The Shift to Coach-Style Leadership and Why it is a "Must"

08 Jan 2020 9:22 AM | Anonymous

By Cami McLaren

What makes a good leader?

We will suggest there is a difference between “traditional management-style” leaders and “coach-style” leaders.

Traditional management style is one of “telling,” “supervising” and “disciplining.”  It is often seen as controlling and top-down.  Coach-style leadership involves, “asking,” “empowering” and “guiding.” It is often seen as a partnership, rather than a hierarchy.  (Note: in today’s professional world there is more prevalence of the term “coach.”  However, just using that moniker does not mean you are coaching your employees. By the same token, not all “managers” employ a traditional management style.  Some are in fact very effective coach-style leaders.)

The distinction we make boils down to this:                                             
“You manage things; you lead people.” - Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

Coach-style leadership is on the rise in American business.  It focuses on developing and cultivating strong relationships. It is a way of being with others that is open, inquisitive, and challenging. It empowers people to be accountable and resourceful in order to achieve the results they desire.

What does this mean for leaders and why are so many of them seeking out coach training in order to learn these and bring them to their organizations?  According to a recent graduate of our Coach Training program and managing partner in a Sacramento law firm, “The coaching model supports leadership, mentoring and training of individuals and teams. Professional coaching – including elements related to listening, feedback and curious inquiry – provides tools to enhance communication and relationships in an organization.”  (

Coaching involves two elements.  One is the skill set of coaching and the second is the coach’s “way of being.”  “Way of being” is arguably the more important.  Coach-style leaders are adept at cultivating openness and ownership in others because of where they “come from” - a place of curiosity, deep listening and non-judgment.  As such, these leaders create a high level of rapport and trust with their clients/employees.  This in turn engenders a higher level of self-awareness, self-starting and engagement from employees.

How does one adopt the coach’s way of being?  First you must let go of judgment and assume that people are doing their best.  This statement raises the hackles of many managers who say things like, “My employees are phoning it in.”  And my personal favorite, “Millennials are just entitled.” The problem is when you make these assumptions, you are cultivating an environment of judgment and criticism.  People can tell when they are being judged and criticized. While this may inspire a certain “going along out of fear,” it also promotes a level of disengagement that is found in many organizations today.  

To adopt the coach’s way of being, you must be able to see that your employees have a different “World View” than you do (aka “filter” or per Stephen Covey, “map” as in “the map is not the territory”).  You must see that your people are in fact different from you and that this does not make them less capable.  When you realize this, you will become curious about why people are doing what they are doing.  You will be more willing to listen, and to listen from a deeper place.  When you are genuinely curious and listening intentionally, you will be able to support your employees in finding their own answers to the tough workplace issues.  They will in turn feel empowered and be far more likely to stay committed to their declared course of action.  An investment of listening and asking questions will develop a relationship that allows you to let go more as a leader and to trust that your people are fully capable of producing the results they have committed to.

The shift to coach-style leadership is not easy.  It requires an investment of time and energy.  But the payoffs are exceptional and far-reaching.

For more on Coach-Style Leadership, register for our February event:
Bringing Coach-Style Leadership for the Organization

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