: Unlike command and control leadership, which relies on hierarchical authority and strict directives from the leader, the coaching leadership style promotes collaboration and shared decision-making between the leader and those being led. Coaching leaders empower their team members to take ownership of their work and contribute their ideas.
Transactional Leadership: A transactional leadership approach focuses on the exchange of rewards and punishments to manage the performance of team members. Coaching leadership goes beyond this transactional exchange, fostering a long-term, supportive relationship between leaders and team members. Coaching leaders focus on intrinsic motivation to help individuals find meaning and purpose in their work, thus driving them to give their best effort.
Transformational Leadership: This leadership style focuses on creating a vision for those being led to realise their own potential. It is a powerful leadership methodology, however whilst transformational leadership inspires and motivates through a compelling vision, coaching leadership goes a step further by providing individuals with the necessary tools, guidance and support to achieve that vision.
Laissez-Faire Leadership: In contrast to laissez-faire leadership, which involves minimal interference and guidance from leaders, coaching leadership actively engages with team members. It offers continuous support, feedback, and mentoring to help individuals reach their full potential.
The Role of a Coaching Leader
Building Trust and Rapport
One of the essential roles of a coaching leader is to build trust and rapport with their team members. One of the main pillars of any type of coaching relationship is trust, with it forming the foundation between coach and coachee; this is no different in a coaching leadership relationship.
Coaching leaders must establish an environment where individuals feel safe to share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns openly. They should always demonstrate integrity, transparency, and confidentiality, which’ll ultimately foster a trusting environment among team members and also between leaders and team members.
To build trust and rapport, coaching leaders should actively listen to their team members, show empathy, and validate their feelings and experiences. They should create a non-judgmental space where individuals feel understood and supported. By building trust, coaching leaders lay the groundwork for open communication, collaboration, and a positive working relationship.
Providing Support and Guidance
In a way, coaching leaders should act as mentors to those they are leading, providing support and guidance through offering their expertise, knowledge and experience to help team members navigate their challenges.
Through also asking powerful questions and encouraging critical thinking, coaching leaders can help team members explore new perspectives and generate their own ideas on how to navigate difficulties, taking ownership of their own growth and development.
Facilitating Growth and Development
One of the main roles of a coaching leader is to facilitate the growth and development of their team members. They should identify the strengths of individuals, as well as areas for improvement, and growth opportunities. Coaching leaders should set goals with their team members collaboratively, and establish a plan for achieving those goals.
Coaching leaders should also provide regular feedback, both positive and constructive, to help individuals enhance their performance and reach their full potential. They must offer insights and resources to facilitate learning, skill-building, and overall personal growth.
In short, leaders should aim to create an environment that encourages continuous learning and supports individuals in their professional journey.
Empowering and Motivating Team Members
One of the main roles of a coaching leader is to help team members realise their full potential, through elevating them to a position to take initiative, make decisions and contribute their own perspectives by themselves.
Through delegating responsibilities to team members, and encouraging the taking of ownership, leaders can inspire team members to go beyond their own perceived limits, which ultimately helps them find purpose in their work.
The Benefits of Coaching Leadership Style
Increased Employee Engagement and Satisfaction
Overall, a coaching leadership style fosters better employee engagement and satisfaction by providing personalised support, which helps maintain a positive work environment, whilst empowering individuals to take ownership of their work.
Improved Team Performance and Productivity
A coaching leadership style improves team performance and productivity by promoting collaboration, setting clear goals, and providing guidance and feedback which enables individuals to perform at their best and leverage their strengths.
Enhanced Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Abilities
The coaching leadership style enhances problem-solving and decision-making abilities in individuals. This is done by encouraging critical thinking and empowering team members to find innovative solutions by themselves through implementing guided conversations.
Strengthened Leadership Succession and Talent Development
Incorporating a coaching leadership style strengthens leadership succession and talent development through actively developing and mentoring individuals, identifying future leaders, and cultivating a culture of continuous learning and growth. This ultimately prepares the individuals internally within the organisation for taking future roles in leadership positions.
Developing Coaching Skills for Leadership
Active Listening and Effective Communication
Developing coaching skills for leadership involves lots of active listening and effective communication. These skills enable leaders to truly understand their team members’ perspectives, build trust, and foster open and honest dialogue, which ultimately leads to an effective coaching relationship.
Asking Powerful Questions
Asking powerful questions is a crucial coaching skill for leaders hoping to incorporate a coaching style to their leadership. By asking thought-provoking and insightful questions, coaching leaders can encourage reflection, stimulate critical thinking, and help individuals gain clarity and find solutions to challenges by themselves with their own unique perspective.
Providing Constructive Feedback and Guidance
Providing constructive feedback and guidance is a hugely important skill in the role of a coaching leader. It supports the growth and development of team leaders, through offering specific and actionable feedback which helps individuals reflect on their performance and create an action plan to achieve their goals.
Encouraging and Supporting Learning Opportunities
Coaching leaders should always be actively encouraging and supporting learning opportunities for team members. Leaders should create an environment that promotes continuous learning and empowers individuals to expand their knowledge and skills, thus enabling future development.
Applying Coaching Leadership in Different Situations
Individual Coaching: One-on-One Sessions
- Setting Goals and Creating Action Plans
- Identifying Strengths and Areas for Improvement
- Overcoming Challenges and Obstacles
Team Coaching: Fostering Collaboration and Cohesion
- Facilitating Team Building Activities
- Promoting a Positive and Supportive Team Culture
- Resolving Conflict and Building Trust within the Team
Performance Coaching: Driving Results and Excellence
- Setting Performance Expectations and Metrics
- Providing Regular Performance Feedback
- Coaching for Continuous Improvement and Growth
Coaching Leadership in Organisational Context
Creating a Coaching Culture within the Organisation
To foster coaching leadership in an organisational or business context, it is essential to create an overall coaching culture. This involves establishing an environment where coaching is valued, practised, and integrated into everyday interactions.
Leaders should promote open communication, trust, and continuous learning, encouraging coaching behaviours at all levels within the organisation.
Training and Developing Coaching Leaders
Developing coaching leaders requires providing training and development programs that enhance coaching skills and competencies across the board.
Organisations should invest in workshops, coaching training for managers, leadership coaching for managers and mentoring opportunities to equip leaders with the necessary tools and techniques to effectively coach their team members.
Aligning Coaching Leadership with Organisational Goals and Values
Coaching leadership in the organisational context involves aligning coaching practices with the overall goals and values of the organisation. Leaders must ensure that coaching efforts are directed towards supporting the achievement of objectives, promoting a positive culture, and reinforcing the organisation’s core values.
Coaching then becomes an integral part of the organisational fabric, contributing to its success and sustainability going into the future.
Challenges and Pitfalls of Coaching Leadership
Overcoming Resistance to Coaching
One of the main challenges in coaching leadership is overcoming resistance from individuals who may be resistant to coaching processes. This resistance can arise due to various reasons, such as a lack of trust in the leader, scepticism about the benefits of coaching, fear of the unknown/fear of change, or a belief that they already possess the necessary skills and knowledge.
To overcome resistance to coaching, coaching leaders must establish trust and rapport. This can be achieved by demonstrating competence, actively listening to the concerns of individuals, and showing a high degree of empathy and understanding.
Leaders should also clearly communicate the goals and benefits of the coaching approach, highlighting how it can help individuals achieve their personal and professional goals.
Additionally, leaders should tailor their approach to each individual’s needs and preferences. Some may respond better to a more directive coaching style, while others may prefer a more collaborative approach. By adapting their coaching style and techniques, coaching leaders can increase the likelihood of overcoming resistance and engaging team members in the coaching process.
Balancing Coaching with Directive Leadership
Another challenge in coaching leadership is getting the right balance between coaching and directive leadership. Whilst a coaching leadership style is generally focused on empowering team members to discover their own solutions and develop their capabilities, there are situations where a more directive approach may be necessary.
Coaching leaders should be mindful of the context and specific needs of each individual. In some cases, team members may require more guidance and direction, especially when facing urgent or critical situations. Leaders must be able to switch between coaching and directive leadership styles based on the individual circumstances of those they are leading.
The key is to maintain a flexible approach that combines coaching techniques, such as asking open-ended questions and active listening, with providing clear instructions and guidance when necessary.
This balance ensures that leaders receive the support and development they need while also allowing them to take ownership of their growth and decision-making processes.
This article has presented the coaching leadership style. It began by defining this style of leadership, as well as presenting some of the key characteristics that should be shown by leaders hoping to implement a more coaching focused element to their leadership.
The article also presented the benefits of a coaching leadership style, and compared it to other leadership styles, pointing out the key differences between the styles. It went on to look at the skills that coaching leaders should aim to develop, as well as the ways to implement a coaching leadership style in business and organisational contexts. It finished by exploring ways to overcome the challenges of a coaching leadership style.
If you’re looking to become a coach, then you might want to have a look at our coaching training course, aimed at beginners. This course is perfect for those who may be looking for a shift in career or just looking to implement more of a coaching style into their everyday lives. We also offer our coaching training for managers, a bespoke course which aims to teach managers the benefits of incorporating coaching into their managerial style in order to get the most out of their employees!
If you’re a business leader and you’re looking to upskill your team to become better leaders, then be sure to also check out our Leadership Coaching, a fully remote coaching programme where you shall be coached both individually and as a team in sessions to develop your leadership skills and drive better performance as a business.
If you’re looking to encourage a more developed mindset in your business leaders, or perhaps you want to develop your own mindset, then you should check out our mindset course; a course developed to teach you about and how to develop a growth mindset.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How does coaching leadership differ from other leadership styles?
Coaching leadership differs by focusing on empowering individuals to reach their potential, while other styles may prioritise directing or controlling tasks.
Can anyone become a coaching leader?
Yes, anyone can become a coaching leader with the right mindset and willingness to learn. Check out our coaching training for managers.
What skills are essential for coaching leaders?
Essential skills for coaching leaders include active listening, empathy, communication, feedback, goal-setting, and trust-building.
How can coaching leadership enhance employee engagement?
Coaching leadership enhances employee engagement by providing individualised attention, skill development, motivation, continuous feedback, and recognition.
Is coaching leadership effective in all types of organisations?
Coaching leadership can be effective in most types of organisations, but its effectiveness may vary based on the organisational culture and readiness for change.
How do coaching leaders handle underperforming team members?
Coaching leaders handle underperforming team members through constructive coaching, providing guidance, support, and setting clear expectations.
What are the potential challenges of implementing coaching leadership?
Potential challenges of implementing coaching leadership include resistance to change, lack of organisational support, and the need for training and development in coaching skills for leaders.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jodi is the founder and driving force behind Engage. She is an occupational psychologist and executive coach with a PhD in Coaching Psychology, who for over 20 years has dedicated her career to helping people thrive and be the best version of themselves.
As a leading expert in coaching, she has worked globally with blue chip clients. She combines this wealth of experience and passion for human development with the scientific rigour of evidence-based research which underpins the Engage toolset.
Jarvis, P. (2004). Adult Education and Lifelong Learning: Theory and Practice (3rd ed., p. 373). London, UK: Routledge Falmer.
Hargie, O. and Dickson, D. (2004) Skilled Interpersonal Communication: Research, Theory and Practice. 4th Edition, Routledge Publishing, London