Coaching Skills for Leaders


Although the essential elements of leadership remain the same, leaders may differ in style depending on what behaviors and characteristics they emphasize more than others.  One such style is that of a coaching leader.

Coach-like leaders lean into skills that foster a supportive and empowering environment, and that focus on the development of employees. When a leader takes a coaching role, they’re not teaching, telling or correcting. Rather, they’re partnering with an employee for the sake of that person’s individual growth and fulfillment. This style of leadership is very effective in creating an innovative, invested, engaged and productive team.

Note: Being a coach-like leader is different than offering professional coaching as a trained and certified coach. With the latter, someone has gone through at least 60 hours of training and 100 hours of coaching, and prescribes to a set of competencies and a code of ethics. For more details on becoming a certified coach, go here.

To become a leader more rooted in the coaching style, here are five skills to practice:

Facilitating clarity and agreement around expectations: Coach-like leaders devote time and attention to discussing goals and expectations in order to avoid confusion and create alignment. They’re attentive to getting agreement and buy-in from employees, rather than just delivering directives and assuming everyone is on the same page. In addition, these leaders create more buy-in and ownership of expectations by incorporating goals that reflect an employee’s own developmental interests.

Creating trust and psychological safety: Leaders who take a coach approach foster an environment of connectedness, authenticity and openness. This allows team members to be themselves, share differing views, and debate topics without being concerned about judgment or repercussions.

Supporting versus telling or solving: Leaders with a coaching style support their employees, but allow them some flexibility and freedom to determine the best way to accomplish something. They say, “Here’s the goal we’ve agreed on. Go figure out how to get there, and let me know how I can help.” This is in contrast to leaders who dictate and control every detail, which only trains team members to disengage and simply take orders.

Asking open questions: This is a powerful way to illustrate the supportive and facilitative approach of a coach-like leader. Open-ended questions are simple yet powerful, and often begin with “what” or “how.” They elicit input and feedback from team members, and help employees take more ownership of the work at hand.

Active listening: This type of listening, which is becoming more and more rare, is characteristic of a coaching style of leadership. Leaders who listen actively give all of their attention to the person with whom they’re communicating, rather than multi-tasking or allowing their mind to wander into their own thoughts. These leaders also utilize forward and engaged body language, which supports their listening stance. All of this helps an employee feel heard, appreciated and truly part of the process. Plus, leaders benefit from listening deeply, as it allows them to gather more ideas and perspectives that could positively impact decisions and outcomes.