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What is a coaching leadership style? A way to engage employees.

What is a coaching leadership style - Empowerment Coaching Kraków Blog

The coaching leadership style is an approach that creates a high-performance culture at work but also ensures a safe work environment and supports a sense of individual satisfaction. The hallmarks of this culture are collaboration, empowerment, and personal fulfillment.

Collaboration is the most important of these characteristics and often contrasts with a "command and control" approach, aka autocratic style. "Command and control" behaviors suppress individual potential and enforce a high-pressure work environment. Leaders need a better way to motivate and lead their teams.

In addition to explaining what a coaching leadership style is and where it comes from, we will also provide an example of what a coaching conversation with an employee looks like and how much impact it has compared to the classic approach.

You will also find links to supplementary information, for example, to a comprehensive study entitled Leader as a Coach, which contains, among others, examples of specific questions and tools that a manager can use in conversations with an employee.

At the end of the article, you will find a link to a free ebook that allows a leader to build the psychological safety of an employee thanks to the technique of asking coaching questions.

The foundations of the coaching leadership style of management

Coaching leadership and management encompasses mindsets and behaviors, combining them to create the best leadership possible. This is done by focusing on getting the best out of each team member.

The coaching style of leadership and management is based on specific skills. It is also deeply rooted in ethics. Its key elements are:

  • Partnership and cooperation,

  • Faith in human potential

  • Trust and security,

  • Pure intention,

  • Continuous learning and development,

  • Strong questions,

  • Active listening,

  • Feedback.

In recent times, due to the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic, empathy is also becoming increasingly important. In short, a coaching leadership style offers high levels of personalized support balanced by helpful feedback. We can consider it as being the polar opposite of autocratic leadership.

It is also worth mentioning that this management style is often confused with the democratic leadership style. However, they differ significantly. For more information on democratic style, please refer to respective sources.

Who is the creator of the coaching leadership style?

Sir John Whitmore, widely recognized as the father of modern business coaching, is considered the pioneer of this style.

It all began in the late 1970s when Sir John brought to Europe the concept of The Inner Game created by Tim Gallwey for the sports community.

A group of IBM executives who had experienced the concept as skiers asked if they could bring it to their company. They were very intrigued by this method of releasing human potential. Sir John accepted the challenge, and the 'leader-coach' approach was born.

This is what Sir John Whitmore said about it:

“A leader’s task is simple: to get the job done and develop employees. Coaching is one process with both effects.”

What is a coaching leadership style - 2 - Empowerment Coaching Kraków Blog

What is the difference between a coaching leadership style and a traditional management style? Examples.

The traditional "command and control" management style is one where leaders know best and have all the answers (or feel they should). On the other hand, the coaching leadership style creates a collaboration between the leader and team members that empowers everyone. The introduction of this change puts people behind the wheel of their actions.

The video below shows this fundamental difference live in 5 minutes:

Is the coaching approach related to emotional intelligence?

In the book entitled "Coaching for Performance", known as the "Bible" of business coaching, Sir John Whitmore explains that coaching is the practice of emotional intelligence. It is primarily a mindset, a way of being, not just a set of skills.

Research shows that high emotional intelligence gives managers a significant advantage in effectiveness. Emotional intelligence is twice as important as cognitive ability in predicting outstanding performance.

What are the benefits and advantages of a coaching leadership style?

Among the most immediate benefits is the reduction of stress both for team members who feel more empowered and for leaders who no longer feel they have to give all the answers. Independent studies also show a measurable improvement in employee engagement and the hard bottom line (please see the post: History of Coaching).

Leaders who adopt this approach are called "leader-coaches". They increase their people's sense of responsibility and self-confidence. They offer choice wherever possible while providing a good balance between support and challenge.

Coach-style leaders are also great at giving constructive feedback to improve performance. They help their team members define and pursue individual development goals. They schedule a time to talk one-on-one with each team member and focus on steering them toward their preferred career goals. And they can smoothly work with both short-term and long-term goals.

Such leaders are also open to constructive criticism from their team — even if that feedback is hard to hear. They are not defensive nor aggressive and capable of reflecting on information obtained. This fosters an atmosphere of mutual trust and strengthens the psychological safety of all employees.

According to Performance Consultants, co-founded by Sir John, the benefits of the style change are far-reaching and affect not only professional life but life in general.

"It will change your life, not just the way you work with others."

Steps to employ a coaching leadership style at work

If you want to try this style at your organization, here are some tips on how to get started:

  • Meet your team regularly,

  • Set individual development goals,

  • Provide team members with regular feedback and support,

  • Pro-actively collect feedback on yourself,

  • Celebrate successes, and give credit where credit is due,

  • Be flexible and adapt your approach when needed.

Goals are the catalyst for long-term growth. Well-defined goals ensure that each developmental objective is achievable. Hence, let us underline the importance of goal-setting skills and remind the SMART objectives technique. The SMART objective should meet the following criteria:

  • Specific. Goals should be clear to avoid confusion. 

  • Measurable. You should be able to measure the progress. Similarly, you should be clear about how you will know the objective has been achieved.

  • Achievable. The goal should align with an employee’s performance to ensure it is realistic.

  • Relevant. Individual goals should be aligned with company-wide objectives or your department's needs.

  • Time-bound. Each goal should have a reasonable time frame for its realization so your team remains motivated to work towards it without feeling overwhelmed. 

I also invite you to visit a subpage on our website, which is part of the knowledge library

There you will find, among others:

  1. An intriguing comparison of two leadership styles: Leaders focused on solving problems and Leaders acting as coaches.

  2. Four specific tools that you can start using immediately and start practicing the coaching leadership style.

Leader as a Coach - tools - Empowerment Coaching Krakow


In addition, our website offers a free e-book titled The Engaging Leader Questions Library.

There, you will find specific question sets used to develop and practice a coaching leadership style.

Their great advantage is that they build the psychological safety of the employee, and they naturally increase engagement and motivation.

In this free PDF, you will also find a notable chapter supporting the work of a leader on yourself. And in it, among other things, an orderly process of collecting feedback about yourself.

Of course, it is based on adequately formulated questions.

This is also the space where you can find a comprehensive description of the Situational Leadership Style developed by Ken Blanchard.

You will find the explanation of employee readiness stages and the respective leadership styles you apply to manage this readiness.

The Engaging Leader Questions Library - free pdf ebook - Empowerment Coaching Krakow

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