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What is a coaching leadership style?

At a glance

  • Traditional leadership styles, like authoritative or delegative, can achieve desirable results but often at the cost of creativity or morale.
  • The coaching leadership style centers on empowering employees, nurturing talent, encouraging clear communication and staying flexible to meet challenges.
  • By embracing coaching, organizations can cultivate a workforce that is agile, collaborative and driven to achieve.
  • Discover your inner leader while pursuing your educational goals! University of Phoenix offers more than 100 degree programs and certificates aligned to real-world careers.

Leadership styles in management

In today’s rapidly evolving career landscape, leaders are recognizing the transformative power of coaching leadership. It could be its agile qualities or its collaborative approach, but the coaching leadership style seems particularly well suited to today’s workforce, which often works remotely and values both a people-centric culture and professional development.

Increasingly, other management styles, from autocratic to laissez-faire, may give way to this rising star in frontline leadership.

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Pros and cons of traditional leadership styles

Leadership is an evolving practice, one that is born from an environment and the people operating inside it.

While traditional leadership styles may have prized productivity and efficiency, they often achieved those goals at the cost of employee engagement and morale. Consider the following examples:

  • Authoritative leadership: The top-down directives and rigid hierarchies of this leadership approach can stifle creativity, hinder collaboration and dampen employee engagement.
  • Transactional leadership: The incentivized nature of this style of leadership, which rewards teams that meet goals, emphasizes productivity at the cost of innovation and creativity.
  • Delegative leadership: This style encourages leaders to remain hands off so that employees feel autonomous. It’s an approach that can foster original thinking, but it only works when the team is skilled, experienced and competent. Even then, conflict and low morale can plague teams because of a lack of clear direction.

And there are plenty of other leadership examples. In all of them, a trade-off feels inherent: To get the results you want, you have to pay a price. The coaching leadership style, however, changes all that.

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The coaching leadership style: A catalyst for success

Coaching leadership represents a transformative paradigm shift away from traditional hierarchical models. When every team member’s voice is heard and valued, and the focus is on guiding and motivating individuals, coaching leaders create a growth-positive environment.

Coaching leadership seems to resonate with the modern workforce. Transformational leaders are known for their ability to inspire and motivate their teams through a shared vision, encouraging creativity and innovation.

By embracing the coaching leadership style, leaders can create a culture of trust, open communication and personal growth. This leads to increased employee satisfaction and improved productivity with ripple effects that can have a positive impact on talent retention.

4 characteristics of coaching leadership

All of this sounds great, but how do you incorporate the coaching leadership style on your company’s front line? By focusing on these four characteristics of being a good coach:

1. Empower employees

Coaching leaders empower team members by instilling in them a deep sense of ownership and accountability. Through guidance and encouragement, leaders coach individuals on how to take charge of their responsibilities and make meaningful contributions that drive the organization forward.

Put it into practice: Actively coach employees to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of their colleagues. This can be as simple as sharing wins at the beginning of team meetings. In doing so, you’ll see that team morale gets a boost while team members learn to take charge of their responsibilities and make impactful contributions.

2. Nurture talent

The coaching leadership style underscores a commitment to personal and professional growth, often through personalized development programs.

Put it into practice: Celebrate personal growth by becoming a mentor who challenges your team to complete personal or business development courses or listen to podcasts and TED Talks, then share their findings during meetings or team chats. By allocating space for growth, you show your team that you value them and their expertise, which can have an overall energizing effect. This culture of continuous improvement, collaboration and coaching also enhances employee loyalty and propels the organization forward with internal innovation.

3. Communicate effectively

Coaching leaders are skilled in active listening, understanding their team’s needs and providing constructive feedback. Done right, coaches can make team members feel heard and valued for their contributions.

Put it into practice: Give feedback that is specific, actionable and focused on growth. (And deliver it in a supportive, nonjudgmental way!) As you acknowledge employees’ strengths and contributions, be sure to also offer suggestions for optimizing their workflow. Your goal is to improve productivity while reducing stress. 

If you struggle with active listening and intentional communication, one technique is to repeat what you hear but rephrase it as a question.

For example, you might say, “Thank you for sharing. What I heard is that you’re concerned about being able to complete this project in the given time frame. Is that accurate?”

Once you’re on the same page, ask the employee to collaborate on a solution. This can help create a sense of empowerment (and loyalty) in the employee while improving overall chances of success.

By fostering open dialogue and trust, coaching leaders create an environment where collaboration thrives, resulting in smoother workflows, stronger relationships and, ultimately, enhanced team performance.

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4. Stay adaptable

In today’s dynamic and competitive industries, adaptability is essential. Coaching leaders encourage flexibility and continuous learning among their team members, promoting a growth mindset and embracing change. This adaptive approach ensures that teams remain agile, responsive and well equipped to navigate evolving market dynamics.

Put it into practice: Leaders are part of a team, so embrace adaptability by engaging in continuous learning and encouraging your team to do the same. When leadership adapts, it can more efficiently evolve the needs of its team and the organization. Even the best coaches need to be coached!

The coaching leadership style in a post-pandemic world

In the wake of the global pandemic, organizations are reevaluating their leadership approaches and seeking ways to adapt. Fortunately, the coaching leadership style is uniquely positioned to thrive in this environment. This type of leadership promotes resilience, adaptability and empathy, which are essential traits for leaders navigating uncertainty and change. By embracing a coaching leadership approach, organizations can cultivate a workforce that is agile, collaborative and driven to achieve.

Additionally, coaching focuses on collaborating and promoting the growth of your employees individually and as a team, which means this leadership style can be used in just about any industry. It is also a great approach for younger generations who seek feedback, connection and transparency from their mentors.

When coaching falls flat

Being a coach in the workplace comes with its own challenges. A good coach takes care (and time!) to plan achievable goals and identify the most effective ways of motivating a team. Here are some more pitfalls to avoid when coaching.

Giving but not getting feedback

The coach may be the leader but even leaders need guidance sometimes. Good coaches seek out meaningful feedback from their teams on what they can improve and how they can better lead.

Coaching but not connecting

Ever see what needs to happen in an instant and move to set it in motion? Then you may be guilty of this common pitfall.

Trust is central to any healthy relationship, and while you, as a coach, may be able to see where team members need to go, you have to help them see that for themselves too. Taking the time to establish rapport and help them see what you see can make you a more effective coach.

Setting unrealistic goals

Setting goals can feel like an art. You have to push yourself, but you have to be realistic about what’s possible.

Well, it can be even tougher when you’re talking about someone else’s goals. This is why having that solid relational foundation is so important. Communicating clearly and honestly what is expected, what is desired and what is possible will help both coach and employee make real and impactful progress.

Coaches should also be mindful about regularly checking in on progress and tailoring stepping-stone goals according to real-time circumstances and achievements. A good feedback loop can translate to positive growth.

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Kara Dennison is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), an executive career and leadership coach and a Forbes contributor. She’s the CEO of Optimized Career Solutions. Her dream job is helping high achievers and leaders live authentic lives, starting with their careers. When she’s not writing for University of Phoenix or coaching high achievers and leaders, you can find her hanging out with her husband and two black cats or swinging in the hammock out back in her small, remote town in Tennessee.


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