The Leader as Coach
The Leader as Coach





What’s In It For The Leader To Become A Coach

What The Leader Can Do To "Set The Stage"For Coaching In The Organization

  • Read books and articles on coaching in the corporate setting and share what you are learning
  • Network with others who have implemented coaching in their organizations
  • Attend an introductory seminar
  • Hire a coach to strengthen personal leadership and communication skills
  • Enlist a willing and enthusiastic team within the organization to implement coaching as a way of demonstrating the benefits to the rest of the organization
  • Create a compelling context—talk about the changes in the marketplace, and the need for agility with technology and for new knowledge
  • Incorporate language which is coaching-related into the culture
  • Begin to reduce redundant layers of management oversight and decision making
  • Practice unconditionally constructive communication
  • Endorse others who constructively challenge the organization’s existing paradigms and systems
  • Tell others how you are shifting personally; this is intriguing and stimulates curiosity
  • Pass books and articles on coaching around for others to read
  • Invite others to attend the introductory seminar
  • Arrange for an "executive briefing" for senior management on corporate coaching
  • Clearly identify what new performance is needed in the organization
  • Engage organizational members in discussion about what skills and behaviors are needed to reach new levels of performance


Characteristics Of Effective Organizational Leader Coaches


Leader coaches are able to sort out the range of issues in a given situation, to see how they relate to each other and to the big picture. They provide clarity and context for meaningful discussions to occur among individuals and organizational teams.

Unconditionally Honest

Leader coaches are able to tell the truth while remaining completely constructive. They have a high level of awareness of themselves and of their impact on others. Their honesty enables them to "get to the heart of the matter", quickly, and to influence others to fully participate in finding creative responses to organizational challenges. Leader coaches practice "committed speaking"; that is, their messages reflect their deeply held beliefs about individuals and their unique potential.

Excellent Listening and Evoking Skills

Leader coaches listen with the intention to fully understand others rather than to direct or coerce. They believe that others have abundant knowledge and wisdom to make meaningful contributions to the work of the organization. They know how to ask the penetrating questions which enable others to surface their underlying assumptions about themselves, their work, and their teams which either contribute to or impede their performance.

Expansive Sphere of Trust

Leader coaches are trusting of others, and they are trustworthy. Leader coaches develop trust by letting other see them for who they really are, being unconditionally constructive in their communications, admitting their own mistakes, accepting the mistakes of others, and demonstrating genuine interest in other people.

Commitment to Interdevelopmental Partnerships

Leader coaches invest themselves in relationships that are based on mutual understanding and mutual benefit. They share responsibility for results as well as the recognition for success. They balance the need to advocate their own positions with inquiring into others' views. Leader coaches are themselves willing to be coached and developed by others.

Balance the Need for Learning with the Need for Results

Leader coaches recognize the relationship between the learning that results from risk taking and the achievement of breakthrough results. They recognize that fostering an environment which supports deep personal learning makes possible radical shifts in thinking, valuing and behaving which lead to breakthrough improvements in products and services.

Anticipation of Opportunities

Effective leader coaches are proactive rather than reactive. They seek opportunities for growth in themselves and others, and they inspire the commitment of those in their organizations through their words and their actions. They take advantage of people’s existing readiness for change, create a sense of urgency, and help to eliminate organizational and personal obstacles that impede action.


Leader coaches accept full responsibility for everything that occurs in their environment. In taking responsibility, they are able to make themselves a part of solutions as well as actively engage others to seek solutions to problems rather then assign blame.

Affirm and Acknowledge

Leader coaches affirm with their words and actions the natural desire that others have to develop and grow, to control their own work, and to be recognized for their contributions. They see that everyone, regardless of organizational status or position, has the potential to develop beyond current skills and responsibilities.

Promote Constructive Conflict

Effective leader coaches value disagreement and the powerful opportunities it presents for organizational teams to reach new levels of mutual understanding not accessible to individuals in isolation.

Factors Which Predict Success For The Organizational Leader Coach

  • Shares personal experience, learning and wisdom freely with others
  • Uses inquiry and dialogue to elicit others' experiences, learning and wisdom
  • Has high personal standards and continually "raises the bar" for his or her own learning and performance
  • Is committed to continual learning and personal renewal-is not complacent
  • Embraces diversity within the organization
  • Is well known in the organization and is approachable
  • Has an extensive network inside and outside of the organization which can be a resource to others
  • Is results oriented
  • Is an optimist; sees possibilities and connections others miss
  • Has a personal vision and inspires others to have a vision
  • Helps others align their personal vision with that of the organization
  • Is continually developing own knowledge and skills
  • Uses 360 degree feedback to enhance effectiveness
  • Has a gift for language which fosters the creation of meaning and context in the organization
  • Sees unrealized potential in others and helps them to see it for themselves
  • Has exceptional diagnostic and assessment skills
  • Uses intuition and imagination to extend and enhance communication
  • Can challenge others without making them feel criticized
  • Is passionate about helping others succeed
  • Is able to coach for both performance (present results) as well as development (future job, career change, etc.)
  • Is known for seeking win-win solutions
  • Is a great collaborator
  • Has exceptional communication skills

Organizational Factors Which Impede Coaching

  • Tightly controlled plans, standards and practices which discourage questioning or change
  • Training and supervision approaches which emphasize teaching of prescribed information, techniques and practices
  • Lack of recognition of people’s differences in motivation, commitment and awareness.
  • Fear-based culture
  • Focus on short-term performance and results
  • Performance management systems which place limits on the creation and performance of work

Individual Factors Which Impede Coaching

  • Fear of judgment by others
  • Fear of exposing incompetence
  • Difficulty establishing close relationships based on trust
  • Lack of self-confidence in one's abilities
  • Comfort with current knowledge and performance
  • Difficulty tolerating ambiguity
  • Ingrained beliefs and patterns of behavior based on old management paradigms
  • Need for security and direction from others, or need to control others



Personal Obstacles New Leader Coaches Must Overcome

  • Impatience with other people’s reluctance about change
  • Thinking reluctance and resistance are the same thing (they’re not)
  • Thinking you can "do coaching" (you must "be" a coach)
  • Fear of making yourself vulnerable to others
  • Reticence to give up "managerial control" over others
  • Viewing people as "human resources" rather than partners
  • Thinking you don’t have to change yourself in order to coach others
  • Underestimation of other peoples’ potential
  • Underestimation of your own potential
  • Viewing the shift to becoming a coaching based organization as only structural (it’s also personal)
  • Expecting a lot to happen as a result of your good intentions and declarations about change (it takes clearly identified performance goals, sustained commitment, and daily actions)
  • Expecting coaching to provide a "quick fix" to organizational or individual performance problems
  • Not linking coaching to personal and organizational vision
  • Not linking coaching to performance results


The Most Common Mistakes New Leader Coaches Make

  • Practicing the technology of coaching without having made the deep personal shifts in attitudes, beliefs and assumptions which establish credibility
  • Assuming everyone is coachable
  • Overestimating the short term results from coaching
  • Assuming every situation provides the opportunity for coaching
  • Failing to establish rapport which creates the trusting space for coaching to occur
  • Failing to get others’ permission to coach them
  • Not recognizing the impact of communication style differences in the coaching relationship
  • Not recognizing or valuing cultural, racial, gender or other diversity issues in the coaching relationship
  • Coaching from the leader coach’s own agenda
  • Coaching only individuals while ignoring teams or vice versa
  • Confusing coaching with training or supervision
  • Confusing coaching with performance correction or discipline resulting from sub-standard performance
  • Coaching only for step wise (linear) improvements
  • Failing to set sufficiently ambitious stretch goals
  • Failing to coach for both performance and personal growth
  • Failing to get 360° feedback in order to improve coaching effectiveness

Behaviors Which Result In Lost Credibility For Leader Coaches

  • Holding others to higher standards than they hold themselves
  • Engaging in behavior that is incongruent with messages about organizational vision and personal empowerment
  • Failing to admit their shortcomings or learn from their mistakes
  • Not sharing important information or being selective about the sharing of information
  • Trying to use coaching to "fix" other people
  • Putting personal success/career advancement ahead of the needs of others in the organization
  • Failing to acknowledge and endorse others; failing to share credit for results with others
  • Failing to honor the "human side of the business" (endorsing, respecting, empowering)
  • Failing to ask for or use constituent feedback in personal leadership development and organizational planning
  • Failing to communicate a clear message about performance expectations or performance results
  • Not demanding the best of themselves and others



Personal Shifts Organizational Leader Coaches Make



Reactive to circumstances or other people’s behavior

Proactive, anticipates, causes, envisions

Focus on efficiency, linear improvements

Focus on effectiveness, quality, breakthrough improvements

Power base is positional, authoritative

Power base is personal attraction centered, influential, collaborative

Responds to and manages change through increasing structures and control

Responds to and manages change through increased flexibility and perspective

Complacency with status quo

Visioning, seeing what’s next, opportunity sensing

Uses facts, data, acquired information to solve problems

Uses intuition and imagination as an adjunct to facts, data and acquired information to solve problems

Asks what policy is needed in a given situation

Asks how partners would handle a situation

Provides solutions, direction

Provides questions which promote collaborative discovery of solutions and direction

Is satisfied with performance that meets expectations

Asks for more than is expected from others’ performance

Uses existing knowledge and skills

Continually renews knowledge and skills


The Elements Of Rapport

Great organizational leader coaches are masterful at building rapport with those they coach. Rapport is essential to a process of self discovery, growth and change. The elements of rapport which leader coaches foster are:

  • Unconditionally constructive communications
  • Mutual respect
  • Body language which telegraphs endorsement, openness and trust
  • Willingness to influence and be influenced
  • Safety to share personal vulnerabilities
  • Minimization of differences in power and status
  • Expressed and demonstrated personal interest in the success of the other person
  • Empathy for the individual's challenges, fears, personal obstacles
  • Absence of posturing and defensiveness
  • Full attention to how the other person is being as well as what he or she is doing
  • Positive intention to bring one's best self fully to the relationship and to help the other person do and be his/her best
  • Space to see, hear and say truth
  • Suspension of judgment



Strategies The Leader Coach Can Employ To Improve Listening Skills

  • Resolve to be a better listener: This moves the leader coach beyond awareness of the need to be a better listener to a new level-that of commitment. Without full commitment, behavior change is not possible.
  • Tell others of the intent: Telling others of one's overall intent as well as what aspects of listening he/she is committed to improving accomplishes two things. It strengthens one's personal commitment, and it raises others' awareness of both the intent and the specific areas to be improved. Others are likely to tolerate mistakes when they know something is being worked on, and they are also more likely to share their observations and feedback in a helpful, developmental way.
  • Create the space within which to listen: This is really about eliminating personal obstacles, distractions, or attitudes which get in the way of listening, such as physical separateness, overbooked schedule, physical or emotional fatigue, and critical attitudes or judgments. Identifying what gets in the way may require the help of a coach or other supportive person, and is absolutely essential to the process of becoming an excellent listener.
  • Eliminate environmental distractions and interruptions: This means going beyond creating space within oneself to ensuring that the immediate environment is conducive to being able to be fully present with someone else. Extraneous noise, clutter and interruptions by others need to be eliminated to provide the best "listening space."
  • Establish or confirm that rapport is present: Even if rapport has been established in the past, it cannot be assumed in the present. Rapport is really situation specific, and it can be interrupted or negated during an interchange at any time. Good listening is enhanced by rapport.
  • Set aside assumptions and analysis: This can be thought of as "presuming innocence"; that is, making no assumptions about the speaker or the message ahead of time. It is also important to suspend the tendency to evaluate or analyze the content of the message while the message is being delivered. Going into an analytical mode interrupts good listening.
  • Monitor body language: The good listener monitors his/her own body language to ensure that it telegraphs openness, acceptance of the speaker and the message without judgment.
  • Listen for the whole message: This means listening for not only what is said, but also what is implied by the speaker's message, what does his/her body language reveal about his or her underlying feelings, and what is the request behind the message.
  • Check for complete understanding: The good listener does this by asking clarifying questions or by paraphrasing what he or she understands the speaker to have said.
  • Ask for feedback: The leader coach may think he or she is doing an excellent job of listening, but this needs to be confirmed by asking for feedback. People are generally able to be quite clear about whether or not they felt fully listened to.



The Types of Questions Leader Coaches Ask

  • Clarifying Questions: Questions which elucidate the current situation, problem, need, challenge or goal or which reveal personal feelings, concerns, questions, or anxieties, such as "What do the performance data reveal about our current situation?", "What market trends should we be addressing right now?", "What is your personal feeling about this?"
  • Discovery Questions: Questions designed to promote self discovery , such as "What's new or different?", "What the gap is?", "What's the current reality?", "What's the unspoken truth?", "What's possible?", "Where are the gaps in knowledge, skills, relationships, attitudes and behaviors?", "What are the unintended results of present attitudes and behaviors?"
  • Questions about Vision and Strategy: questions such as "What is the individual's or team's vision which can be aligned with that of the organization?", "What are the possible strategies to meet the current business challenge?", "How has our past strategy been/not been effective?", "What is the next level for us?", "If you could design a response with no constraints whatsoever, what would it be?"
  • Open Ended Questions: Questions that invite participation, disclosure and commitment, such as "Tell me more about…", "How does this situation, problem, opportunity seem to you?", "What are you going to do next?"
  • Evocative Questions: Questions that seize upon the inherent opportunity available now, foster a search for shared meaning, or create a new or changed context, such as "What is the opportunity underlying this challenge?", "What are we not doing/paying attention to that would altogether shift this situation?", "What are we not talking about that we should be talking about to solve this problem/seize this opportunity?", "If we were to take a radically different approach to this, what would it be?", "If all constraints were removed, what courses of action would be available to you or the team?"
  • Questions to Gauge Awareness/Understanding: Questions which reveal an individual's or team's understanding of current reality, challenges which lie ahead, as well as current performance strengths and gaps, such as "What is your perception of the current situation?", "What do you see as the biggest challenge?", "What will it take to address the challenge?", "What are our performance strengths?", "Where are the gaps in skills, attitudes or behaviors?"
  • Forwarding Action Questions: Questions which move the individual or team into forward action, such as "What steps are necessary to move the project forward?", What steps will you or the team assume responsibility for", "What is the best way to bridge the current gap?", "Who else needs to be involved to ensure the project's success?", "What obstacles to success need to be eliminated?"
  • Support Questions: Questions which inform the leader coach what he or she can do or cause to happen which increases the likelihood of success, such as "What would make the biggest impact and help to ensure your success?", "What resources are you missing that would make a difference?", "Do you need help with making networking contacts?"
  • Questions to Determine Readiness, Motivation and Commitment: Questions which reveal the current state of "GO" as well as any obstacles which still need to be overcome, such as "Are you ready?", "When will you be ready?", "How committed are you to the project?", "How optimistic are you about the outcome?", "What possibilities are you most excited about?", "What's holding you back now?", "What's your uncertainty about, and how could we turn that into readiness?"
  • Questions about Standards: Questions which are designed to build a shared understanding of and commitment to standards, such as "What are your personal standards for this project?", "Are they high enough given the current business environment?", "How do our standards compare with the competition?", "How will we get everyone's full effort to maintain or exceed these standards?", "How will performance against standards be measured?"



Overcoming Others' Reluctance About Coaching

  • Enlist those who are ready, willing and enthusiastic to lead the way and to inspire and support their more reluctant peers
  • Clearly communicate the expectations for new skills and behaviors as well as the results of individual and organizational change
  • Create a safe environment for people to "try on" and practice new behaviors and skills without fear of judgement or reprisal
  • Use the "language of coaching" when interacting with others in the organization to increase others' familiarity with its principles
  • Demonstrate one's personal commitment to coaching by having a coach and by being willing to be coached by others in the organization
  • Jointly establish performance goals which require application of new behaviors and skills
  • Anticipate questions, concerns and fears and address them openly and completely
  • Collaboratively establish a compelling vision which pulls people forward
  • Establish rewards for risk taking
  • Ensure that organizational structures and reward systems are aligned with expectations for new skills and behaviors
  • "Raise the bar" on what constitutes acceptable performance in the changing organizational environment
  • Challenge people to identify their assumptions and conclusions which lead to less than optimal results
  • Assist individuals to break down the actions needed for change into manageable steps
  • Get commitment for specific daily, weekly, monthly actions
  • Have people partner up for mutual learning and support



Coaching Strategies Which Promote Adult Learning And Growth

  • Individually determined objectives
  • Collaborative conversations
  • Comfortable and emotionally "safe" learning environment
  • Activities which promote creative expression and self discovery
  • Encouragement of personal values and standards
  • Endorsing of stylistic and other differences
  • Opportunity to practice and adapt learning to every day situations
  • Building upon the individual's experience and knowledge
  • Freedom to risk and make mistakes
  • Multiple options, more than one "right way"
  • Flexible pace
  • Appeal to individual's creativity and desire to grow personally
  • Unconditionally constructive feedback
  • Discussion of case scenarios or hypothetical situations
  • Hypothesis testing
  • Brainstorming
  • Modeling of new skills and behaviors
  • Open ended questions which promote discovery of new possibilities
  • Mutual sharing of personal experiences



Ways That Leader Coaches Add Value To Their Organizations

  • Simplify the organizational environment by eliminating needless, redundant and inefficient policies, procedures and layers of decision making
  • Respond fully to everything in their environment by observing and making connections others may miss, providing complete information, and sensing opportunities for individuals and the organization
  • Practice inclusiveness by involving everyone at the outset who has something to create or contribute towards solving a particular challenge
  • Have a vision for themselves and the organization which inspires their work and which encourage others’ vision
  • Assist organizational members to identify and systematically remove obstacles to the delivery of outstanding customer service, including technology, skills and attitudes
  • Demonstrate commitment to their own learning and renewal
  • Use new knowledge to help move individuals and the organization forward