Key reasons to embrace a leader as a coach strategy


Today’s complex, rapidly changing markets mean organisations face a constant stream of new challenges and opportunities. Incorporating coaching into leadership and management delivers the flexibility and employee performance required for success.


In fact, research suggests that leader as a coach strategies deliver a variety of benefits. Not only does coaching generate improvements in the efficiency, performance and creativity of individuals and teams, but it also nurtures more empowered individuals who are willing to take greater responsibility. It also tends to lead to higher job satisfaction and employees who are more engaged and more willing to speak up and discuss their challenges.


One study suggests that salespeople whose managers are better at coaching perform better and are 10% more likely to meet their targets. Business management experts tie Microsoft’s successful post-2014 transformation to the way incoming its CEO, Satya Nadella, helped the company transition from a traditional command and control leadership style to one focused on the leader as a coach.


Microsoft’s success is a prime illustration of why the leader as a coach concept has come to the fore. Leaders can’t be expected to have all the answers to today’s challenges, so they need to rely on a management style that develops individuals and teams, equipping them to solve problems and seize opportunities.


What is coaching in management and leadership?

A leader as a coach behaves very much like an effective coach of a sports team. Their role is to support individuals in improving their performance and hitting their personal goals. This translates into better overall performance that enables the organisation/team to better meet its goals.


In stark contrast to command and control or autocratic leadership – in which leaders simply dictate what employees should do – coaching is focused on developing staff so that they can learn how to analyse the situation they’re in and make their own decisions. The coach helps employees to define their goals, understand their strengths and weaknesses and come up with their own effective strategies.


While it has similarities to mentoring – which also strongly emphasises staff development -coaching is not quite the same. One of the biggest differences is that mentoring is based on employees soaking up wisdom and learning from an experienced leader. Instead, coaching is more about helping individuals and teams unlock their own potential.


In the main, coaching is delivered internally by leaders and managers working closely with employees on a daily basis. However, recently there’s been a growing trend towards hiring external online coaches, making coaching more accessible and affordable. As HR expert Josh Bersin says, “The new market democratizes this solution. Every employee, every supervisor, and every manager can now have a coach.”


Why is a leader as a coach strategy important?

The need for organisations to negotiate the constant change that defines today’s business environment underlines why coaching is in high demand. Allied with this, the rise in remote and hybrid working makes it harder than ever for leaders and managers to be on hand  micromanage employees through every decision. Individuals who work in dispersed teams must be able to think independently, tackling the daily challenges that come their way.


With its emphasis on breeding a culture of innovation, coaching is a leadership style that’s designed to help individuals and teams come up with new and creative ways to tackle business problems. In this way it has parallels with transformational leadership in which leaders inspire and motivate their teams to constantly innovate and challenge the status quo as they focus on a shared vision which exceeds current expectations.


The benefits of adopting the coach as leader model are manifold. 63% of companies that provide employee coaching report higher revenue and income growth than competitors, while research identifies specific gains such as increased employee engagement (67%), improved employee perceptions of leadership quality (60%), and improved productivity (50%). No wonder that according to international human-resources consultancy the Hay Group , 25 to 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies use executive coaches.


Measuring the impact of a leader as a coach strategy

As with all management styles, organisations need to measure the impact and success of leader as a coach strategies. That revolves around collecting feedback, both from leaders themselves, and the teams they manage. Are teams engaged, more productive and do retention rates increase? Organisations should look to gather 360 degree feedback from leaders as well from their teams and the wider organisation to ensure coaching is on the right path.


How can a leader become a good coach?

Leader as a coach management is not easy and may not come naturally to all leaders. However, with step-by-step advice and a commitment to learning, it’s possible for leaders to develop a coaching leadership style.

Specifically, a good leader as a coach needs to be willing and able to do the following:

  • Devote time to understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals they’re managing
  • Ask the right questions to help employees:
    • define their goals
    • review potential actions
    • assess and choose an option/tactic
  • Be non-judgemental in the way they encourage and guide individuals to find their own answers and solutions. The leader shouldn’t let their own bias affect their people’s decisions.
  • Give and receive constructive feedback, especially through 360-degree feedback
  • Demonstrate understanding and empathy
  • Give praise and encouragement and help employees celebrate wins in order to motivate and inspire continued progress


Many of the above will require leaders to hone new skills through leadership development and dedicated leader as a coach training. There are also a variety of models that leaders can make use of to effectively deliver coaching include the GROW, CLEAR and OSKAR models.


Challenges to overcome with leadership as a coach strategies

Coaching requires a fundamental shift towards an organisational culture that’s focused on learning and development – something that requires buy-in from senior leadership. And while it can be incredibly powerful, it doesn’t come without its challenges.


Transitioning to a leader as coach strategy can’t be achieved overnight, while there’s a cost to organisations in terms of time and resources. Leaders themselves must be ready to engage with the programme and put in effort to develop their people, while employees need to be committed to self-development and growth.


It’s also important to recognise that coaching may not be suited to all situations. For example, when a business must navigate out of a crisis as quickly as possible or when a short-term goal needs to be achieved, it might be more effective for an experienced leader to use their knowledge and expertise to take faster “command and control” style decisions.


Leaders have to recognise that given the pace of change in in today’s new world of work, it’s impossible for them to always be on hand with the right answers. Which means it’s more important than ever to embrace coaching. Not only is it a leadership style that helps cultivate a culture in which individuals and teams are able to innovate and think for themselves, it also improves employee engagement, productivity and retention.