Leadership Coaching Essentials

leaders in coaching dialogue

Summary: This article covers everything you need to know about leadership coaching including the definition, benefits, signs you need a coach, topics of coaching, types of leadership coaching, how to select a coach, and how to get the most out of leadership coaching.

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Whether you are considering leadership coaching for yourself or are considering bringing in leadership coaching to your organization this article is for you.

What is leadership coaching?

A one-on-one development approach where the coach acts as a thought and accountability partner to a leader. Coaches help leaders define their goals or outcomes, and then use a Socratic questioning process to draw out from the leader how to best go about accomplishing their goals. Coaching helps leaders solve problems, design action plans, and make decisions.

Coaching provides leaders time away from the grind to think, be strategic, and innovate.  The coach provides an outside of the organization 30,000-foot objective perspective, which leads to new thoughts and innovative solutions. 

A coach knows the right questions to ask, including the one’s leaders don’t know to ask themselves.  Through dialogue, the coach helps leaders uncover the best solutions.  These breakthroughs have exponential returns.

What is leadership development coaching?

A type of leadership coaching focused specifically on leadership development goals. Leader’s partner with coaches to define thier leadership development goals, then coaching occurs towards those development goals.

Difference between coaching, consulting, and training

Coaching is different from consulting or training.  Consultants tell leaders what to do and how to get there.  Coaching is a developmental approach in which the coach draws out from the leader the solutions to their challenges without telling them what they should do and instead helping them think through how they want to get there. Coaching is a catalyst for transformational growth.

Coaching is also different from training or courses which help close knowledge gaps.  Often advanced leaders don’t lack knowledge.  Coaching creates an environment for behavior change and action plan implementation with built-in accountability as opposed to courses which are often one-and-done and don’t create sustainable change.

When to use coaching as a leadership development tool

When leaders have the knowledge, capacity, and motivation to accomplish their goals or remove barriers getting in their way, but could use a thought and accountability partner to help them gain clarity, insights, provide feedback, and encourage action.

When leaders need to be told what to do or need to learn a new skills, consulting or training is more appropriate.

Coaching is a great tool when paired with training in order to get the most out of training because coaching can help turn learning into action and hardwire new skills, behaviors, or mindsets.

Benefits of leadership coaching

  • Clearer goals and greater goal achievement
  • Reduction of overwhelm and increase in focus on strategic work versus day to
  • Increased job satisfaction, engagement, and productivity
  • Greater success during a promotion or new role
  • Increased abilities for a next-level role or promotion
  • Improved decision making
  • Spending more time doing what adds the most value to business/team
  • Improved relationships, communication, and influence
  • Reduction in turnover and retention of top talent
  • Increased engagement
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased time spent on executing strategy and what adds the most value to the organization
  • Increase employee and leader engagement and retention.
  • Creation of a leadership talent pipeline for succession planning. Unlocking and developing talent the organization needs for the future through high potential development and retention.
  • Upskill new managers or grow leaders to the next level so the organization can grow

Why hire a leadership coach

  • To help you focus on your development through assessment, goal setting, and accountability
  • An outside perspective provides fresh insights into your situation that can create breakthroughs
  • You would benefit from a thought partner who asks questions that stretch and challenge your thinking
  • To help you understand and advocate for your needs
  • To challenge you, to question your assumptions, and to ask you for more

Why bring coaches into your organization

  • Enhance existing development programs
  • Support the retention on your high potential leaders
  • Create a leadership talent pipeline and succession planning.  Leader growth enables the organization to grow to the next level
  • Grow the diversity of leaders in your talent pipeline or expand or begin a diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative

How can coaching help leadership development at your organization?

  • Coaching assists the leader in understanding their strengths, opportunities, and development needs
  • Helps the leader create and clarify development goals and be accountable to them
  • Creates regular action planning conversations and plans against the development goals
  • Coaches offer insights, perspectives, and challenging questions to the developing leader revealing new ideas, perspectives, and breakthroughs
  • At the commencement of coaching, leadership development progress is reviewed and measured so that the outcomes of coaching are clear

Why use leadership coaching for your high potentials

Your priority should be to retain your HiPos by making sure they’re happy and fulfilled in their roles. One of the best ways to do this is to offer mentoring and leadership coaching programs.

Coaching benefits to high potentials

  • Increased proficiency in their current roles
  • More opportunities for growth
  • Increase abilities to lead at new levels or in new positions
  • Increased engagement and satisfaction and likelihood to stay
  • Increased confidence to take on new and higher roles

Signs you need a leadership coach to get to next level

  • You have just been promoted or have a new opportunity
  • You know you need to grow professionally in order to grow your organization
  • You want to advance your career to the next level
  • You feel overwhelmed and not sure where to focus
  • You are missing achieving your goals, or you don’t have clear goals
  • Your work and personal life is not balanced and you are working too much
  • You are not sure you have the right people on the bus
  • You have relationships that are difficult to navigate
  • You can’t know it all and need someone to talk to who doesn’t report to you
  • You desire to find time for strategic work instead of day to day
  • You could use help with successful delegation
  • You want to spend more time doing what adds the most value to the business

Common leadership development topics focused on in coaching

  • Communication / listening better
  • Decision making (speed of decision making, including opinions of others in decision making)
  • Being more assertive (speaking up for own beliefs & opinions)
  • Managing conflict constructively, timely and effectively
  • Influencing / being persuasive
  • Building cross-functional relationships
  • Standing up to people undermining teamwork
  • Collaborating better with others
  • Building trust with stakeholders
  • Executive presence
  • Self-confidence
  • Driving team / culture change
  • Coaching and mentoring others
  • Delegating effectively
  • Empowering direct reports
  • Execution for results (including focus execution and resources on few critical business issues)
  • Strategic thinking
  • Being more entrepreneurial
  • Taking calculated risks
  • Holding others accountable for results
  • Dealing with performance problems

Types of leadership coaching

Leadership Coaching Programs

Leadership development coaching programs are coaching experiences for one or a group of leaders where leaders gain self-awareness, set development goals, and certified coaches use partnership and dialogue to help the leaders reach their goals.  Leadership coaching programs are sometimes paired with learning programs or courses that occur over a period of time.

Learn more about Avenue Leadership’s Coaching Experience.

Difference between executive and leadership coaching

The difference between executive and leadership coaching revolves around the level of leader receiving coaching and type of goals or topics the leader wants to address in coaching.

Executive coaching occurs with a leader in an executive position like CEO, CFO, COO, CMO, CXO, Executive Director, Senior Vice President, or Vice President who is leading an organization, division, department, or business unit.  While leadership coaching occurs with someone who is an informal leader or interested in advancing to leadership, front-line leader, supervisor, team lead, manager, mid-level leader, or senior leader.

Executive coaching usually covers topics related leading an enterprise including strategy, change, transformation, transition, sustaining performance, decision making, setting priorities, navigating complex relationships, and resilience and burnout prevention.  Discussions in executive coaching usually revolve around leading people in today’s complex, competitive global marketplace.  Executive’s often employ executive coaches because leading at the top is a lonely place and they need someone to talk to who can challenge and support them outside of those who report to them or their manager or board.

Leadership coaching usually covers leading a team, improving relationships, communicating effectively, managing conflict, giving and receiving feedback, and setting direction.

Both executive and leadership coaching are:

  • One-on-one approaches to development to bring about changes in mindset and behavior
  • Conducted by a professional certified coach
  • Goal oriented towards outcomes the leader wants to achieve
  • Conducted over time through a series of coaching sessions (usually 6 to 12 months)
  • Include accountability for follow through on actions related to goals

How to select a leadership coach

Organizations and leaders looking to find the right coach to partner with should be asking the following questions to help them select a leadership coach:

Learn about the coach’s background

  • What is your experience level? How long have they been coaching and doing leadership development?
  • What are your credentials, accreditations, degrees and professional certifications? Look for credentialed and certified coaches with advanced degrees.
  • What is your industry or sector experience? While not necessarily a make-or-break factor in choosing a coach, it can be useful if the coach has practical experience in similar industries.  It’s not required to be a subject matter expert in the industry or the leader’s role as the coach shouldn’t provide consulting based subject matter expertise, but instead use a process to draw out issues and conclusions from you.

Determine what the experience will be like

  • What is it like to work with you? Leaders should gather a sense of what it’s like to work with the coach and it should fit with what the leader needs in a thought partner.  Great coaches will always want to know that they are a good fit for the leader in question, too because not everyone is a good candidate for coaching. The coach should also be seeking to understand the objective(s) the leader wishes to achieve.
  • What examples can you share with me on successful results of previous leaders you have coached?  Listen for results.

Identify if you and the coach are a good match

  • What types of clients have you enjoyed most success with? Coaches usually specialize in different areas or skill sets.  Look for alignment in the coaches specialty and the goals and desired outcomes of the leadership coaching initiative.
  • What kinds of issues can I bring to the table? The boundaries between professional and personal life can sometimes be blurred during the coaching process. Leaders should find out whether the coach is comfortable with discussing personal matters, or would prefer discussions to be strictly work-related.

Learn about the coach’s process

  • What is your coaching methodology? Listen for their own approach and process.  Determine if this aligns with your expectations.
  • What outcomes can be expected and how will they be measured? Begin with the end in mind.  Will success be measured?
  • How does confidentiality work?  What, if anything, is reported to the organization of the coachee?  Coaching between the coach and coachee should be 100% confidential unless the coach learns of a violation of policy.  The only thing that should be reported to the organization is the coachees attendance and participation in the coaching process.  Neither themes nor details of what is discussed in coaching should be reported to the coachee’s leader or organization.  Progress reports should be reported from the coachee’s leader through a progress report template provided by the coach, but written by the coachee only sharing what they are comfortable to share.
  • What diagnostic tools will you use (if any)? Assessments are a great place to begin in order to provide some data and input for what the goals and outcomes of coaching should be.

How to get the most out of coaching

Coaching is the most sought-after development method by leaders because it creates an environment for exponential individual leadership development and growth.  To get the most out of coaching, the following areas should be assessed to determine if coaching is the right choice for the leader’s development:

  • Awareness of a development need.  A specific SMART goal should be established around 1-2 development areas in order to provide a focused outcome of coaching.  Often, leaders are aware of where they want to enhance their leadership abilities.  However, just as frequently, assessments and stakeholder interviews are a great way to identify the development target the leader wants to focus on.
  • Mindset for and willingness to change.  A leader must be ready and willing to change and be vulnerable enough to work on their development areas. 
  • Capacity for development.  The leader has to have the time to focus on their development and carry out the actions plans they commit to in coaching.  If the leader has too much going on to devote time to their development, coaching should wait until they can focus on it.
  • Narrow focus.  SMART goals should be established at the beginning of coaching regarding specific leadership development areas.  Then, all coaching sessions topics should relate back to the established goal(s) in order to make progress in targeted ways.
  • Monthly or biweekly action plans.  These should be developed by the coachee, committed to, and reviewed in the next coaching session for insights and learning related to what went well and what didn’t.
  • Measurement.  A process should be utilized to determine the coachee’s progress and the outcomes of coaching.
  • Length.  Most often, at least 6 months of working with a coach is needed to hardwire change and change other’s perceptions regarding the coachee’s development targets or areas.
  • Involvement of partners in the development process.  In most cases, a sponsor or manager of the coachee should be involved in setting the right development goals in partnership with the coachee.  Also, peers, direct reports, and customers can also be invited to provide their perspective in a 360 assessment or through interviews related the coachee’s strenghts and where the coachee should focus their development.  Involving others in the development process helps change perceptions of the coachee and improves relationships.  Also, once others are invited into the development process, they can provide ongoing feedback and encouragement regarding the coachee’s focus areas.

What you can expect from a coach

Results towards your goals. It important to know that it is the leader’s responsibility to take ownership of their goals and move them forward. Coaches give the leader support, encouragement, challenge, insights, perspective, and accountability.

How long will it take to see results from coaching?

Results from coaching begin after your first regular coaching session where you determine your next steps related to a topic aligned with your overall goal for coaching. 

Hardwiring sustainable changes in leadership approaches and behavior usually takes 6 months to a year.

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