There are various different leadership styles described in countless books and articles. Clearly every single style has its advantages and disadvantages. In general I strongly believe in providing leadership through coaching, which from my point of view is mainly characterized by:
- Empowering team members
- Delegating work
- Encouraging to take informed risks and try something new
- Showing how the team contributes to the overall objectives and goals
- Helping employees to be successful and develop
Coaching leadership creates engagement, builds relationships, and improves the output of the team. Coaching leaders consider themselves successful when their team is successful. They delegate and empower their employees to work on challenging tasks, but they also make sure that they have all the necessary tools to be successful. Coaching leaders have empathy and thus create an environment, where every employee is able to develop his or her strengths. But just to avoid misunderstandings: there are situations that might require a different leadership. Hence, coaching leadership will not always be appropriate. In crisis situations for example, a coaching leader might need to apply a more authoritative leadership style.
Characteristics of coaching leadership
Coaching in general is complex and coaching leadership depends heavily on the leader’s coaching ability. To be successful, obviously also the team must collaborate. It is basically all about what is best for the team – and not about hierarchies and status. The manager needs to give direction, but good collaboration reduces the need of being directive or autocratic. Helping people to develop and grow is not a simple task, but the result can be a real game changer. It needs a leader who has the capability to have a true impact on another individual, and who really cares about this individual. The best coaches know how to gradually reduce their guidance so that the team members step by step become more autonomous. Another important part of good coaching leadership is feedback and constructive criticism. If done well, team members will be receptive as they know that this feedback will help them to improve. The coaching leadership style will not work if the employee is not open to feedback or even is not motivated to improve and grow. The most important foundation for the coaching leadership style is empathy and trust. A good coach needs to understand the person being coached on an emotional level. A lot of empathy is needed to know how to challenge an employee, when to reduce or increase pressure, read body language and respect personal circumstances. Last but not least, coaching leadership is impossible, if there is no trust. Lack of trust creates directive leadership and micromanagement.
Advantages of coaching leadership
Coaching leadership creates a positive and motivating environment. As said, it is all about empowering your team and not micromanaging it. It is about providing constant feedback and building a foundation for everybody to improve his or her own performance. Coaching leaders are open, do not hide anything and share expectations to get everyone on the same page. Coaching leadership means personal coaching to improve skills and competences and hence productivity and quality of work. Teams and organizations will be more open to accept changes, Turnover rates typically go down. Sure, it is important to focus on the strengths of a team. However, weaknesses of a team can threaten the whole organization. Coaching leaders are able to quickly identify a team member’s weakness and implement a development plan to help that team member transform that weakness into a strength or at least create awareness of the weakness so consequences can be limited. All team members have weaknesses. It’s all about identifying those weaknesses quickly and helping each team member improve in the best way possible. Work performance and productivity will increase as the team can perform at its best. Coaching leaders are able to create a work environment where people are highly motivated, eager to learn, and willing to collaborate. People actually enjoy being at work. Team members also do not have to guess what is required from them. Expectations are clear and new skills are developed to accomplish their tasks as well as their long-term goals. It is more likely team members will also provide coaching to others as they climb the career ladder. In essence, people who have a coaching leader often become coaching leaders themselves. This benefits the organization in the long term.
Potential disadvantages of coaching leadership
Beyond the given fact that not every leader is a born coaching leader, many do not get into a coaching leadership style because of perceived time constraints. And yes, it will most probably require more time and patience for a coaching leader to produce results. Some companies in specific situations or with specific requirements may not have this time. Clearly, also not all situations can be improved by a coaching leadership style. When there is high pressure for quick fixes, it often will be hard to solve them based on a real collaborative relationship, if this type of relationship has not been build before over a long period of time. If the team consist of fifty or even a hundred people, coaching everybody might become time-consuming or even impossible. One approach can be to coach other coaches to create a spreading effect. The coaching leadership style tends to work best either with small teams or with a subset of a larger team as it requires a lot of one on one time. Lack of time ruins the best intentions. Few managers have the ability to be effective coaches, because It requires confidence, experience, and the ability to give meaningful advice. Ineffective coaching can threaten the growth of an organization. Also, the coaching leadership style will only work if team members have a strong commitment to collaboration, self-development and openness to receive feedback. Otherwise the process is set up to fail. If the coaching leader is not well respected by the team, it will also become difficult. Everybody might remember a situation of receiving feedback from a person you do not respect. You most probably got defensive or disregarded that feedback. Most people are less likely to listen to a person they perceive as rude or disrespectful.
What is a good coaching leader?
Great coaches are not always great leaders and vice versa. Also if there is no chemistry between the manager and his or her direct reports, a coaching leadership style will most probably not work. You cannot become a great coaching leader by training. Trainings can only support you with tools to become an even better leader. At the end it is your personality and your own life experience which make the difference. You need good coaching and mentoring skills. And you need patience, because it is a long-term investment in the team, which ultimately is the foundation of success for every company. A good coaching leader also needs to know when to change his or her leadership style. A stressful crisis situation where immediate decisions are needed and errors could have severe consequences would be a typical situation when a coaching leadership style is not appropriate. There is simply no time to develop the right skills for handling the situation. So, as I mentioned already in the beginning, the coaching leadership style will not always work, but it helps a lot that those stressful crisis situation will not happen very often or in the best case not at all.