Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.Timothy Gallwey, Coaching Expert & Author
I often talk with leaders and managers about their career aspirations or “what they want to do next”.
In many cases, I hear stories and sentiments of feeling stuck, not knowing what to learn next, and not knowing who can help them develop further.
If you’re a leader who seeks to get to the next level but is unsure how, you’re not alone. This article is for you.
If you want to be a better leader, and improve the experience of your employees and the performance of your organization, you need yourself a leadership coach.
I know this because I’ve been working in organizations with and without leadership coaches over the last 15 years, and I’ve found a material, noticeable positive difference in leaders and organizations that engage with leadership coaches and coaching programs.
I myself have been mentored and coached and have benefitted from coaching in such a way that I now know when I need a coach versus a mentor or leadership development course.
In my experience, having a mentor and a coach is a winning combination, in addition to your personal board of directors.
This article will take you through:
- What is leadership coaching?
- Key focus areas of leadership coaching
- What to look for when preparing to engage with a leadership coach or leadership coaching program
Let’s dive in!
What is leadership coaching?
Leadership coaching is a professional relationship in which a coach helps a leader to achieve their goals and serve their teams or organizations well. The coach provides guidance, support, and feedback to help the leader grow and develop in their professional (and sometimes personal) life.
Coaching can help leaders to become more efficient, better communicators, better strategic thinkers, and better at managing and developing their team members.
Important! With that all said, this is super important to remember: leadership coaching is not the same as leadership development.
Leadership development is a process that helps individuals learn the competencies, skills, and knowledge necessary to be effective leaders.
Leadership coaching, on the other hand, is a process that helps individuals improve their existing leadership skills by focusing on real-life experiences.
Who benefits from leadership coaching?
Research conducted by Sounding Board found significant opportunities and benefits of leadership coaching for both leaders and non-leaders influenced by leaders who had been coached.
Respondents identified several positive outcomes as a result of leadership coaching:
- 67 percent said leadership coaching increased employee engagement and satisfaction
- 60 percent said it improved employees’ perceptions of the quality of leadership
- 54 percent said it improved leadership bench strength
- 50 percent said it improved productivity
- 44 percent said leadership coaching improved the quality of work.
Bonus, has employee engagement been on your mind? Leadership coaching influences that too.
How leadership coaching benefits managers and budding leaders?
Leadership coaching can help new and experienced managers become better leaders by teaching them how to better motivate and inspire their team and better handle difficult situations.
Coaching can also help managers develop their own skills and abilities, and learn how to better manage their time and resources.
In addition, coaching can help managers become more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and learn how to capitalize on their strengths while working to improve upon their weaknesses.
I once worked with a coach to help me navigate a change in my career from a tactical, hands-on role to one that was much more focused on leading people and connecting dots.
I was having a hard time feeling fulfilled in my new role as I was “doing” less “stuff”. Less creating documents, less project planning, and less direct negotiation with vendors.
My coach was able to lead me to understand the value I was delivering to my team members, and folks close to my team, such that I was able to find purpose and see the importance of my work in the new phase, re-defining my understanding of delivering value in my role.
New or aspiring leaders can benefit from leadership coaching to help develop better communication skills and learn how to navigate complex hierarchical issues, delegate tasks, and set achievable goals.
By doing so, it will leave them feeling less overwhelmed and stressed out, resulting in better decision-making and more successful projects.
I once worked with a coach who simply showed me that spinning up my emotions when something is difficult, taking too long, or not going well doesn’t help to solve the problem.
We battled a natural physiological response to challenges together, and I was able to better acknowledge and then control my responses over time, just by being able to notice, name, and manage the feeling!
Now, I can’t say I’ll always keep my cool, but I’m much better about navigating leadership challenges under pressure now!
How leadership coaching benefits organizations?
Managers hold such critical positions in an organization. As I said in a previous article on people management, a bad manager can ruin a good job, but a good manager can make a bad job tolerable!
As such, there are many benefits for organizations when their managers engage in leadership coaching. One of the biggest benefits is that coaching helps to develop leadership skills in managers, and this can significantly improve the overall performance of the organization.
For example, coaching can help managers to better understand their team members and how to motivate them. This can lead to a more productive and cohesive team. Additionally, coaching can help managers to better handle difficult situations and make better decisions.
Creating a Coaching Culture
This benefit nestles right between the organization and teams and team members is the creation of a coaching culture within the organization. Coaching culture is a term used to describe an organization where coaching is commonly used as a strategic tool to improve employee performance.
In a coaching culture, employees are coached on a regular basis and managers are trained to be coaches, in addition to being coached themselves. The goal of a coaching culture is to develop employees into high-performing individuals who are able to contribute to the organization's success.
A coaching culture can have a positive influence on an organization in a number of ways.
First, it can help to create a more positive and productive work environment. Coaching cultures tend to be more supportive and encouraging, which can motivate employees to do their best work.
Additionally, as we’ve covered, coaching can help to develop the skills and abilities of team members, which can make them more valuable to the organization. Finally, coaching can help to improve communication and collaboration within the organization.
By providing feedback and guidance, coaches can help employees to maximize their strengths, better understand one another, and work together more effectively.
How leadership coaching benefits teams and team members?
Employees and team members benefit when their manager/leader engages in leadership coaching and a coaching culture is developed within the organzation.
A manager or leader engaging in coaching signals that they are actively interested in improving their skills, which in itself can open the door to positive conversations about leadership and management style.
As the leader learns to coach by being coached themselves, they can provide feedback and coaching on specific skills or behaviors that the employee can work on to improve their effectiveness in their own role.
This can help the employee grow and develop as a leader while also influencing positive employee retention.
What skills are taught through leadership coaching?
Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ, Emotional Quotient) is the capacity to be aware of and manage one's own emotions and the emotions of others to facilitate productive collaboration and lead effective teams.
While the description of emotional intelligence was coined in 1970, the practice of enhancing emotional intelligence for work was popularized in the late 1990s by Dan Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence, and since the publishing of this book, many additional books and assessments have emerged.
Emotional intelligence is often considered to be one of the most important characteristics of a leader. In fact, a study published by TTI Success Insights, one of the leading Emptional Quotient assessors, indicated that individuals with high Emotional Intelligence could be “40 to 122% more effective in positions involving influencing, managing, negotiating and/or serving others” (Source: TTI Success Insights).
In fact, EI/EQ is significantly more important to your success as a leader than your IQ. People with average scores on traditional IQ tests outperform people with ultra-high IQs 70% of the time.
“There is a direct correlation between increased job performance when employees are high in EQ. Emotional intelligence is responsible for 58 percent of performance in all types of jobs, and 90 percent of top performers are high in EQ.” (Source: Workforce.com)
Emotional intelligence, then, is the competitive advantage of a great leader and EQ is more important than IQ when considering your opportunity for success as a leader.
If you want to be an effective leader, you need to acknowledge and actively work to improve or maintain your emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence has been defined in many ways, but most often refers to elements including self awareness, self regulation, motivation, social awareness and social regulation.
- Self Awareness: The ability to accurately perceive your own emotions and thoughts, and to understand how they influence your behavior or impact other people. How we take our own emotional temperature.
- Self Regulation: The ability to manage your emotions, control impulses and think before acting. How we manage our emotional states.
- Motivation: The ability to be driven by a desire to achieve a goal or outcome, rather than by emotions or feelings. How we use our energy to achieve goals.
- Social Awareness: The ability to understand the emotional state of another person. How we take others’ emotional temperature.
- Social Regulation: building upon social awareness, social regulation is the ability to respond in a way that is beneficial for both people, acknowledging the emotional state of the other person(s). How we manage the emotions of others through our own behaviors.
The best leadership coaches will either teach and coach emotional intelligence directly, or it will be interwoven into other coaching interventions, such as coaching on communication skills that include social regulation behaviors.
Either way, emotional intelligence is key to success as a leader. You can learn on your own, but you’ll learn best with a coach who may even consider using an assessment to set a baseline and monitor progress over time.
Get started developing your Emotional Intelligence (EI/EQ). Check out my article: How To Build Emotional Intelligence And Be A Better Leader
Leadership models and theories
One key element of leadership coaching is exposing leaders (new and old) to various leadership models and theories as opportunities to view current or past problems through new lenses.
By considering leadership challenges through various leadership models or theories, leaders can identify the impact of their behaviors and determine what type of leader they wish to become.
A few leadership models or theories you might be exposed to by your coach include:
- Transformational Leadership
- Servant Leadership
- Situational Leadership (a personal favorite of mine)
- Adaptive Leadership
- Behavioral Theory of Leadership
Learn more: 11 Leadership Models to Help You Become a Better Leader
Learning to coach people and teams is a critical skill of a well-rounded leader. Coaching people and teams is different than leadership coaching, but your leadership coaching can help you become a better people and team coach.
While you develop your own emotional intelligence skills, your coach may encourage you to consider also how you can coach people and teams on their own journey.
Adults learn best from their own data, meaning that experiential learning is best for teaching adults new ideas.
Being coached yourself will help you learn the facilitation skills to be a great coach to others, including your direct reports in your own coaching style, fit to the team that you already know so well!
Learn more about how to coach people and teams as a leader, especially in times of change.
Once you’ve learned some coaching skills and are ready to begin coaching your people and teams, learn how to evolve from “the boss” to “the coach” to unlock the potential of your team.
Some more resources to help you to develop your coaching and leadership skills:
- Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives
- The Coaching Habit: Say Less And Ask More
- The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks To You
- 5 Coaching Skills Leaders Can Use To Navigate Change
- How To Listen Better, A Look At The Different Levels Of Listening
- How to Put Employees In the Driver’s Seat of Career Development
Leaders must always be learners. As a leader, you must constantly be growing and developing so that you can continue to lead your teams effectively.
Leaders who stop learning eventually stop being effective leaders. They can become stale and out of touch with what is happening in the world around them, and may also start making bad decisions that can hurt their team or organization.
Consider if a new leader joined your organization from a different industry, maybe even from a different time. Would the leadership tactics of the Oil and Gas Industry in 1995 work in a software company in 2023? I’d bet not. Especially in our ever-changing world of work, staying up to date with leadership trends and meeting the changing needs of employees or followers is essential to being an effective leader.
That's why it's so important for leaders to continue learning throughout their careers. They need to be constantly expanding their knowledge and skills so that they can stay ahead of the curve and make the best decisions possible for their teams. Learning helps leaders stay current and relevant, which is essential for success in today's world.
A leadership coach can help leaders continue to learn by providing them with feedback and assessment, resources and tools, and encouragement.
Leaders can use the feedback and assessment from their coach to help them grow and develop as leaders, including building skills in coaching others.
A good coach builds not only another good coach, but a lifelong learner and student of leadership that will keep the leader developing well beyond the coaching engagement.
How to select a leadership coaching program?
When looking for a leadership coach or coaching program, it is important to find someone with the right skillset and knowledge as either your personal coach or to run the program.
The coach should be able to help the leader develop their skills and grow as a leader.
Some things to look for in a coach include:
- Experience in leadership development, leadership training and coaching
- Knowledge of different leadership styles, models and theories
- Able to provide feedback and critique in a constructive way
- Has a good understanding of the leader's goals and aspirations
- General knowledge of your specific industry or leadership context
- Bonus: Certified Coach. You might seek a coach with a leadership coaching certification such as those from the International Coach Federation (ICF).
It is also important to find someone who you (the leader) can trust and feel comfortable working with. The coach should be able to build a positive relationship with the you and help you grow both professionally and personally.
If looking for a leadership coaching program, note the difference between leadership development and coaching.
Leadership development is a process that helps individuals learn the competencies, skills and knowledge necessary to be effective leaders.
Leadership coaching, on the other hand, is a process that helps individuals improve their existing leadership skills through focusing on real-life experiences.
Look for a leadership coach or coaching program that is designed to support and help individuals improve their effectiveness as leaders.
The coach can help identify areas of improvement and develop a growth plan. They should be able to provide guidance and feedback and offer resources and contacts to help the individual succeed.
In addition, you might have an in-person coach or a coach you can meet with virtually. Both types of interaction are proven to be effective, so pick whichever is the best fit for your schedule to ensure you are able to attend your coaching sessions consistently as a coachee.
Length of a leadership coach engagement or leadership coaching program can vary depending on the needs of the individual or organization. However, most engagements last for six months to one year.
Peers and cohort model
When looking for a leadership coach engagement or leadership coaching program, it’s important to find one that caters to your specific industry, level, leadership methodology or mindset. This will help ensure that you receive the most relevant and beneficial coaching possible.
For example, if you’re looking for a program to help you develop your skills as an executive or senior leader, it’s important to find one that focuses on coaching executive leaders versus one that might be focused more on coaching new leaders.
There are a few online resources for finding a leadership coach, professional coach or coaching program.
- BetterUp Leadership Coaching - Find an Executive Coach
- Ezra Coaching Programs - Programs for Leaders at Different Stages
- Center for Creative Leadership - Leadership Coaching
- Leadership Coach Group - Opportunities for Leaders at Every Level
If you’re ready to begin working with a coach, talk with trusted peers or leaders in your network and ask if they have had positive experiences with coaches, or coaching programs, to find what opportunities might be local or well respected in your community or industry.
Bonus: Are you looking to create a leadership coaching program? Check out the Center for Creative Leadership for tips and tricks for creating a leadership coaching program.
Bonus: Leadership and Professional Development Opportunities. Because this article is about coaching, but coaching might sometimes be considered the same as leadership or professional development (which is is not), these links might be helpful in taking the next steps in leadership development.
Are you ready to take your leadership to the next level with a coach? If so, it’s time to get serious about finding a coach.
Check out the links to a few notable programs above, and talk with your community or personal board of directors about programs or coaches they respect and have experience with.
Next, get ready to engage! You might not meet the coach, coaching approach or training program that is right for you on your first try. That’s OK!
Not every coach is right for every leader. Keep going. You will find the right person or program who will coach and facilitate you on the way to reaching your full potential.
Some further resources to help you develop personally and professionally:
- 3 Ways To Build Your Professional Network And Make Meaningful Connections
- Unlearning Leadership: How To Lead In The New World Of Work (with Bev Attfield from Within People)
- 14 Leadership Books For New And Experienced Leaders
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