The Complete Guide to Leadership Coaching
What is Leadership Coaching?
Leadership coaching is a commitment to and investment in both the present and the future of a company. It involves an extensive examination of the climate and culture of a company and any areas of concern or issues in need of improvement.
Leadership development coaching programs attempt to gather an honest assessment of the skills, traits, and abilities of current and potential future leaders and expand and improve upon them in order to help them reach their full potential and best meet the company’s needs.
The purpose of leader coaching is not for the coach to solve all of the company’s problems, but rather for them to act as a guide, working with executives, team leaders, and other employees identified as having the potential to be future leaders, asking them questions and helping them to conduct assessments which will lead to greater self-awareness and the ability to find the solutions they seek.
Leadership coaching involves helping team leaders to clarify and communicate the company’s goals to all employees and making sure that everyone is on the same page working toward achieving the organization’s highest priority objectives.
Leadership coaches work confidentially with their clients to offer support, advice, encouragement, and a listening ear and objective eye to help them reach their goals. The coaches help the leaders to conduct assessments of themselves and the company as well as interviews with their employees to gain a deeper understanding of the company and offer them resources and networking opportunities which may prove beneficial in meeting their needs.
Leadership coaches help to ensure that everyone knows the company’s goals and are held accountable for doing their part to achieve them. They offer strategies, tools, and training when needed and work to keep everyone focused and motivated. The coaches offer tough love and constructive criticism when needed, but they are also the biggest cheerleaders offering praise when it is earned. Executive coaches offer their clients a framework and foundation of tools, strategies, and support upon which they can build while also helping them to find their own answers and discover their full potential.
Leadership coaching also goes by the following names:
- executive coaching
- leader coaching
- leadership development coaching
- business leadership coaching
- leadership development coaching
- leadership team coaching
- transformational leadership coaching
What do leadership coaches do?
Some people may mistakenly think that leaders and companies who work with executive coaches do so because they are failing and the company is in trouble. This is very rarely the case. Usually a leadership coach is hired because a business has decided to be proactive – they are doing well and their goal is to take their performance to the next level and become even better. We don’t question olympic athletes for having coaches. We understand that they are performing at a very high level and they want a coach to help them reach their full potential. The same should be assumed about companies who consult with leadership coaches.
Coaches work confidentially with their clients either in a one-on-one relationship, or with a team of leaders and employees identified as showing the potential for developing strong leadership skills.
Executive coaches work with a company’s leaders to help them be more efficient, productive, successful, and happier in the workplace. When these things are true of the team leaders, it carries over to all of the employees and has a tremendous positive impact on the whole company. Coaches go into the company and observe its culture. They hold meetings and speak with employees and leaders alike. Coaches may provide their clients with assessments, asking them to evaluate both themselves and the company as a whole to identify areas of strengths as well as areas that can be improved. They then try to objectively analyze the effectiveness of the executives and the company and share their observations with their clients.
Leadership coaches work with the company’s leaders to help them set goals. They then discuss with their clients what a successful outcome will look like to them and how they will know if their goals have been met.
Together they will use the data they have gathered from their observations, meetings, conversations, and assessments to brainstorm possible strategies to help them meet their goals and develop an action plan that the coach will work with them on. All throughout the process, they will continue to gather data and feedback to help them evaluate their progress and see if the decisions they are making are having a positive impact. The coach will help to keep everyone laser focused on the goal and motivated to achieve it, modeling for the company’s leaders how they should do this when the coach is no longer by their side. The coach never loses sight of the objectives of developing, strengthening, and improving leadership skills and helping the leadership team to be a unified, well-oiled machine that works together seamlessly and gets positive results.
Leadership coaching can take place on-site and in-person or online and remotely. Online leadership coaching is becoming a more common practice.
Who can benefit from working with a leadership coach?
Zig Ziglar, a renowned business consultant and motivational speaker once said: “If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.” This couldn’t be more true. The expertise and experience of a qualified leadership coach can be beneficial to anyone who considers themself to be a lifelong learner and believes they always have room to learn something new to grow and improve. Leadership teams that are already performing well, but who want to take their performance to an even higher level can thrive when they are receptive to the guidance and support of an executive coach.
Leaders and businesses that are trying to overcome challenges and have been unsuccessful on their own can also benefit from working with a leadership coach as they may just bring the fresh, objective perspective that they need to find the solution they have been searching for. Leaders who have been achieving results that are not as good as they anticipated can also benefit from consulting with a leadership coach if they are committed to putting in the hard work necessary to improve. Any company that is trying to gain a better understanding of and improve the culture within their business could find working with an executive coach to be invaluable.
What might an early consultation with an executive coach look like?
Talented executive coaches are skilled at being able to recognize the aspects of a leader or company that are contributing to the less than desired results they are currently experiencing. They ask just the right probing questions to help the executives discover things about themselves and their company that they had previously been unaware of. Leadership coaches guide their clients with questions that can help them uncover the answers for themselves. This is the best way to ensure buy-in and lasting commitment to reach their goals over the long haul. The leadership coach helps leaders to evaluate for themselves what is and isn’t currently working – the things that they should keep in place moving forward and the things that are better to leave behind.
How often should leadership coaches and their clients meet?
While this depends largely on the goals and needs of the specific leaders and company involved, coaches generally like to touch base frequently with their clients – usually at least twice a month. This does not always have to be in person – phone calls, video chats and online leadership coaching are also perfectly acceptable, but meeting regularly is important for several reasons:
- It helps to build a strong rapport between the leaders and their coaches, building a climate of trust where the leaders can feel safe to approach the coach for help.
- It helps to keep informed and up-to-date about the current situation at the company and the progress that is being made so that adjustments can be made more quickly if needed.
- Strategies and resources can be provided to the the leaders in a more timely manner.
- Feedback can be exchanged between the leaders and the coach about what is and is not working well.
The length of time that leadership coaches work with their clients will be entirely based upon the needs and preferences of the clients, but it is typically for at least 6 months. Companies on average spend at least 9-12 months working with an executive coach with some choosing to work on a much more long-term basis.
What special skills does a leadership coach bring to a company?
Of course, it is impossible to identify the specific skills of every leadership coach as they are all individuals, and it will depend on the person the company hires to coach its leaders, but there are some skills that the best executive coaches should be expected to bring to the table.
Insists on beginning with the end in mind
Once the leadership coach and the company’s leaders have decided upon the goals for the company and leaders that they will work on together, a good leadership coach will insist that their clients take the time to identify and explain in detail what it will look like once they have successfully achieved their goals. This is a step that many people fail to complete, but it is a crucial one. If you don’t know where you are going, you will never know when you get there.
When you begin with the end in mind, you will have a clear vision and expectations for success and can ensure that everyone is focused on common goals. This avoids a lot of wasted time and confusion because people aren’t working at cross-purposes. It helps maintain greater efficiency and productivity in the company as everyone’s priorities are aligned. It serves to remind people why achieving the goal is so important and it helps them take ownership over its success which increases their long-term buy-in and motivation.
Demonstrates excellence in getting to know people and motivating them
Good leadership coaches understand that no two people are alike. That means that there is no one-size-fits-all motivational strategy that will be effective for everyone. The best coaches, and leaders, recognize the importance of understanding their clients or employees and their strengths and weaknesses along with what they value. This approach makes excellent business sense as it helps them to figure out how to best communicate with and motivate the people they work with.
Part of being a leadership coach means that a change in the company will be a result of your efforts. Coaches understand that it is human nature to be resistant to change. More often than not, people are resistant to change for one of the following reasons:
- Fear of the unknown
- Think it will be impossible for them to implement or be successful
- Don’t understand why it’s necessary
- Don’t want to put forth the effort that will be required on their part
The best coaches understand how to overcome this resistance to change and motivate even the most reluctant people to get on board. They work hard to build trust and a good rapport with everyone which can pay big dividends.
Provides the necessary support and resources
Nothing creates negative feelings in the workplace quicker than feeling like you are putting forth your best effort and you have made a personal and major time commitment toward achieving a goal when others have not. Leadership coaches understand this so they are committed toward providing the support and resources that their clients need to be successful.
They set their schedule based on what is most convenient for their clients and make every attempt to be available when they are needed. Coaches provide training and information to the executives and future leaders to help them develop and improve their leadership skills. They work closely with the owners or top executives to make sure that their efforts have their complete support. This makes it much easier for the leaders to get equipment or additional money should it become necessary to achieve their goals and vision.
Knows when they are needed and when they should back off
Executive coaches are teachers. Like teachers, the best coaches understand when they need to teach, guide, and act as a model for the leaders as they learn and practice new skills and when they should start to let go and let the leaders begin to stand on their own in a leadership capacity and discover for themselves the answers and solutions they are looking for. They recognize the importance of monitoring the progress, improvements, and setbacks that may occur. They help to encourage and motivate others while at the same time holding them responsible for doing their part.
Follows up to make sure the change that is implemented stays in place
The best leadership coaches realize that it is easy to fall back into old habits and patterns even when change has been successfully implemented. That is why they periodically check in to make sure things are still on track. They help the leaders to address any performance concerns, setbacks, or mistakes that may arise. They celebrate with the leadership team the successes that have been achieved and encourage them to entrust their employees and themselves with new responsibilities once they have successfully mastered new skills. Coaches know how to give meaningful feedback that advances everyone closer to achieving shared goals. They know how and when to offer praise and celebrate successes along the way.
Recognizes that challenging leaders is equally important to supporting them
When people think of executive coaches, they typically think of their role as chiefly being to support the leaders they work with. While being supportive is definitely a critical responsibility of the coach, there is another one that is just as crucial. The best leadership coaches understand that if we only do what we have always done, then we will only get the same results that we always have. It is only when we are pushed beyond our comfort zone that true learning and growth can take place. These coaches challenge their leaders to push themselves farther because the reward can be great. They see some value in having them jump over the edge and build their wings on the way down. At the same time, they do not want them to take unnecessary or careless risks so they are there to support them the entire time. The result is generally a much improved performance. You can find a video related to this at Human Capital International.
Understands that actions speak louder than words
The best leadership coaches know that their leadership is defined not by what they say, but rather by what they do. This is a hallmark that companies like Disney instill in their leaders and employees from day one. Sometimes the very best kind of leadership is the one where you lead by example. This sets the tone and gives others a model to follow. It creates a culture of mutual trust and respect and brings out the best in everyone. These coaches want to inspire the leaders they work with to be their very best which can in turn spur positive lasting results toward achieving their goals.
These ideas are supported and shared by sources like Dale Carnegie and Top Leaders.
Successful leadership coaching at work
While the success of leadership coaching can only be determined and measured by the goals and expectations that each individual company sets for the process, many companies may relate to the concerns described in Leadership Challenge facing the Farm Credit Services of America. Have you ever been less than pleased with the growth your company was demonstrating? Most companies have probably experienced this at one time or another. When you are faced with this concern, you ultimately have 2 choices. You can view it as a storm you need to weather and just hang on until external forces adjust and correct your current situation, or you can choose to be proactive and look internally in your company to see how you can get ahead of the problem. Farm Credit Services of America chose to do the latter. They worked with a leadership coach to look within their company for ways to help their senior leadership reach their full potential and to improve the communication and team building among all of their employees – current and future leaders alike – to better utilize the strengths and talents of the employees they already had.
With the help of their leadership coach, Farm Credit Services of America underwent a paradigm shift in their thinking about leadership within the company. They eliminated the word manager from their company’s vocabulary and instead focused on putting in place a program called the Leadership Challenge which they still use today. The focus was on increasing employee productivity and engagement by working to build teams and make their employees feel more comfortable in being able to communicate their ideas and concerns to their senior leadership. They found that by trying to develop the leadership skills in everyone, their employees showed more ownership and took more initiative toward helping reach the company’s goals and achieve their unified vision through stronger performance. Farm Credit Services of America was so pleased with the increased productivity and growth that resulted from their leadership coaching experience that they have made the leadership development program a permanent fixture in their company’s culture. Over a third of their employees have undergone the training to date and the company is extremely satisfied with the results and are happy to have the leadership skills they value engrained in the identity and vision of the company.
Is hiring a leadership coach a worthwhile investment?
The vast majority of companies who utilize a leadership coach indicate that they have seen a positive return on their investment in terms of an improved bottom line that more than covers their financial investment. This is supported by Jamesson Solutions. But that is not the only thing you can expect to happen as a result of hiring an executive coach. Here are a few other benefits:
- Reduction in employee turnover
- Smoother leadership transitions
- Increased productivity
- Better decision making
- Better preparedness for future challenges
- Recognizing and developing leadership talent from within
- Happier clientele
- Outstanding reputation
- Increased loyalty to the company
- Greater flexibility and improved problem solving skills
- Boost in employee morale
- Recruitment and retention of highly talented employees
Hiring a leadership coach can be a serious financial investment, but there is so much potential for positive changes to occur within your company as a result. As long as you do some research to find a quality leadership coach that is a good fit to help meet the needs of your company, you might find that committing to leadership coaching just might be one of the best investments you can make in the present and for the future of your company.
“Coaching 101: Defining Executive Coaching.” Human Capital International. October 28, 2014. Accessed June 17, 2018.
Dale Carnegie & Associates. “Leadership Coaching Guide.” 2018. Accessed June 17, 2018.
“Disney’s Approach to Business Excellence.” Disney Institute. Accessed June 17, 2018.
“Executive Leader Coaching.” Jamesson Solutions, Inc. Accessed June 17, 2018.
“Leadership Coaching 101: The Shift from Good Employees to Top Leaders.” Workforce. Accessed June 17, 2018.
McCarthy, D. (2018, May 16). A Manager’s Guide to Executive Coaching. Retrieved June 17, 2018, from
Peck, David. “Leadership/Executive Coaching 101.” The Recovering Leader. Accessed June 17, 2018.