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How quality leadership can leverage coaching 

At a glance

  • At its essence, effective leadership is about guiding and inspiring others toward a shared goal.
  • Coaching leadership empowers individuals to take ownership of achieving their goals and leads to improved self-efficacy and confidence among employees.
  • To implement coaching as a leader, practice active listening, ask questions that inspire self-reflection, collaborate to set goals and provide feedback and accountability with your team.
  • University of Phoenix is committed to providing foundational knowledge and experiences for tomorrow’s leaders. Learn how you can start your educational journey with one of more than 100 degree and certificate options!

How to be a leader

In any type of leadership position, individuals are bound to encounter complexity, tough choices and change. Effective leaders must be adaptable and ready to steer their teams in the right direction while also nurturing and supporting growth. Embracing a coaching approach can help you achieve both of these goals. It provides a dependable strategy for handling various shifts and challenges while encouraging employees to actively engage in their own personal development journey. 

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Coaching and leadership skills

A quick internet search on “leadership” quickly goes down a rabbit hole of definitions, articles and books. But at its core, leadership means guiding and inspiring others toward a shared goal.

Leadership roles across industries and organizations differ in day-to-day tasks and objectives, but at its core, quality leadership always encompasses clear communication, empathy, honesty, adaptability and integrity. 

How does coaching fit into leadership?

As defined by the globally recognized International Coaching Federation, coaching is “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Coaching, like leadership, involves partnering to help someone reach their goals. In the workplace, however, the role of coaching often goes beyond specific goals and provides a means to improve performance, develop skill sets and grow personally and professionally.

Simply put, coaching and leadership work together by aligning guidance and support with personal and professional growth. Effective leaders use coaching to empower their employees, cultivating their development and driving performance.

How coaching can improve outcomes

Coaching allows individuals to identify both short- and long-term goals, providing a pathway for you and your employees to focus on achieving those milestones together.

The advantage that coaching specifically offers is that it empowers individuals by involving them in the process, which can lead to increased self-confidence and self-efficacy. This practice isn’t just theoretical. Research indicates that participants who undergo developmental coaching display higher levels of self-efficacy, a pivotal factor for career progression and sustained personal and professional development.

Furthermore, integrating coaching into your leadership tool kit yields rewards for you as well. Embracing a coaching role sharpens vital leadership traits, such as communication, empathy and adaptability. Coaching puts you in the position of being an influential mentor, and it underscores your investment in your team’s development and success. This commitment contributes to improved employee satisfaction and retention, and it builds stronger, more cohesive teams. 

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4 steps for implementing a coaching approach

There are numerous coaching frameworks out there, each with its own strategies and techniques. You can think of them as recipe cards guiding coaching conversations. Much like skilled chefs who blend various techniques and ingredients, coaches customize different methods and tools to align with an individual’s needs.

Here are some universally applicable coaching elements that span frameworks and can be customized and implemented according to your circumstances.

1.   Practice active listening

At first, this might seem like common sense, but active listening goes beyond just hearing. It requires giving your full and undivided attention.

To do this, you may need to create a quiet environment with no distractions, like pinging phones or other interruptions. Allow enough time for the conversation, and use verbal and nonverbal cues like eye contact, smiling, nodding and affirming phrases like, “Go on” and “I see.” Also, paraphrase or summarize what you hear to ensure your understanding.

2.   Ask powerful questions that encourage self-reflection

Pose open-ended questions that invite your employee to explore thoughts, aspirations and challenges.

It is a good idea to have a few questions ready before the meeting to get the conversation flowing. From there, your active listening will enable you to ask clarifying and follow-up questions throughout the conversation.

3.   Collaborate on creating goals and action plans

Use insights from your employee’s reflection to collaborate on defining goals. It is important to engage them in this process, so encourage them to take the reins and define their next steps and action plans.

The SMART strategy for developing goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) can help guide you.

4.   Provide feedback and accountability

Once a goal is defined, it’s crucial to provide consistent feedback that acknowledges the employee’s efforts and highlights areas for improvement. This ongoing dialogue not only fuels growth but also fosters a sense of trust and continuous improvement. Establish specific times when your employees can reflect on their progress and you can reinforce your commitment to their development. 

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Putting coaching into action: A real-life example

Let’s explore a real-life scenario that demonstrates coaching in action.

Imagine you’re a manager at a tech company and oversee a promising employee named Ryan. He has great technical skills but is hesitant in meetings and reluctant to take on additional tasks. You’ve identified a potential lack of confidence.

As the leader, it’s your role to approach Ryan. Given your understanding of the situation, it might be tempting to take a direct approach, advising Ryan to become more vocal during meetings and to assume more responsibilities to enhance his confidence and demonstrate his capabilities.

While this approach has good intent, it assumes the leader knows what the problem is and how to fix it and does not involve any collaboration or input from Ryan. This can lead to an environment ripe for defensiveness, miscommunication and misaligned goals.

Instead, consider how coaching techniques like powerful questioning, self-reflection and collaborative goal-setting could transform the conversation.

Ryan, I’ve noticed that you’re not engaging in meetings, you’re showing hesitancy in areas where you have ample knowledge, and you’re passing up new opportunities presented to you. With the aim of supporting your growth, I’m interested in learning more about your perspective and how you’re feeling at work. This might involve me asking you some questions to grasp the situation better, and then, collaboratively, we can set goals to enhance your performance. How does that sound to you?”

In this approach, collaboration takes center stage. Rather than dictating what Ryan should do, you’re using coaching dialogue and even seeking his permission, which creates a safe and open space for him to share. 

Coaching empowers individuals by involving them in the process, which can lead to increased self-confidence and self-efficacy. 

Once you gain Ryan’s agreement to a coaching conversation, you can pose open-ended questions to better understand the situation and encourage him to reflect:

  • What situations do you find challenging when working with others? Could you describe your thoughts in those instances?
  • What aspects of your job excite you, and which ones cause uncertainty or hesitation? Why do you think that is?
  • How do you think boosting your confidence could impact your career positively?

Once you have a clear understanding of the situation, you can define goals together with Ryan.

For instance, if you discover it is in fact a lack of self-confidence that’s affecting his performance, you might ask, “What’s one step you can take to enhance your self-confidence?”

Use the response to craft a goal, such as:

Ryan will take the lead on the software-upgrade project. Over the next six months, he’ll contribute to team meetings by sharing progress and obstacles. He will pinpoint ideas before the meeting to feel more confident when sharing. We’ll have biweekly follow-up sessions to reflect on his goal progress and track his advancement.”

This goal follows the SMART criteria, making it specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound, ensuring a clear and achievable pathway for Ryan’s growth and inviting the opportunity for additional coaching conversations during his progress meetings.

Remember: Although coaching is a powerful tool, it isn’t a one-time fix. Instead, it represents an ongoing journey. The most effective coaches are willing to jump in, learn and adapt. Different individuals require different approaches, and sometimes it takes trial and error to learn what works.

Coaching does not require perfection, but it does require a partnership built on honesty, communication and trust. And, as with any skill, the more you practice coaching, the more proficient and impactful you’ll become as a leader.

Career resources at University of Phoenix

Quality leadership is just one part of a career journey. Explore a variety of additional resources at UOPX, including:

  • Career Services for Life: Available to UOPX students and graduates, this offering comprises complimentary career coaching, including guidance on how to build a personal brand and write a resumé.
  • Free career resourcesBrowse a range of downloadable guides and templates to help you optimize your LinkedIn® profile, get ready for a job interview and write a resumé and cover letter.
  • Career With Confidence™ newsletterGet career insights every week via UOPX’s LinkedIn newsletter.
Portrait of Jessica Roper smiling


Jessica Roper is the director of Career Services at University of Phoenix. She is passionate about mentorship and coaching and driven by helping others succeed in their careers. Her love of reading has inspired her to venture into writing, where she is eager to share her insights about the latest workforce trends as well as leadership guidance and advice. If she doesn’t have a book in her hand, you’ll find her listening to a podcast, making a mess in the kitchen or taking her dog on a leisurely walk.


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