Leaders who invest generous amounts of time, energy, and resources into the professional and leadership development of their direct reports are said to have a coaching leadership style. The coaching leadership style has emerged in recent years as one of the most effective ways to overcome some of the critical challenges leaders face today, including employee turnover and succession planning.
Carefully executed, the leader who also serves as a coach enables organizations to build strong and highly capable workforces while also securing their long-term success.
What is the coaching leadership style?
The coaching leadership style encourages leaders at all levels of the organization to place greater emphasis on developing those individuals in their leadership pipelines for future positions of authority within the organization. Where present, the coaching leadership style touches all levels of leadership, and mid-level managers are as equally encouraged as senior leadership to focus on the professional development of their direct reports.
How it compares to different leadership styles
Coaching leaders are different from those with different leadership styles in that they place extra importance on hiring, retention, growth, and the long-term success of the organization. However, the coaching leadership style should not be considered a standalone approach to leadership. For optimal results, it should work in tandem with other styles based on the particular needs of the organization in a given circumstance.
For example, while the coaching leadership style is most effective when considering future growth plans, the strategic leadership style is better for devising, communicating, and ensuring alignment around a strategic vision. We find that leaders can effectively combine both styles.
The situations that call for coaching leadership
While most organizations would benefit from prioritizing coaching at the leadership level, some might see added advantages depending on their unique characteristics. Specifically, smaller startup companies that are hyperfocused on growth and scalability might benefit more from the added emphasis on hiring the right people and seeing each new hire as a potential future leader that comes with coaching leadership.
Additionally, leaner organizations that place greater importance on agility and flexibility might also benefit disproportionately from a coaching leadership style. It's important for lean organizations to maximize the value and contribution of each individual team member, and preparing all junior staff for senior management roles fits neatly into this objective.
What challenges is the coaching leadership style uniquely positioned to overcome?
Organizations that centralize the coaching leadership style are best equipped to overcome many of the challenges facing executives in the modern business environment. These include:
- Labor shortages: Organizations continue to struggle to hire and retain top talent in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation. Making meaningful time and resource investments in the professional development of employees provides a significant boon to hiring and retention practices, demonstrating to both job candidates and current staff that you are committed to their long-term growth.
- Appealing to a younger labor force: As the workforce gradually evolves to include a greater proportion of members of Gen Z, the coaching leadership style helps better equip organizations to reach and attract the talent in this labor pool. Members of Gen Z expect more professional development efforts from their employers than those in previous generations, and they tend to place greater importance on opportunities for career development and upward mobility.
- Succession planning: The average tenure with a single employer is now just 4.1 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and younger workers in particular have a growing list of items on their resumes (their average job tenure is 2.8 years). This makes it difficult for leadership teams to put adequate succession plans in place, and many organizations will struggle with succession planning in the coming years. Those that emphasize coaching leadership are best positioned to overcome this hurdle and groom junior leaders for senior management positions in the future.
The 5 key coaching leadership qualities
While there are numerous qualities that constitute the coaching leadership style, the combination of the following five skills distinguish it from other leadership styles:
1. Risk taking
Risk taking has twin benefits for organizations governed by coaching leadership. On the one hand, taking measured, calculated risks encourages innovation and keeps the organization at the cutting edge of developments in its specific industry. When risks pay off, there are huge rewards in terms of growth and market share.
On the other hand, the natural downside of risk taking is that it doesn't always pay off, and sometimes things go south. That isn't a problem for organizations with a coaching leadership style. When taking risks doesn't work out as intended, these moments are recast as opportunities to learn from mistakes, coach teams accordingly, and take smarter risks in the future.
Learning and nurturing are at the heart of the coaching leadership style, and that means coaching leaders must create an organizational culture that is highly collaborative and encourages teamwork. Creating ample opportunities for individuals to interact with one another maximizes the chances of learning new techniques, methods and approaches. It also means team members can learn from their mistakes and develop better ways of addressing problems — together.
Collaboration also helps more individuals become involved in the functioning of the team, helping them feel like valued members with important perspectives, insights and knowledge to contribute. This is an important part of learning each employees' strengths and weaknesses, while also giving them space to practice critical leadership skills like delegation, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.
3. Long-term planning
Those with a coaching leadership style always have their eyes on the future. Preparing the next generation of leaders means understanding future trends in the industry and how those will impact organizational needs; then, using that information to identify high-potential employees who are best suited to lead in the future.
It also means understanding the growth opportunities of each individual, and having a keen sense for what their long-term potential is when given proper investment in their development.
Even in the fast-paced nature of the modern business environment, patience is a virtue. Those with a coaching leadership style understand that it takes time to develop junior staff into senior leaders, and they know there will be pitfalls and challenges to overcome that could delay progress throughout.
The coaching leader has the patience to carefully and methodically provide the proper training and development to turn junior staff into confident leaders, and they don't get easily flustered when leadership development doesn't deliver results immediately.
5. Empathy and emotional intelligence
At the core of the coaching leadership style is an empathetic attitude toward individuals at all levels of leadership. To invest properly in the professional development of each employee, it's critical that leaders understand their experience, professional goals, strengths, and weaknesses. Empathy and emotional intelligence both enable leaders to take a sincere interest in the personal perspectives and feelings of each individual, and then to work with them to create development plans that match their particular profile.
Empathy also lets leaders share in the development and success of their direct reports. Watching them learn and master new leadership skill sets is personally gratifying to the empathetic leader, and this helps facilitate further growth and a stronger professional relationship.
The main advantages of the coaching leadership style
When properly implemented, the coaching leadership style carries advantages for both individual team members and the organization at large.
The advantages for individuals
Employees who are intensely interested in their professional development and seeking new opportunities to challenge themselves tend to thrive in coaching leadership-oriented organizations. These organizations do a great job of earmarking resources to fund development courses and other opportunities to enhance leadership and general professional competencies.
There is no shortage of opportunities at these organizations to grow, and employees who find themselves in the right role will realize that there is no limit on the amount of new leadership skill sets they can gain. Even if they choose not to pursue a long-term career at their current employer, the experience they gain will make them highly marketable job candidates when they do hit the labor market again.
The advantages for the organization
Developing leaders internally has numerous advantages over hiring them externally. Hiring is a huge time and resource commitment, and there is always a risk associated with bringing in new people. That risk is magnified when people are brought in to fill leadership roles, as they will have outsized influence over the performance and direction of the wider organization.
In addition to saving time and money, hiring internally ensures organizational and institutional stability. A coaching leadership style is not just an investment in your employees — it's an investment in your culture.
The potential pitfalls of the coaching leadership style
While most organizations will benefit from an emphasis on coaching and professional development, as with any leadership style, there are some potential pitfalls to consider. These include:
- Alignment of current leadership: From the very beginning, creating an environment conducive to the coaching leadership style depends on selling a substantial portion of existing leaders to this approach. Leaders who prefer the command-and-control style of leadership simply will not consider development a priority, and this will make it extremely challenging to earn sufficient buy-in for coaching leadership.
- Current business fortunes: It might be easier to invest time and resources into the professional development of each team member when the organization is performing well. However, when times are tough and performance takes a dip, it can be tempting to retreat and devote resources strictly to buoying the numbers. While there is some sense in taking that route, disregarding professional development could have long-term consequences.
- Fixed leadership mindsets: Leaders (and even employees) who are used to a command-and-control leadership structure might find it difficult to adapt to coaching leadership. Command-and-control emphasizes numbers and performance, and gives comparatively little attention to the development of individual team members. These leadership styles are incompatible, and having too many command-and-control-oriented leaders on staff can make it difficult to transition to coaching leadership.
The Bailey Group's leadership coaching approach
Effectively implementing a coaching leadership style across your organization starts with the executive leadership team. C-suite leaders have to embody this style of leadership because their approach and practices will serve as a model for the rest of the organization.
If executive leaders are setting time aside to help their direct reports learn new skills and take the next steps in their careers, not only does it create an expectation across the organization, but it also encourages leaders further down the hierarchy to mimic that behavior to the benefit of their own teams.
At The Bailey Group, helping executives and leadership teams develop coaching leadership is central to our executive coaching style. One of the most important components of our approach is conveying to leaders their responsibility as models not just for their direct reports, but also for the organization as a whole. As they overcome challenges, learn better techniques, and become stronger performers, it is incumbent upon them to pass on their insights to everyone else around them.
We don't just encourage leaders to become coaches, mentors, and teachers; we also want them to have an inquisitive and curious mindset themselves. We want them to constantly evaluate and reevaluate their own performance and identify possible areas of opportunity to create a cycle of constant improvement.
If you're interested in unlocking your leadership potential and becoming a great leader, check out our blog for more leadership insights, and reach out to our team to schedule a free consultation.