The Coaching Leadership Style: Unlocking Potential

The coaching leadership style is very important to me. I have witnessed its value, both as a coach and as the one receiving coaching, and it is the primary way I lead my teams. In addition, the coaching leadership style is the most effective way to develop team members personally and professionally. This blog post will explain what a coaching leadership style is, its elements, its benefits, and its challenges. I also briefly cover the GROW coaching model.

What is the coaching leadership style?

The coaching leadership style develops team members over time, even if the short-term results drop. It creates engagement, builds relationships, and improves the future output of the employees. CLS is a valuable leadership theory that supports and challenges employees to help them achieve personal and professional development goals. This leadership style is recognizable through its commitment to partnership and collaboration. Leaders behave as coaches, communicating, enabling creativity, and motivating employees to unlock their potential. Above all, the leadership coaching style helps employees develop long-term strategic thinking.

What are the differences between coaching and management?

Coaching is different from management because, in coaching, the leader encourages employees to think creatively and strategically. When leaders are coaching, they create an environment where employees unlock their potential to grow and develop. The coaching leadership style focuses on developing individuals through nurturing the learning process. As a result, it creates long-term sustained performance.


On the other hand, management directs employees, delegates work, and focuses on business outcomes within a given period. So management boils down to giving direct instructions and supervising the work. It focuses on specific tasks and achieving results.

According to Harvard Business Review, 70 percent of employee development happens through direct experience, not formal training. Effective leaders know when to use management techniques and when to use coaching.

What are the benefits of a coaching leadership style to employees?

The benefits of coaching employees add up, and it’s not just performance that increases. The sense of accomplishment that a coaching leadership style brings out in employees include:

  • Creates and strengthens confidence
  • Increased job satisfaction creates higher engagement
  • Employees feel continuous improvement and progression
  • Higher degrees of motivation
  • Continuous learning
  • Higher promotion potential
  • A deep and lasting relationship with their boss
  • Positive workplace culture
  • Employees feel their development is a priority

Above all, employees will be happier because they feel listened to and that their leader has their best interests at heart. As a result, they will enjoy working for a company that has a coaching culture.

What are the elements of a coaching leadership style?

There are certain elements required to be effective. Above all, these elements help you positively connect with your employees which is critical to the process.

Collaborative not authoritative

The employee and leader collaborate on ways to reach the goal. You are in charge of the process and structure, not setting the agenda or leading the discussion.


Active listening

A coaching leadership style requires you to be fully present during the coaching conversation. Ask clarifying questions and listen carefully to understand the core concerns of the employee so you can understand their objectives.

Powerful questioning techniques

Replace precision questioning with a coaching-oriented approach. Open-ended questions such as “what’s working,” “what are you trying to accomplish,” “what’s not working,” and “how can I help.” These types of questions create a coaching conversation that is open and supportive that enables the employee to develop and advance the organization’s mission.

Honest and timely feedback

The biggest mistake all leaders make from time to time is to hold back on delivering employee feedback to preserve their feelings. However, it is critical to provide consistent, timely, and critical feedback with a coaching leadership style. Without honest feedback, the employee will never reach their full potential.


Guide the development of concrete next steps

The coaching leadership style collaborates with the employee to develop concrete next steps. It is a strategy session on the best way forward and helps the employees move from where they are to where they want to be. This element is supportive and develops deep trust between the employee and leader.

Customized coaching plan

No two employees are the same. They have different styles of communicating and various aspects of performance that need improvement. Employees have unique wants, needs, and desires. So you can’t approach them with the same coaching plan. An effective coaching leadership style focuses on those differences and leverages them to guide the coaching process for each employee.

What are the challenges of a coaching leadership style?

While there are many benefits to adopting a coaching leadership style, there are challenges to be aware of when using this style. Awareness of these challenges is critical to maximizing its value and avoiding frustration. As with any leadership style, things may not go as planned, but I encourage you to keep at it.


Unwilling employees are uncoachable

When addressing employee performance concerns, it often comes down to two factors, skill or will. A coaching leadership style won’t work if the employee is unwilling to accept coaching or is too complacent in their current circumstances.

Coaching takes time and energy

A coaching leadership style takes time and patience, especially in the early stages. Leaders are already pressed for time to do their own tasks. As a result, it is easy to sacrifice the time needed to help employees become skilled, develop, and grow. Create a spreading effect by coaching other coaches, so you aren’t the only one. Additionally, prioritize who you coach because if you try to take it all on at once, you will find it hard to make an impact.

Results-driven cultures conflict with the coaching leadership style

High-pressure, get it done now organizations conflict with this style of leadership. Coaching impacts your timeline for tasks and goal completion in the early stages. As stated above, the coaching leadership style has a long-term payoff in training and developing employees. Results often aren’t immediate but are lasting and worth the wait.


The coaching leadership style is collaborative

This style of leadership only works if the employee is committed to the process. Even more, they have to commit to self-development and collaboration from the start of the process. They should be internally motivated to develop and receive feedback. Finally, there must be agreement on the purpose and goal of the coaching process. You can’t want it more than they do. Otherwise, too much of the responsibility is on your shoulders, and as noted above, your time is already limited.

A commitment to spending time with the employees is required

When adopting a coaching leadership style, you need to be prepared to spend more time with your team. You can’t miss one-to-ones or scheduled coaching sessions. You need to show up prepared and engaged for both, so you can’t wing it. If you don’t give your full effort to the coaching leadership style, you risk threatening the growth of the employee and the organization.

GROW coaching model

When looking to implement a coaching leadership style, I recommend the GROW coaching model. GROW was created by Sir John Witmore in the late 1980s and has since become the most popular model for problem-solving, goal setting, and performance improvement.



Where do they want to go? What are the employee’s goals or aspirations?


Where are they now? What is their current situation and internal/external obstacles?


What can they do? What are their possibilities, strengths, and resources?


Way forward

What will they do? What actions and accountabilities will they commit to achieving?

If you are interested in the GROW coaching model, I highly recommend Coaching for Performance Fith Edition. Through a series of lunch and learns, I provided copies for my management team, went through the book, and implemented its principles. As a result, we all became better coaches.

The coaching leadership style has a lasting and long-term effect on achieving efficiency and bringing out the best in employees. It is the best style of leadership for unlocking employee potential. It is the most effective learning process for employees to develop into the best version of themself. However, it requires patience and perseverance because you are guiding employees to achieve what they never thought possible.


Disclosure: I’ve highlighted products in this post you might find interesting. If you buy them, I get a small share of the sale’s revenue at no cost to you.

Last updated on September 27th, 2021 at 06:49 am

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Jason Cortel is currently the Director of Global Workforce Management for a leading technology company. He has been in customer service, marketing, and sales services for over 20 years. In addition, he has extensive experience in offshore and nearshore outsourcing. Jason is an avid Star Trek fan and is on a mission to change the universe by helping people develop professionally. He is driven to help managers and leaders lead their teams better. Jason is also a veteran in creating talent and office cultures.

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