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Coaching is Leadership

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The antiquated management philosophy of ‘you’ll do it because I told you to do it’ is no longer a valid or productive attitude. More than ever, being a leader in an organization requires being relational, emotionally intelligent, and a willingness to teach. In short, leading is coaching (and vice versa).

The nature of the workplace has become a source of “rapid, constant, and disruptive change.”1 The traditional model for management, “command and control”, is quickly being discarded in trade for this new coaching model. Although leaders often report coaching as their least favorite type of leadership, the trend continues to rise in companies’ adoption. In the end, organizations are beginning to understand a culture where coaching is expected is more impactful at improving behavior than any guideline or policy they might adopt.3

Coaching vs Management

So what’s the difference between coaching and managing?

Coaching is the ability to “guide, assess, influence, and motivate”.3 In contrast, management can be defined as “instructing and supervising the work of your employees or direct reports.” The raw definitions themselves feel very different from one another.

The two differ in their goals. The goal of coaching is to facilitate the growth of teams while management’s aim is for team members to meet objectives. Simply put, the coach’s role is to support, the manager’s role is to judge.4 Additional insight points out that managers focus on one-to-many relationships, while coaches focus on one-to-one relationships. The best managers can instinctively oscillate between the two.

Additionally, a coach does not position his/herself as superior, but as a partner for growth.5

Coaching is a relational partnership focused on growth. It can have the effect of improved performance, increased engagement, and provides the coachee with constructive feedback. Coaching can also provide teams with increased confidence, improved attitudes, and behaviors.

Effective Organizational Leading

Dr. Shonna Waters describes four types of coaching, in a June 2021 article. Directive, Situational, Laisse-Faire, and Non-Directive.


Lasses-Faire“Left alone to productively work”

Non-Directional “Listening, questioning, withholding judgment.”

Situational“Balancing directive and nondirective styles from moment to moment.” 

Situational coaching is the desired coaching style.

In two dimensions, we can examine characteristics of each style – the information (advice & expertise) the coach puts in and the energy the coach pulls from the coachee.

Directive styles put in a lot of information, yet don’t pull as much energy from the coachee. Laisse-Faire has the coach putting less information in and still not pulling out much energy from the coachee. Non-directive coaching puts in less information from the coach and yields a higher level of energy. And finally, Situational coaching puts in more information and yields the most amount of energy from those being coached.

The more advice and expertise given through coaching, the more energy created by the coached. This is exemplified in the Situational Style. How the information is conveyed becomes the subsequent question.

Improving The Workplace

Whether working on an organization’s culture or development among individual members, the purpose of coaching is to improve. This improvement can be exaggerated by improving listening skills, asking better questions, and modeling a growth mindset.7 In addition, these actions facilitate the Situational Style of coaching.

Improving Listening Skills

Listening is not a skill with which we are naturally endowed. What we hear is perceived through the lens of our own fears and goals. Coaching often involves reflective inquiry or an active, persistent, and careful consideration of a belief or supposed form of knowledge.6 Much of coaching involves listening in this way.

Relatedly, Active Listening focuses on what is being said and not said, including body language, tone, and emotional state of the speaker.8

Ask Better Questions

Once we’re effectively listening, we can then ask questions that get to the heart of the issue. We use strategies to navigate through our lives as is true at work. Often, we may not be fully aware of the strategies we use to traverse and perceive our roles. The best questions call us to question or pivot on the strategies that aren’t serving us or those we coach.

Avoid yes or no questions. Instead, ask open questions. Ask “What would it mean/look like/do for you if …” and describe an outcome or scenario you want the coachees to consider. Often when we hear ourselves say the words out loud, they sound very different than when they are thoughts bouncing around in our minds.

Modeling a Growth Mindset

Of course, the proper behavior should consistently be modeled by leaders. Yet, members of the team should be allotted the space to help make decisions on behalf of the team. Sharing this power often requires a growth mindset, a focus on the process leading in the desired direction and not necessarily the outcome.

In relation to leadership, leaders with a growth mindset believe that people can improve in skills and intelligence.9 Success in the workplace comes from a growth mindset coupled with working towards a goal. Other important features of a growth mindset include a focus on the process, a belief that necessary skills can be acquired, and a desire to embrace challenges.

Blogger’s Note

I have noticed a shift in leadership over the last ten years. In times when I was less emotionally intelligent, I certainly used rhetoric such as “I’m the boss! You’ll do what I tell you!” I grew up hearing tropes like this and they elicited fear. I responded in silent obedience only to carry them with me to offer to future generations. But today, power is questioned. Rightfully so.

While roles – even sometimes hierarchical roles – in organizations are necessary for assigning functions, the trend towards “flattening”, or companies having fewer higher-ups (middle managers), is increasing. The new, more collaborative coaching model feels better for those on the front lines. It is, however, much more uncomfortable for the managers (leaders) of these organizations. It certainly feels as if one is giving up power. But I would argue that there is true power in connected teaching. We should strive to share all we know, pouring the knowledge from the cups of our minds into those of our teams, facilitating their growth, and making their roles more bearable in the headwinds of these tumultuous times.

This is where the heart of the leader – the coach – should lie.



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