What is Coaching Leadership Style?

As leadership philosophies evolve and grow, various tactics and styles are being developed and refined. One style that is becoming increasingly popular today is the coaching leadership style. But what is it really, and what makes it popular? More importantly, how does it compare to other management styles? Here’s a comprehensive rundown on what to know about the coaching leadership style. 

Becoming a good leader takes time and willingness to learn from others.

What is a coaching leadership style?


Traditionally, leaders use transactional methods of social exchange – behaviors or services in exchange for rewards. This went on to evolve to transformational leadership, which goes further by engaging employees and satisfying their needs at deeper levels. Coaching leadership, on the other hand, puts heavier emphasis on the latter – it is designed to help employees develop professionally and grow personally, along with their long-term goals in mind. 


The term was defined by Paul Hershey and Kenneth Blanchard in the 1960s. The idea is to promote a positive environment for everyone in the workplace to develop new skills, revisit the company’s objectives, and establish a culture of confidence. A coaching leadership style identifies the strengths, weaknesses, and motivation of each member of its team and supports each individual to develop and improve. This is why leaders are seen as mentors (or coaches).


What makes it different from the traditional management style?


A coaching leadership style is identified by collaboration, guidance, and support. It focuses on bringing the best out of each and every member of the team. It is different from the traditional autocratic style of leadership which is based on top-down decision-making.


Autocratic Leadership – Also known as Directive Leadership, this style puts all the decision-making on a specific person(s). It involves a lot of direct orders, supervision, and does not ask for feedback and opinion from team members. 


Democratic Leadership – This style follows the same concept as the coaching leadership style. It welcomes participation of team members in decision-making and often encourages group discussions. 


Laissez-faire Leadership – This is the exact opposite of autocratic leadership, as leaders put all the responsibility on their employees, without any form of guidance. Leaders also avoid giving orders and directions to employees, leaving the fate of the team entirely to themselves, including conflict. 


Benefits of coaching leadership style


The benefits of this style of leadership goes both ways. For members, the most typical is stress reduction, as they feel more empowered and capable in their job. For leaders, they no longer need to have all the answers all the time. 


Here are other benefits of coaching leadership in the workplace:


  • Improved work productivity

  • Empowered, creative, and free thinking staff

  • Continuous leadership

  • Improved workplace communication

  • Positive workplace culture

  • Improved self-awareness


It utilizes the coaching mindset


With a coaching leadership style, leaders behave as coaches – they communicate well, foster creativity, motivate their staff, and allow autonomy to let staff make informed decisions. 


It unlocks the potential of each and every staff member


A coaching leadership style promotes a culture of high performance through empowerment of each member of the team, and collaboration of every member of the team to unlock and enable potential. Collaboration is highly emphasized, since the coach (leader) emphasizes teamwork within the team. This makes it different to the command and control approach of the traditional management style, which is known to stifle potential. 


Pros and Cons


While the style is largely viewed as both positive and effective, it may not always be the perfect fit for every organization or leader. Here are some pros and cons that you should consider.




  • Encourages both professional and personal development of staff

  • Emphasizes two-way communication and collaboration

  • Involves constructive feedback 

  • Supportive and encourages creativity, not judgmental

  • Opens opportunities for growth of managers

  • They become more goal and relationship oriented, with improved self-awareness

  • They become better in helping employees find solutions




  • Does not automatically yield efficient and fast results

  • Resource intensive (lots of time and energy needed to help develop staff members)

  • May not be suitable for a high-pressure environment (results-driven organizations)


Challenges in using coaching leadership style


While the advantages and benefits of coaching leadership style truly outweigh its cons, there are also challenges in implementing this style, such as:


  • Unqualified leaders (leaders lacking knowledge, experience, and skills in coaching)

  • Complacent and unwilling employees

  • Insufficient teaching time

  • Differences in opinion

  • Time-sensitive priorities


Each organization will also have its own set of challenges in implementing this type of leadership. Thus, it is important to identify and address these challenges to make this leadership style work. 


Also, it is important to understand that things may not always go as planned. 


When to use a coaching leadership style


A coaching leadership style is best in environments where people lack the knowledge or skills to work and reach the organization’s vision, or have become worn-out over time. This style provides guidance and motivation, while simultaneously leading people to a “what they can do” type of approach that encourages the development of the skills and growth as a fully-functional team. 


Coaching leadership is best when personal goals are aligned with the goals of the organization, all while promoting accountability and shared success. 


The style is excellent for addressing people-related problems, whether caused by time-pressure, departmental, or cultural differences. 


Becoming a coaching leader


Here are some tips to becoming a coaching leader.


Identify areas of concern


Have genuine conversations with your employees; sit down with them and ask open-ended questions that may reveal details of any issues. Listen more and speak less. Understand things from their perspective.


Some people approach work differently based on their attitude and goals. When you understand these things, you can help align their attitude and goals to the organization’s strategy


Give feedback


Delivering clear and actionable feedback is the most important aspect of this leadership style – whether it’s constructive or positive. However, giving feedback is a skill, and like any skill, you can improve it through practice. 


Create a culture of continuous feedback that gets everyone onboard. You can start with a positive note, but make sure you balance criticism and praise. The best way to do this is to start your feedback by describing what they did well.


Talk to your team, one-on-one 


People feel more comfortable opening up when it is a one-on-one conversation. Give this opportunity to each member of your team.


Connect on a deeper level


You need to establish trust before you can keep employees accountable and expect respect. Make a solid connection with each member of your team through positive interactions. 


Ask them for questions


Not just any questions, but good questions. Help them identify the areas they need to improve and new key skills they need to acquire. One good skill that most people need to acquire is to learn how to ask the right questions.


This way, you can guide them to the right directions and they can get the right answers on their own, without overstepping. Ask for their feedback and opinions. 


Develop your leadership skills


Becoming a good leader takes time and willingness to learn from others. Invest in improving your leadership and coaching skills, such as online tutorials, business books, professional workshops, etc. Learn new techniques and trends that will help you develop. 


Do not be afraid to network with other leaders and learn from them, whether from their success or mistakes. 

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