The coaching style of leadership involves leaders taking on the role of a coach. They work to ensure the development of their individual team members and show how their role fits within the larger organizational structure and strategy.
Leaders with a coaching orientation are usually experienced professionals with expertise in the project domain under their stewardship.
According to the coaching leadership style, a good leader can assess each team member’s skillset, identify the areas where they need improvement, and then devise a plan to facilitate that development.
This can mean providing additional training, working one-on-one as a mentor, or helping an individual map out a career plan.
Definition of Coaching Style of Leadership
The coaching style of leadership is a very people-oriented approach. It is time-consuming and long-term.
Most importantly, it works best when the individual is receptive to being trained and willing to reciprocate the effort. Because this can be a long-term process, it takes significant commitment from both the leader and the individual being coached.
In the words of Berg and Karlsen (2016),
“The leader supports and challenges colleagues, with the intent of helping them achieve individual development goals. Consequently, a CLS is most effective when managers want to help their employees build lasting personal strengths” (pp. 3, 4).
Coaching Style of Leadership Examples
1. The CLEAR Coaching Model
Most coaching models are geared towards long-term change. However, the CLEAR model is more focused on generating change at the time of coaching.
It encourages the coach to slow down and explore the motivations involved in underperformance and emphasizes a listening mindset. The coach and the employee work together to identify emotions and motivations behind a given situation.
The CLEAR model consists of five steps:
- Contract: The coach and employee define what “success” will look like at the end of the meeting.
- Listen: The employee expresses their thoughts and feelings about the purpose of the meeting.
- Explore: They delve deeper into different perspectives regarding the scenario being discussed.
- Action: Both parties reach an agreement on the required changes the employee needs to take.
- Review: Replay the key points and determine whether the objectives in the Contract were met.
The CLEAR model is a great example of a coaching style of leadership technique.
2. Peer Coaching Model
There are many manifestations of a coaching style of leadership; the peer coaching model is one version.
With this approach, employees observe how their colleagues handle situations or tasks, which will give them a sense of confidence as to what can be accomplished.
This is a kind of modeling that is passive on the part of the observer, but still effective.
Peer coaching can also be more interactive, wherein two colleagues at similar levels of experience work with each other. By offering support and advice when needed, both employees benefit by alternating roles as coach and recipient.
This version of coaching is more reciprocal and based on the peers having an equal relationship and status within the organization.
3. Work Simulations
A work simulation is one of many techniques implemented in a coaching style of leadership.
It involves creating an experiential activity that mimics the conditions of a real-world work situation.
The parameters of the simulation are similar to what could be encountered on the job. The role players work through the simulation and then receive feedback from the coach when completed.
The feedback delivered by the coach can include direct information regarding what the employee(s) did wrong and identify the different alternatives that would have produced better outcomes.
This allows the employees to experience a challenging situation in a risk-free environment, where they can make mistakes without the negative consequences.
Work simulations are commonly used in leadership programs because they are very effective at helping employees improve their skills.
4. University Career Counseling Center
When a university offers the services of a Career Counseling Center, it shows that it practices a coaching style of leadership.
Students can benefit from many options offered by the Center. For example, a career counselor can help students formulate a career plan which identifies specific milestones on the path to their short-term and long-term goals.
This plan can include training suggestions for developing tech skills, language skills, or soft skills, among others.
The Center may also offer mock interviews so that a student can practice responding to challenging questions and presenting themselves in a professional manner.
The mock interviews are recorded, which will allow the counselor to provide feedback regarding the strengths and weaknesses of student’s performance. This process may be repeated to ensure progress and instill confidence.
These are all examples of a coaching philosophy that is focused on helping the student develop and grow as an aspiring professional.
According to a 2022 study by MentorcliQ, over 80% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs.
Mentors are usually very experienced members of the organization that are highly respected and known for their soft skills. They will work closely with a few employees over a long period to help those individuals develop their skills to a higher level.
Those individuals probably show promise in the eyes of executives and are being groomed to play a significant long-term role in the company.
Mentoring programs have other benefits as well, including: reducing turnover, increasing employee engagement, improving job satisfaction and company loyalty.
If a company did not subscribe to a coaching style of leadership, they would not spend the valuable time of talented executives working one-on-one with individual employees.
6. Organizational Development Consultant
An organizational development (OD) consultant works with a company to improve the entire organization’s effectiveness. They are often hired when there are significant issues related to the organization’s culture.
The company may be trapped in traditional management practices which can be slow and cumbersome. However, in the modern era, a company needs to be agile and able to respond quickly to changing market demands and consumer preferences. For executives that have been working in the same culture for 30 years, that can be a difficult transition.
The OD consultant will help identify the current state of the company’s culture, evaluate existing policies, identify areas for improvement, and develop a thorough action plan.
That is a lot to tackle and can be met with a great deal of resentment from insiders. This is why OD consultants are masters of the coaching style of leadership. They know how to connect with others and persuade them to see the benefits of change.
7. The GROW Model
The GROW model is a coaching technique to generate problem-solving, goal setting, and performance improvement.
The model creates a mechanism that encourages employees to bridge the gap between their current level of performance and where they need to be.
There are four key components of the GROW model:
- Goal: Employees identify what their primary goals are and what they hope to achieve.
- Reality: The employee is asked to consider the facts of their situation by asking who, what, when, where, and how questions. This will help them adopt a realistic mindset.
- Options: Ask the employee to imagine having a “magic wand” that could solve issues. This is a simple technique to discover divergent alternatives.
- Will: Help the employee consider the best course of action and formulate a clear plan.
Implementing the GROW model is an excellent technique that stems directly from a coaching style of leadership.
8. Continuing Education Assistance
Many organizations see the value of helping their employees receive more education.
Unfortunately, working 9-5, five days a week doesn’t allow much time for staff to take a university course.
However, many universities have a Continuing Education program that has been specifically designed for returning students who work during the day.
The company will help pay for all or part of the tuition fees, and maybe even offer a flex-time schedule so staff can enroll in courses that are only offered during traditional working hours.
The course offerings are varied, but often focused on developing business-related skills, such as how to use Excel or training in business administration. Not everyone majored in an area that they now work in, so helping employees receive an education that will help them be better at their job is a win/win situation.
9. Leadership Development Specialist
A leadership development specialist is a master of coaching. They often work with an organization or business to help them develop the potential of future leaders.
This can involve assessing employees’ leadership potential, providing direct coaching services, or even helping that company establish their own leadership training program.
These are not the actions of a company that cares not about its people. Many executives in long-established organizations recognize the value of promoting talent from within.
People already in the organization understand the culture, the policies and procedures, and the general “know-how” of operations.
Hiring an outside consultant or establishing an internal leadership department are not inexpensive endeavors.
However, it does have multiple benefits. When employees see a company expending valuable human and financial resources to help their careers, it improves cohesion and fosters company loyalty.
It is a systemic manifestation of a company’s coaching philosophy.
10. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft
Satya Nadella became CEO of Microsoft in 2014. One of the first tasks he enacted to put his brand of leadership style in place was to add an interesting statement to the company’s mission.
He laid out that new mission in an email sent to all employees:
“Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”
This is a quite dramatic declaration; not only to empower the employees of Microsoft, but to include every person on the planet as well is truly ambitious.
Nadella is often described as a practitioner of positive leadership and uses terms such as “growth mindset” and “empathy” to inspire his employees to strive for greatness, but not fear failure. This shows the enthusiasm of Nadella and his leadership style focused on coaching.
The coaching style of leadership is one of the many new emerging leadership philosophies that is centered on helping employees develop their potential.
It shares key characteristics with several other types of leadership that are also focused on individual growth.
As Goleman writes in the Harvard Business Review, “Coaching leaders help employees identify their unique strengths and weaknesses and tie them to their personal and career aspirations.”
When employees thrive, the company thrives. Long gone are the days when employees were considered cogs in a corporate machine that could, and should, be replaced as necessary. Today, some of the most successful companies in the world practice a coaching leadership style that takes the form of career-focused action plans, mentoring, and specialized leadership programs.
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