Tips for Implementing a Coaching Leadership Style in the Workplace

coaching leadership style

We’ve all had experience with less-than-stellar bosses. At best, these individuals take a hands-off approach to management, leaving you to guess what you should be working on and how to go about that work. At worst, toxic bosses bring negative energy into the workplace, pit employees against each other, and generally make the work environment a hostile place.

While most managers employ a work-oriented approach to their jobs, utilizing a coaching leadership style can help you foster employee development, leading to great employee satisfaction and talent retention over time. This then creates a work community with strong interpersonal bonds and resilient employees.

What exactly is a coaching leadership style, and how can you use it in your workplace? Keep reading for a definition of coaching leadership, the keys to success, and the pitfalls to avoid.

What Is a Coaching Leadership Style?

With a coaching leadership style, your managers focus on individual development with their employees, which leads to growth across their teams as a whole. It’s employee-centric and aligned with the growth-mindest principle that with the right support and resources, all people can reach their full potential.

Coaching leadership is meant to be a collaborative approach to work, and in some ways, the work even becomes employee-led.

Explain the Benefits to Your Team

If people don’t understand the “why” of a change, they’re much more likely to resist that change. Before introducing coaching leadership in your organization, make sure managers and employees understand why the change is being made and the benefits that it will have on your workplace.

Focuses on Individual Development

Rather than focusing only on how to help employees do their current jobs more effectively, coaching leadership focuses on each person’s lifelong professional development. You can take this growth with you in this or any other position you have for the rest of your life.

Fosters Open Communication

Too often, workplaces don’t provide space for honest, transparent communication. Managing a team effectively becomes incredibly difficult when individuals don’t feel safe expressing what they’re really thinking and feeling.

A successful coaching culture requires consistent, honest feedback from all parties. When practiced over time, this kind of communication leads to healthier workplace conflict resolution, increased trust, and more resilient workplace communities.

Encourages Individual Ownership

With coaching leadership, employee development becomes self-directed, which means that employees must take an active role in determining the goals they want to work toward and how to achieve them. This high level of autonomy contributes to employee satisfaction and engagement.

Improves Long-Term Achievements

With so much going on each day, it can be hard to see the forest for the trees. If you don’t actively plan time into your workflow to prioritize long-term goal setting and strategic planning, it will never happen.

By implementing a coaching culture, you create time when this kind of long-term thinking must be prioritized. Because employees are talking with their managers about their long-term goals, there’s mutual accountability for the work to actually get done. When this work happens on an individual level across the organization, it shifts the way the organization as a whole engages in long-term planning.

Plan Ample Time for 1:1s

Doing the in-depth work inherent in this leadership style requires a time commitment and undivided attention. Leave space in your calendar for regular 1:1s with each of your team members, and don’t allow other tasks to creep into this time. Teach your employees to value this concentrated professional development time by showing that you value it as well.

Whenever possible, hold a live meeting with your employee rather than having this conversation via email or another text-based platform. While it’s okay to bring notes to the meeting, having a back-and-forth conversation is the best way to dig into what’s going on with your employees and help them develop specific and meaningful goals.

Not all obstacles can be anticipated, so a coaching leadership style works best when managers have some flex time in their schedules to allow for last-minute drop-bys from employees about their work progress. Consistently remaining available for these impromptu meetings will prove to your team that their success and development are important to the company.

Be Liberal With Helpful Feedback

See your employee doing something exceptional? Let them know through praise! If you notice a potential area for improvement in their work, let them know that as well.

Open lines of communication between managers and employees are key to the successful implementation of this leadership style. Your employees rely on your honest feedback to know how to adjust their work, so it’s your job to provide it to them in a timely fashion.

Public praise can also do wonders for boosting employee morale and improving camaraderie among teammates. Encourage your direct reports to celebrate each other’s successes, and be the first to model this behavior in front of the team.

On the flip side, avoid any behavior that could be construed as public shaming. If employees fear that they may be judged or ridiculed in front of their peers, they will quickly lose all desire to take risks, demonstrate creativity, and do anything but the bare minimum. If an employee needs help, help them; if you feel a need to correct a behavior, do so discreetly and with growth-oriented language.

The communication shouldn’t just be in one direction, either. Allow space for your employees to come to you with questions, concerns, and obstacles that they’re facing. Ask them open-ended questions to better understand their experience and any struggles they might be facing.

In general, position yourself as being on the same team as your employees, and do what you can to remove barriers to the timely completion of their goals.

Utilize Effective Goal-Setting

As we hope is abundantly clear by now, the foundation of a coaching leadership style is assisting your team members with identifying their professional goals, helping them create an action plan to achieve those goals, and ensuring that the plan is followed. Without setting strong goals in the beginning, the rest of the plan falls apart.

Over the years, many goal-setting strategies have been developed to help people create useful goals:

  • SMART goals
  • OKRs
  • HARD goals
  • WOOP goals
  • Locke and Latham’s goal-setting theory
  • KPIs
  • The NCT technique

While the list could go on, there’s one thing all these systems have in common: they’re repeatable frameworks for setting and achieving goals that are actionable and attainable. Choose whichever system works best for you, and go from there!

Avoid Common Pitfalls

While coaching culture sounds like a dream, it can go sideways if you’re not careful. Avoid falling into these traps as you start to implement a coaching leadership style in your workplace.

Using Too Much Time

This leadership style is meant to support your work efforts, not usurp them. In the early stages, it’s likely that both employees and managers will dedicate a considerable amount of resources to learning and implementing this system. And because of the nature of this style, it will always require a moderate investment of time and effort.

And that makes sense; concentrated and individualized growth shouldn’t be a hands-off activity! However, it shouldn’t take so much bandwidth from your employees that they’re unable to complete regular work duties.

Overburdening Your Managers

If you’re used to a division of labor in which your managers also complete a significant amount of the “daily work” assigned to their teams, that could present an issue with coaching leadership. You may need to reconfigure things a bit to successfully implement this new management style.

Neglecting Management Development

In this model, everyone should be continually learning and growing, not just the employees. Leave enough time to invest in the development of your managers as well as your entry-level employees.

Expecting Fast Change

Some organizations invest a lot of energy upfront into developing systems for implementing coaching leadership in the workplace, only to abandon these efforts after a few weeks or months. Lasting change takes time, and there will likely be a few speed bumps along the way as your team tries something new. Give your program at least six months before evaluating whether it’s working for you or not.

Adopting a “Set It and Forget It” Attitude

The very nature of growth is iterative, so your framework should be as well. On a regular basis, evaluate the process from both manager and employee perspectives. Identify what’s going well, what could be improved upon, and concrete ways to make positive change.

Implement the change, evaluate its effectiveness, and repeat!

Revolutionize Your Workplace Culture Today

There are many benefits to implementing a coaching leadership style within your workplace. Utilize these tips (and avoid these pitfalls) to jump-start your journey into building a coaching culture!

Even under the best of circumstances, change takes time and energy, and it can be hard to sustain on your own. At Growth Signals, we want to be your guide through growth to help you maximize your potential. Through our leadership development program, we’ve helped leaders increase their self-awareness, build trust, and maximize their teams’ success.

Ready to learn more about what we can do with your organization? Check out our leadership training offerings and request your quote today!


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