The leader as a coach

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Kiddy & Partners

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Today, increased competitiveness, globalisation, rapid technological change, and flatter organisational structures demand greater entrepreneurialism, innovation and autonomy from leaders and employees [1].

As a result, what worked for leaders in the past is no longer what will deliver success in the future – a trend which requires novel leadership approaches. 

Increasingly, coaching skills are being recognised as a key element of every leader’s toolkit [2], prompting the need for today’s leaders to move away from traditional command-and-control approaches towards a more coaching leadership style. 

This requires a shift in leader’s mindsets and skillsets; leaders need to focus on guiding and supporting employees, rather than directing and micromanaging them. Often, however, the importance of mindset shift is overlooked, leaving HR professionals wondering why, having equipped leaders with coaching skills, they’re failing to see a shift in behaviour?

In comparison to a traditional command-and-control style, a leadership coaching style takes on a collaborative and empowering approach, pointing team members towards experimenting and using their own intuition and resourcefulness, rather than providing answers and dictating what must be done.  

Sir John Whitmore, a leading figure in the coaching domain described how skilled coaching involves “unlocking people’s potential to maximise their own performance”. [3]

More specifically, research [4, 5] suggests that for the 21st century leader, this approach involves: 

  • Increasing self-awareness.
  • Removing obstacles for employees where necessary. 
  • Actively listening to, and supporting and developing team members.
  • Setting clear performance objectives and providing constructive feedback.
  • Having regular conversations where individual and organisational goals are discussed.

Not only does the ‘leader as coach’ have positive implications for employees and organisations, it also benefits leaders by improving their own leadership effectiveness. 

Research [2, 6] reveals that such an approach: 

  • Improves team member’s motivation and energy levels.
  • Improves team member’s satisfaction with their job and leader. 
  • Leads to employees being more committed to the organisation. 
  • Allows team members to learn how to adapt to changing environments.
  • Results in team members being more creative and innovative, and performing in a more customer-oriented manner. 

As part of our work with senior leaders, we are supporting a number of clients to respond to the growing need for leaders to shift their mindset and reinvent themselves as coaches, with the support of their organisations, to respond to the changing nature of work. 

However, this may be a drastic mindset shift for a leader to make, and potentially at odds with their existing view of what it takes to be an effective leader. In these cases, equipping leaders with coaching skills won’t be enough – you may need to:

  1. Help leaders identify
    A) what a coaching leadership style looks like in practice in your organisation, and
    B) why it’s a worthwhile shift to make. 
  2. Encourage leaders to reflect on their current leadership style, the degree to which it incorporates a coaching leadership style, and the potential impact this may be having on their team. 
  3. Support leaders to make mindset, and identity shifts, in terms of their own beliefs about what being an effective leader involves. 

We support our clients in this by providing impactful assessment of leaders’ current capability, potential, and preferences, and implementing strategies to support leaders to develop these increasingly critical skills, helping to create the necessary mindset and skillset shifts towards adopting a coaching leadership style. 

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  1. Jacobs, E. (2020). The boom in executive coaching. Financial Times. 
  2. Ribeiro, N & Menezes, R. (2019). The Impact of Coaching Leadership on Employees' Positive Outcomes. 10.4018/978-1-5225-9235-8.ch002.
  3. Whitmore, J. (1992). Coaching for Performance: GROWing People, Performance and Purpose. London: Nicholas Brealey. 
  4. Berg, E. M & Karlsen, J. T. (2016). A study of coaching leadership style practice in projects. Management Research Review. 39. 1122-1142. 10.1108/MRR-07-2015-0157.
  5. Larsson, J & Vinberg, S. (2010). Leadership behaviour in successful organisations: Universal or situation-dependent?. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence - TOTAL QUAL MANAG BUS EXCELL. 21. 317-334. 10.1080/14783360903561779. 
  6. Theeboom, T., Beersma, B., & Van Vianen, A. E. (2013). Coaching in Organizations–A Meta-Analytic Review of Individual Level Effects. In Academy of Management Proceedings (Vol. 2013, No. 1, p. 11881). Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510: Academy of Management.

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