The Coaching Leadership Style: How And When To Utilize It
A strong leader makes for a strong team. That much is fact.
Sure, your employees all have their own merits and are capable of working independently. But it’s impossible to understate how useful a cohesive, supporting leader is to guide them along. To help hone their skills. In other words, to coach them.
When it comes to deciding which leadership style works best for you, you need to think about what you want your team to achieve. What are your goals? Do you value the end result more than the journey it took to get there? Do you want to become a Most Loved Workplace®?
Whilst there are many different leadership styles, each with their own set of benefits and drawbacks, there are a couple that consistently seem to stand above the rest. One of these is known as the Coaching Leadership Style.
But what exactly does this mean? The idea of coaching may prompt memories of sports, of being made to run around a track in the rain whilst a teacher under an umbrella blew whistles at you. We promise it’s not that. Not at all.
What Is A Coaching Style Of Leadership?
The basic premise of this particular style is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each of your team members, and utilize each person in the best way possible. By taking the time to assess your team members, you can paint a better picture of how they work and where they will be most successful. You can also identify which areas need the most work.
Coaching leaders act as guiding figures, as mentors. An emphasis is placed on meaningful, constructive feedback and genuine conversations that will have a lasting impact. This method focuses on encouraging employees to do their best in a way that suits the needs of the whole group.
Ideally, you want your employees to be able to go on and coach others in a similar fashion by the end of your time together (and with a little extra training).
How Does It Compare To Other Leadership Styles?
Most of us probably have an idea in our minds of what we expect a leader to be. Someone dependable, who we can trust, who coordinates a group to achieve a goal. However, there are many different styles which can change depending on the specifics of your organization and what end result you hope to achieve.
Here are some of the most common examples you can expect to see frequently throughout the working world, derived principally from the studies of psychologist Kurt Lewin in the 1930s.
Also known as autocratic leadership, this style is commonly found in intensely rigid, hierarchical establishments such as the military.
A huge emphasis is put on the end result, and how efficiently you can deliver it. As a result, leaders can be quite ruthless, often in total control of a situation. Employees/subordinates have no choice but to follow along and are rarely asked for their input or opinions on matters.
It’s certainly not for everyone, especially those who are more creatively inclined or don’t like being managed strictly.
By operating using democratic leadership, everything becomes open for discussion. There is a lot of participation from both the team leader and the team members, creating a more equal playing field for collaboration and ideas.
This is a very effective leadership style for encouraging creativity – perfect if your team needs to design something, come up with advertisements, new marketing strategies, or involve other tasks which require some creative freedom.
The trade-off here is that, whilst flexible and stress-free, results are not delivered as quickly as under other leadership styles. Discussions can become quite lengthy, and it is possible to run into roadblocks when members of a team cannot agree on an idea or approach going forward.
Perhaps you have a lot on your plate, and not much time. You can’t afford to spend a long time walking your team through everything. You might need to delegate tasks in order to break up a heavy workload.
The delegative style – or laissez-faire leadership, as it’s often known – is the “trust your employees to get on and get the work done in their own way” method. It grants a fair amount of autonomy to team members, as they can choose how to go about solving each task in a way that suits them best.
However, it’s easy to get confused as the lines between roles can become blurred when everything is left to the employees. You’ve got to balance making sure people know their roles so there’s no stepping on anyone’s toes, and also being able to crack on and get done what you need to. It’s a fine line.
Additional Leadership Styles
This article goes on to talk about the other leadership examples you can find, and where they are best applied. They contain a mixture of approaches, from the Emotional leadership theories of Daniel Goleman in 1996, and Bernard M. Bass’s styles from the 1980s. To briefly summarize, these styles include:
- Visionary leadership – useful for when you have a goal in mind but an uncertain path to get there
- Affiliative leadership – this helps build strong interpersonal relationships with team members.
- Pacesetting leadership – fast paced and stressful, focusing on high quality, performance, and productivity
- Commanding leadership – useful for leading new, unskilled workers to achieve a common goal
- Transformational leadership – focuses on the bigger picture and requires a high degree of emotional intelligence, but can often overlook smaller tasks
- Transactional leadership – employees complete tasks for their manager in exchange for monetary gains
What Are The Characteristics Of Coaching Leadership?
As with any style, the coaching leadership method isn’t perfect. It all depends on what your business hopes to achieve, and what works best for you when it comes to leading your team.
If you’re looking for a more holistic method of leading a group, the coaching method is the way to go. It’s comprehensive, well-rounded, and perfect for long-term projects.
But, of course, there are some points you need to be wary of.
6 Ways To Be An Effective Coaching Leader
Becoming a good coach doesn’t happen overnight. Just as you need to work on your team, you also need to work on yourself. This type of style doesn’t always suit everyone’s personality, so give yourself some leeway.
But, on the whole, there are a few things you should keep in mind if you’re determined to turn yourself into a great leader.
1. As Ever, Communication Is Key
When it comes to communication, you need to take three things into account:
Are you being transparent with your intentions? You can’t expect your employees to follow you blindly. Whilst this mindset is drilled into army cadets, the majority of people won’t appreciate being ordered around without reason. Make sure it’s clear what you want from them, why you want it, and what you’re going to do as a team to make sure this is achieved.
Are you offering meaningful feedback? “That’s good” or “that’s bad” isn’t going to cut it. You need to be specific with what your feedback is and how it can be applied moving forward. Constructive criticism is very useful for directing people, but it can’t be heavy-handed or you risk embarrassing or isolating people from your group.
Do you listen to your team members when they ask questions? Developing communication skills goes both ways. You need to concisely state what you want and expect, but you need to give others the chance to do the same. If they don’t trust your leadership, they won’t trust your decisions. Perhaps something isn’t working for them. Don’t leave them to struggle. Listen to their concerns and make an effective change.
These components are not only essential tools for your leadership style, but are also invaluable when it comes to the integrity of the workplace. At the end of the day, you want what you do to be a reflection of your company. By practicing these principles both in your smaller teams and in the business as a whole, you can ensure a smoother, more automatic transition when experimenting with the coaching style.
2. Be Self-Aware
It’s all well and good recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of your team – but can you do the same to yourself? The best type of leader will know the limits of their own capabilities, and know how to utilize their team to account for these.
It’s all part of your overall leadership development. You need to start from a place of understanding yourself, and being introspective with your research, before you can start ordering around others.
3. Adopt A Growth Mindset
Everyone is working to improve themselves in some way. Oftentimes it’s a conscious effort to make a difference. But, even when you’re knuckled down and focusing on a task, you may not realize that you are subconsciously developing and honing important skills. Continuous growth should be a key aim of the coaching style.
Development isn’t linear. Everyone has setbacks, and everyone fails sometimes. If you want to be an effective leader, you need to recognize that this will happen, and it’s not the end of the world. Give people the chance to fail and get back up again – how else are you going to learn?
Don’t reprimand failure and make your workers afraid of ever making a mistake. Treat it as an opportunity, and something to watch out for next time.
Make it your intention to lead your employees to greater heights, and leave them with the skills to coach others in a similar manner.
4. Involve Your Team In Decision Making
The work environment that you want to create is one of collaboration and empowerment. Sure, you might be the head-honcho coach, but your teammates aren’t mindless drones. Do what you can to involve them in the decision-making process so that they feel more connected to the project and your ideas.
Obviously, there’s a time and place. Sometimes the project you’re working on might not allow for a great deal of discussion, and you need to combine management styles to make sure the job is done to the specifications provided by your clients. But one of the benefits of coaching your employees rather than strictly instructing them is that the option is always there, if you need it.
5. Be Patient And Flexible
One of the best ways to help employees is to be flexible with them. The majority of respect that an employee offers to their employer comes from a position of mutual understanding. You give what you get, essentially. A stressful, overbearing manager doesn’t help anyone.
Life has a way of throwing curveballs at any given opportunity. If you operate under a rigid structure, a wrench in the works is likely to break your team apart. Instead, offer a degree of malleability. Be patient when times get tough, and have contingency plans to lessen the impact on your progress and your end-goal.
6. Think And Plan Ahead
Planning ties together every other point. The best way to achieve high performance is to create a roadmap for what you’re going to do with your team. Then, you need to let them see it so they know what’s going to happen and how they will be a part of it.
In the early stages of managing your team, take the time to speak to people one-to-one to best get a sense of who they are and what assets they can bring to your group. Think about hosting team-building exercises to generate chemistry between participants so they are more willing to work together in the future.
Having a plan B will make sure you’re well-prepared if you run into any issues further down the line. Consider it like a risk assessment. Be aware of what could go wrong, and have structures in place to lessen that possibility, or work around it if you can’t avoid it. This will inspire confidence in your employees, and in yourself.
The coaching leadership style isn’t for everyone. If you’re a company that’s always pushing people to the limits to deliver fast, no-nonsense results in as little time as possible, this probably isn’t the method for you.
But there’s always a bit of wiggle room, no matter who you are, to take your employees’ strengths and weaknesses into account and try to help them specialize in a way that suits them – and you – best.
Louis Carter is the founder and CEO of Best Practice Institute, Most Loved Workplace, and Results-Based Culture. Author of In Great Company, Change Champions Field Guide, and Best Practices in Talent Management, as well as a series of Leadership Development books. He is a trusted strategic advisor and coach to CEOs, CHROs, and leaders of mid-sized to F500 companies – enabling change and steering employer brand development together with highly effective teams, leaders, and organizations as a whole.