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Leader as Coach

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More and more organizations identify “coaching” as a preferred leadership style for their management workforce, linking this approach to improved business performance. According to a study from the Institute of Personnel and Development, 9 out of 10 U.S. companies expect their managers and supervisors to deliver coaching to their direct reports and teams. Further, employee surveys support the need for managers to develop coaching skills, as “best bosses” are often identified as having an effective coaching style.

So what is coaching?

Coaching is a collaborative partnership centered on achieving goals and building skills and competencies needed to be successful on the job. Quite often, it also is used as a tool to “ready” a promising employee for an advanced role.

As time and monetary constraints often prevail, companies are becoming more dependent on their internal resources for coaching and development. Thus, organizational leaders assume greater responsibility for developing their workforce by taking on the role of “leader as coach.”

There are key differences between the traditional “boss” way of managing people and coaching. Whereas the old school boss tended to get things done by directing and telling, leader coaches ask powerful questions, listen well, and offer constructive feedback. They are growth-oriented, place import on the individual’s career interests, and leverage development plans that target specific skills and competencies needed for current and future success.

What makes a leader coach?

A significant challenge for many organizations is how to train their managers to be an effective coach. Many people are not born with good coaching skills and far too many companies under-appreciate the value of this skill when making hiring decisions. Developing expertise will almost always require ongoing practice, feedback and modeling by someone with more advanced skills.

Although the skills required to be an effective coach are numerous, our experience has shown that the most successful leader coaches possess the following attributes:

  1. Accountable– Effective coaches take the job as “leader as coach” seriously and do not minimize its importance to their role and the organization.
  2. Emotional Intelligence (EQ)– Successful coaches are able to manage their own feelings, accurately observe the feelings of others, and tactfully respond in ways that minimize a person’s defenses. Individuals with higher EQ form trusting partnerships.
  3. Honest– Leader coaches are able to tell the truth while remaining completely constructive. Their honesty enables them to get straight to the point.
  4. Development-focused– The learning that results from development is clearly linked to achieving strong results. Leader coaches recognize that fostering an environment that supports deep personal learning engenders new ways of thinking, valuing, and behaving  – which ultimately contributes to improved performance and the company’s bottom line.
  5. Proactive– Seeking development opportunities for their employees and arranging “stretch” assignments to accelerate their development is key to an effective leader coach. They take advantage of people’s existing readiness for change, create a sense of urgency, and help to eliminate organizational and personal obstacles that impede action.
  6. Reactive– In sports, coaches don’t wait until the end of the season to provide feedback. They do it at the time of the action, when the feedback is most meaningful. In this way, leader coaches “seize coachable moments” by delivering feedback in real time, when employees are optimally focused and better positioned to learn.
  7. Facilitate Insight– Effective coaches are not advice-givers but change agents. Through asking probing questions, fresh thoughts and ideas are provoked which mobilizes the learner to take action in a new way.


Developing coaching skills can be more challenging than it first appears. However, if they are mastered through dedicated individual effort or through the assistance of a professional partner the results will be well worth the effort.