Leader as a Coach

Gone are the days when coaching was considered as a remedial tool; organizations today are fast realizing the power of coaching as an investment for business growth. Across the globe, businesses have found coaching effective to improve team functioning, employee engagement, productivity and employee relations. The maximum effect however is seen on leadership development. Traditionally, organizations have hired external coaches or internal coaches; leading to a $366 billion global industry (Training.com). However, a recent study by McKinsey reveals that most of these trainings or interventions have failed to deliver significant results. Further studies reveal coaching is most effective when it is not an isolated practice. Organizations like IBM, Ikea, Apple, Amazon etc. have successfully introduced and benefitted from “Leader as a coach” programs.

 “Leader as a Coach”

The simplest definition of a business leader is the art of directing team members with a strategy to meet the organization’s goals. 

But the reality is that the work of a leader is far more complex; they must have the ability to motivate, inspire, carry the team and maintain harmony. Most leaders succumb to the temptation to lead by telling, advising, exhorting, reprimanding and so on. 

Instead of a directive approach, leaders must adopt a coaching approach: rapport building; empathy; active listening; not judging; focusing on opportunities rather than failures are all hallmarks of a great coach and a great leader. 

A leader-coach operates on the principle that people are naturally creative, resourceful, capable and self-motivated. This means that team members are not hounded to perform but are supported to define their own working parameters. 

For the program to succeed, the organization must have an accepted coaching culture. The coaching program at Amazon works because Jeff Bezos is an advocate of coaching. FirstMeridian invests in building the culture conducive for Leadership to strengthen their teams and inspire them to push their limits. 

Core Elements to Build a “Leader as a Coach” Culture:

A recent study reveals that organizations with coaches as leaders tend to have improved business performance. 


Level 4 Organizations 

Those with leaders who are highly effective coaches

Other All Organizations
(on average) Those with leaders who are not effective coaches

Collaborative Culture Exists



Improved Revenue



Improved Retention



Source: Brandon Hall Group Performance Management and Team Development and Performance studies

As mentioned at the beginning, coaching is not a remedial tool, but a continuous performance enhancement tool. It is essential to communicate the same throughout the organization and remove any stigma (if any) associated with coaching. 

Core Elements:

  1. Top down approach: Hire external coaches for the senior leadership team to coach and train them in coaching. Once this team realizes the benefit of coaching, they will pioneer a coaching culture.

  2. Communicate: Build and communicate a coaching strategy that is aligned with the business strategy. Ensure that every team member understands the strategy and is in sync with it.

  3. Accountability: Every manager knows that one of their key roles is to develop their team members. Ensure that they use a coaching approach by creating a structured process; provide adequate resources and most importantly make time available for coaching.

  4. Curiosity: The hallmark of a coach is curiosity. Train managers to ask questions instead telling people what to do. This approach encourages the team to look at solutions rather than being blinded by the problems.

  5. Recognize and Reward: The process of coaching is result oriented and lends itself to performance metrics; identify managers/leaders who achieve results through coaching. Create a healthy competitive environment for optimal results.

  6. Train! Train! Train: Formal “leader as a coach” trainings help the leaders to gain mastery over coaching conversations for setting and achieving business goals. They also provide continuous support through learning materials (tools, templates etc.). These must be supplemented through continued mentoring and refresher courses. 

Tips to be an effective Leader- Coach

  1. Learn to coach. Coaching is not an inborn talent; invest in a program to learn the various tools and techniques to coach effectively. Frequent refresher courses; networking with other coaches etc. will help you stay on top of your game. 

  2. Know your team well and then empower them. Invest time in getting to know your team. Build a strong rapport and an environment of trust. 

  3. Walk the talk! Be an example for your team. Rather than just talking about expected behaviors; adopt them yourself. 

  4. Focus on the success of your team. A coach succeeds only when the client succeeds. Likewise, a leader -coach can succeed only if the team is successful. 

  5. Paint a powerful vision. Coaching is all about staying focused on the larger goal, having a proper action plan. Aid your team members to visualize the goal and motivate them to succeed.

End Note:

 “Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” ? John Whitmore

“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there”. John Buchan

Need we say more?