The Leader as Coach: What You Need to Know

Our management training programs help your organization cultivate a coaching culture; local trainers across the USA.

Ever wonder why some leaders and managers have more influence than others? Why their teams always outperform others and people seem to go the extra mile for them? These leaders have a knack for bringing out the best in people.

View the Leader As Coach Program brochure It's no secret that most managers are struggling to boost performance and employee engagement with incentives and programs that don't work. No matter what they try, the results end up the same. Year after year, surveys continue to report only about 25 percent of people are truly energized by their work. Countless studies and headlines reinforce this lack of employee participation:

  • 60 percent of workers are miserable.
  • 74 percent aren’t engaged at work.

Management Styles Need to Change

When it comes to getting people enthused to work together, most of what leaders are doing isn't working. There are many reasons for that. In our experience here at Turnkey Coaching Solutions, one big concept is becoming glaringly obvious:

Modern leaders must increasingly shift traditional management styles to reflect the needs of a more educated labor force.

But they're not doing that. Unfortunately, the majority of business schools don't teach leaders and managers how to improve knowledge workers’ thinking and decision-making skills. When not given enough autonomy, people will "perform" without full motivation and energy.

The manager as coach

However, when leaders and managers coach people to come up with their own solutions, they unleash potential, creativity and drive. People become energized and take on full responsibility for outcomes.

Yes, that requires a shift on the part of managers. Instead of giving all the answers and instructing people, they must let go of control. They must trust that people can find their own solutions. They guide, identify and encourage strengths, help develop plans, and provide plenty of feedback. They use a coaching style of leadership.

Strengthening these abilities is critical, according to NeuroLeadership CEO David Rock, author of Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work .

Yet we have not significantly reinvented our management models since the time Henry Ford hired a pair of hands and wished they’d left their brains behind,” he writes.

Leadership practices need to keep up with the realities of organizational life. There’s an increasing gap between the way employees are managed and how they want to be managed.

As experts in the training and development field, we at Turnkey Coaching Solutions have observed just about every type of leadership development program on the planet. And we've been disappointed to see that most of them don’t even come close to accomplishing what they were designed to do – build better leaders.

The Failure of Leadership Training

According to the American Society of Training and Development, U.S. businesses spend more than $170 Billion dollars on leadership-based curriculum, with the majority of those dollars being spent on “Leadership Training.”

Let's be frank, when it comes to leadership, the training industry hasn't had a great track record. The reality is this:

You don’t train leaders, you develop them.

It's not just semantics. Training emphasizes best practices and implies that a manager or leader should approach problems in a tried and true way, based on what's worked best in the past. We suggest there's an inherent problem in this.

Training focuses on best practices, while development focuses on next practices. What worked in the past may serve as a guide, but applied systematically can cause more problems than you started with, especially in today's rapidly-changing, complex global marketplace.

Leader climbing the stairs of developmentThe Development Solution

The solution is to develop leaders and give them flexible tools best suited for an ethnically-diverse workforce that includes Millenials to Baby Boomers, male and females. One size training doesn't suit today's environment, nor does it prepare leaders to meet the unknown challenges they'll likely face in the quite near future.

Development strives to call out the unique in each leader, and shows how he or she can best use their unique strengths to bring out the strengths in others. Development provides a space for experiential learning.

One cannot teach a man anything. One can only enable him to learn from within himself. ~ Galileo Galilei

The best way to develop someone "from within" is through coaching. Leaders learn how to coach others and how to develop others.

In our Turnkey Leader as Coach Program, we teach the leadership coaching style. Leaders discover how that works through experiential learning with their own developmental coach. This is more profound than simple training programs. The leader develops their coaching skills from the "inside out."

Most leaders and managers naturally coach to a certain degree. But they don't always understand how or when to apply a coaching style, and are often unclear exactly what that is. Furthermore, if they haven't experienced a truly developmental coaching experience for themselves, they may have misperceptions as to how to go about developing others.

What Is a Leadership Coaching Style?

To be clear, when we talk about a leadership coaching style, we refer to leaders who coach, or a leader as coach. This is different from when leaders themselves are coached, which is often called executive or leadership coaching.

At Turnkey Coaching Solutions, we have both programs: one where leaders receive coaching, and a separate program where we develop leaders to coach their people.

A leadership coaching style is applied by leaders to coach the development of their people.

Most people are familiar with the six leadership styles as described by Daniel Goleman in his many books and articles: visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting, and commanding.

What does a coaching leader do? According to Goleman, coaching leaders help employees:

  1. Identify their unique strengths and weaknesses
  2. Tie strengths to their personal and career aspirations
  3. Establish long-term development goals
  4. Conceptualize a plan for attaining those goals
  5. Make agreements about their role and responsibilities in enacting development plans

Coaching style leaders excel at giving plentiful instruction and feedback. They give people challenging assignments, even if that means tasks won’t be accomplished quickly. In other words, these leaders are willing to put up with short-term failure if it furthers long-term learning.

The Paradox of Leadership Coaching

Admittedly, there's a paradox in the positive effect on business performance because coaching focuses primarily on personal development, not on immediate work-related tasks.
Even so, coaching improves results.persons in dialogue

The reason: it requires constant dialogue, and that dialogue has a way of pushing up every driver of climate.

  • Flexibility: When an person knows his boss watches him and cares about what he does, he feels free to experiment. He’s confident he'll get quick and constructive feedback.
  • Clarity: Similarly, the ongoing dialogue of coaching guarantees that people know what is expected of them and how their work fits into alarger vision or strategy. That affects responsibility and clarity.
  • Commitment: Leadership coaching's implicit message is, “I believe in you, I’m investing in you, and I expect your best efforts.” People very often rise to that challenge.

The coaching style works well in many business situations, and it is particularly effective when people on the receiving end are enthusiastic for it, when they are aware of weaknesses and would like to improve their performance. Similarly, the style works well when people understand that cultivating new abilities will help them advance.

On the other hand, coaching someone who is resistant to learning or changing, for whatever reason, makes little sense. It will also backfire if a leader lacks the coaching skills to help a person develop.

A common reason coaching doesn't work is when the leader or manager hasn't learned to do it appropriately. For example, in the interests of time, they might skip paying adequate attention to key aspects of the coaching relationship.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Coaching

The fact is, many managers are unfamiliar with or simply inept at coaching, particularly when it comes to giving ongoing performance feedback that motivates rather than creates fear or apathy.

Many of today's managers practice coaching without adequate training or experience. Perhaps they've read about it or had cursory training in coaching that didn't address the finer elements of developmental learning.

What happens is that because of this, when they don't get the results they imagined, they go back to traditional management methods. They figure the time involved to coach someone simply isn't worth it.

One of the interesting findings of Goleman's research was that the coaching leadership style was the least used in the workplace. That's because many managers do not believe they have the time needed to help others. This mindset is unfortunate because the investment made in employees provides abundant returns.

The coaching style is very successful at improving results. Superior climate and performance are achieved when coaching is used. It is extremely effective in almost any situation. Leaders who coach are constantly sending their followers these messages:

  • I believe in your abilities.
  • I'm willing to invest my time in you.
  • In exchange for this trust and investment, I expect you to try your hardest.

Granted, it takes time and patience. A manager needs to make an up-front investment in a person with the hope of reaping the rewards of above average performance later on.

The evidence is clear, though, that a properly applied coaching leadership style provides positive bottom-line results in companies. Still, many managers are unfamiliar with or simply inept at coaching, particularly when it comes to giving performance feedback that doesn't end up creating fear or apathy.

Misperceptions of What Coaching Is

Some leaders see themselves as using a coach approach every time they are supportive or giving positive feedback. But therein lies the big misperception of what the leader as coach actually does. Unlike a sports coach, it requires more than either pats-on-the-back or strong criticism.

Coaching in a business setting is much more: it involves a leader keenly observing a person on the job, mentoring, frequent feedback, astute questioning, challenging with stretch goals, tolerance for failures, letting go of control, and a focus on developing strengths as well as achieving tasks and goals of the organization.

Another misperception of coaching is when a manager asks leading questions in an attempt to get someone to see what needs to be done. Many managers use this technique to expedite the problem-solving process. But it still amounts to telling or selling. The person hasn't reached the solution on their own, and picks up on expectations and clues to the "right answer."

What Turnkey Coaching Solutions defines as Leadership Coaching is entirely different. A critical difference between managing and coaching is the locus of responsibility, accountability and authority over outcomes.

Responsibility, Accountability and Authority

This difference is key because it shapes the nature of the coaching relationship. With a leader as coach, the focus is on the agenda of the person being coached as a part of a business or organizational system.

Typically, when a manager is coaching, or using coaching skills, there is at the very least implicit pressure to change in a direction desired by the manager or the organization. That pressure, the organizational agenda, is always present when internal people do coaching.

While the focus is on developing the person being coached, both people in the coaching relationship need to acknowledge the context of the system. The organization is always present during coaching. Goals may be personal and career-focused, but they also need to align with those of the organization.

But here's the thing: when people are smart, they are attuned to expectations of managers, and are well versed in picking up phrases that resonate as true to the company culture and mission. People want to please others and be perceived as likeable. It's human nature.

And this can cause a gap between what a person espouses and what they truly and profoundly embrace - their own values and goals. Unless the leader/manager who is coaching recognizes the difference between organizational expectations and personal values, and honors both, neither the coach or the person will truly be in sync.Coach assisting the leader

The only way to shine a light on the gap between what is said and what is internalized is to provide a safe and supportive dialogue that focuses first and foremost on the person being coached and at the same time acknowledges the context of the system.

Sometimes this is easy; other times, people are reluctant to open up to the leader/manager because of trust issues and ingrained assumptions of "management vs. workers."

While most coach training programs will advise leaders to focus on the needs of the person being coached, when there lacks attention to "what's not being said," or to "invisible assumptions," the coaching relationship risks being superficial.

For us here at Turnkey Coaching Solutions, these nuances profoundly affect the results of leadership coaching style. Without exploring all factors, large and small, personal and organizational, expressed and tacit, coaching is just another management fad to get people to do something. It works for a while, but there's no lasting change and it doesn't grow or develop anyone.


Ever since the 1930s Hawthorne Studies we've known that training and development works to improve performance. There's no lack of proof. But we haven't always applied what we know to what we do.

results of leading as a coachNow that coaching has become one of the major tools for developing people at all levels (with spectacular ROI data of up to %700 reported improvements), it's time to get serious about developing our leaders to adopt a coaching style.

It won't happen by reading a book or an HBR article; it won't just evolve naturally on the job. To learn coaching skills using a developmental approach requires a leader to experience development coaching and learn how to apply that to developing others.

All the research so far indicates leaders who coach benefit from strong results that trickle down throughout their organizations:

Did you know...

Organizations that have a strong senior leader and cultural support of coaching have superior results?

  • Senior leaders with a "coaching style" yield 21% higher business results
  • An excellent cultural support for coaching yields 14% stronger business results and 39% stronger employee results
  • Coaching cultures are 33% more effective at engaging employees

Next Steps

Three-Stage Coaching Methodology

Turnkey Coaching Solutions uses a three-stage coaching model that incorporates a behavioral approach to learning and change.3 stage coaching model

1. Awareness: Awareness is perhaps the most critical step in the process of personal development. In this stage, we collect data as needed:
  • Through dialogue with the leader
  • Through assessment instruments
  • Some written document reviews (e.g. performance appraisals)
  • Several personal interviews of colleagues, staff and managers (“Interview 360”)

A variety of sources is important in order to obtain an honest and complete picture of an individual’s unique strengths and challenges.

Within the first couple of sessions, the executive explores their assessment data and chooses development goals that are most relevant. The most important outcome in this early stage is the individual’s personal acceptance and ownership of the development opportunities evidenced by the feedback, and commitment to invest in the time and effort required for change.

2. Planning: We then move from acceptance to the detail planning for change. We help the executive create a personal development plan to guide and prioritize his or her efforts. We also strongly recommend a debriefing and planning session with their direct supervisor, for which we coach the executive. The coach participates in these 3-way meetings that are usually held several times throughout the engagement.

3. Action: Then, the executive is responsible for carrying out the plan. During this stage, we have found that for significant personal change to occur successfully, periodic one-on-one coaching sessions are extremely valuable for the busy executive. Regularly scheduled coaching sessions, especially early in the process, help to sustain momentum and hold the executive accountable for completing action steps.

In addition, private and confidential coaching provides a safe and positive support environment for the executive to explore development barriers and design productive strategies for overcoming potential difficulties.

Transfer of Coaching Skills to the Leader
Executive Coaching and Leader as Coach Training Options

To create a Leader as Coach culture, we recommend a combination of one-on-one leadership or executive coaching combined with proven Leader as Coach Instruction.

1:1 Executive Coaching

Once an executive had experienced the developmental coaching process, the next phase is to shift the person from a receiver of coaching to a leader who coaches. This phase includes practice and role-play, real-time sessions, and periodic follow-up with a mentor coach.

Thus, Turnkey Coaching Solutions carefully evaluates these coaching assignments and accepts only those executives who are serious about their professional and personal growth and are willing to be engaged in self-reflection and proactive change.

As with all our clients, we carefully choose the right Executive Coach for the assignment and we absolutely guarantee satisfaction. As a result, this process if considerably more customized and selective than other programs. We know it’s worth it.

Call us at 281-469-4244 to discuss your executive coaching need.

Leader as Coach Training & Workshops

Our Leader as Coach Programs are comprehensive, highly personal, and uniquely designed for the flexibility and sophistication demanded by the most senior executives. Our Senior Professional Coaches and Trainers have specialized training and expertise critical for a productive executive development engagement.

TurnKey Coaching Solutions offers Senior Leader as Coach Training options facilitated by our Certified Expert Coaches available across the U.S.

A typical Leader as Coach Workshop consists of two, full-day training sessions with action-learning modules for real-time, hands-on experience of how to improve leadership coaching skills. Of course, we have shorter programs for retreats and longer programs team certification.

If you are considering a Leader as Coach Training program, give us a call for a complimentary consultation. We will consult with you on exactly how to design a program that will meet both your objectives, executive culture, and budget.


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