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What is Leadership Coaching?

Updated: Sep 3, 2019

Enhance your leadership skills and boost your management effectiveness.

What is leadership coaching? I’m glad you asked. It’s a customized process designed to help leaders at all levels. Pretty vague, huh?

Leadership coaching is a personalized, collaborative process and the end goal is to help the leader realize success through enhanced performance.

It’s hard to be more specific because the leadership coaching process will vary from leader to leader as their needs and circumstances are unique. However, two things will always be true about leadership coaching: (1) it’s a personalized, collaborative process and (2) the end goal is to help the leader realize success through enhanced performance. It’s often conducted on a one-to-one basis with the coach and one leader – the leader could be an executive, manager, entrepreneur, faith leader, or any other type of leader. And while the one-to-one relationship is a common approach to leadership coaching, the work can be effective with groups of leaders.

In both scenarios, leadership coaching is a relationship in which both sides sit down at the onset to agree upon desired outcomes. The overall goal is sustainable results that improve the coachee’s professional and personal life. At the personal level, leadership coaching is about improving the client’s skills and knowledge. It’s about providing frameworks for solution development and creating effective work-life balance. It involves identifying developing comprehensive emotional intelligences. At an interpersonal level, the leadership coach can support a leader as he or she relates to their teams and the organization at large. At an organizational level, leadership coaches can support the succession planning organization development process by helping high performers and rising stars through various transformative stages of professional development. Leadership coaching can help them resolve challenges and address conflict while reducing their risk of career derailment.

I’d like to identify what leadership coaching is not in hopes of reducing confusion around matching needs to services:

  1. Leadership coaching is not life coaching. While life coaches and leadership coaching employ some of the same skills to help their clients maximize their potential and achieve success, there is a difference between the two. Life coaches help people achieve personal goals, improve their relationships and find personal happiness. The focus in on the coachee’s personal life. A leadership coach may do all of that with a focus on professional goals and improvements in business endeavors. Often, a leadership growth is tied to and impossible without personal growth. The leadership coach helps clients navigate business situations, relationships, choices and transitions.

  2. Leadership coaching is not consulting. It may feel like it’s consulting at times, but leadership coaching is not about advising. A consultant is an expert. Leadership coaches don’t supply answers and suggestions. Leadership coaches ask questions and assist leaders in developing solutions. The coach partners with the leader to uncover solutions.

  3. Leadership coaching is not technical support. The leadership coach is not a technical expert in the leader’s field. In fact, the leadership coach may know nothing about the coachee’s field at all. The leadership coach is an expert in helping leaders work through their challenges to build capacity and use their creativity and resourcefulness to achieve short-term and long-term organizational and personal goals.

  4. Leadership coaching is not mentoring. To put it simply, mentors give advice and guidance from a vantage point of more experience and education. They are technical experts. Leadership coaches are typically engaged for their experience and skills as it relates to asking facilitating dialogue to help the leader identify and establish a plan forward without advising their clients.

  5. Leadership coaching is not training. The leadership coach does not train the client in any area – including leadership. It’s not about telling the client what to do and how to do it. While working through analysis, reflection, introspection and inspiration, the leadership coach helps the client harness productivity, develop clear goals, and execute consistently and effectively.

One of the byproducts of effective leadership coaching is healthier and more productive organizations. The idea is that the leader’s improved performance cascades throughout the organization. Strong leaders create strong organizations. Strategic leadership coaching engagements within organizations can help build a leadership bench for the future. Individuals identified as highly potential future leaders can sharpen their skills through leadership coaching.

Formal education has its place and can be highly effective in technical preparation for leadership roles. However, technical training alone does not prepare one for leadership. Emotional intelligence and self-awareness along with strategic acumen and “relationship” skills are necessary to round out a leader’s toolbox. Those skills are fine tuned in leadership coaching engagements through thorough assessment and thoughtful feedback. Most Fortune 500 CEO’s have personal coaches for this reason.

One of the reasons why leadership coaching is effective is because the coach is typically someone who is not a part of the leader’s organization. As you can imagine, the higher a leader rises in the organization, the harder it becomes to find people can and will provide candid feedback. The very nature of authority, regardless of leadership style, prohibits subordinates and peers from feeling free to address a leader’s blind spots or relationship skill gaps. A leadership coach can come alongside the leader and work to develop these areas in a one-on-one partnership.

The coach may use data from other sources like surveys 360-reviews. The coach may ask a lot of questions to help the client identify values, goals, opportunities, gaps, and anticipate potential obstacles. Leadership coaches help their clients solve their own problems by working through the issues involved. This may include challenging the client or helping the client move in and out of comfort zones to investigate new and additional opportunities and options. It all depends on what the client needs.

When a leader is technically sound and proficiently educated and still unable to attain desired goals or achieve sustained success, it’s likely that more training isn’t what’s needed. The leader may need a leadership coach to help identify and remove obstacles through insightful questioning to figure out what’s standing in the leader’s way of achieving desired goals. The leadership coach partners with the leader in an up-close-and personal way – not to solve the problems for the leader, but to help the leader discover a clear path for success. The leadership coach, then, follows up with the client periodically to determine if goals were reached or more coaching is needed.

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