What is Leadership Coaching (And How to Use it For Career Development)?
“Without a coach, people will never reach their maximum capabilities.” – Bob Nardelli
The above quote speaks volumes about a popular method in the business world: Leadership Coaching. In the US, corporations spent nearly $14 billion on coaching and the practice is widely used across the globe. So, what does leadership coaching mean? In this guide, we’ll explore the essence of leadership coaching, what is looks like in practice and the benefits it can have for individuals, but also organizations.
Furthermore, we’ll also examine how the process can boost your career development and whether you can advance your career by enrolling in these programs. Finally, we’ll give you tips on making the most out of your experience, if you participate in leadership coaching.
WHAT IS LEADERSHIP COACHING?
What does leadership coaching mean? To understand it, you should first examine the two separate concepts of coaching and leadership.
The definition of coaching
Coaching is a term that’s widely used, with the meaning always depending slightly on the situation it’s being used. In the Oxford Dictionary, the verb ‘to coach’ is provided with the following definitions:
- Train or instruct (a team or player)
- Give (someone) extra teaching
- Teach (a subject or sport) as a coach
- Give (someone) instructions as to what to do or say in a particular situation
- Give (someone) professional advice on how to attain their goals
The process is about one person helping another to improve, develop, achieve, and learn something. It can be about obtaining a new skill or enhancing existing qualities. The focus is generally on attitudes, behaviors and knowledge, but coaching could also be used for physical and spiritual development.
Coaching can happen in a variety of situations, from official organizations to private institutions; in public and in private life. You could even encounter coaching when you are being taught to cook a new meal by your grandparents. Therefore, coaching can be informal or formal, with different structures at play in the way you are being coached. The techniques and methods used can vary depending on by whom, where and what you are trying to develop or improve.
The definition of leadership
What about leadership? What are we referring to when we discuss leadership? If you put “definition of leadership” into Google, you’ll receive around 117 million results, with each website and person defining the act differently. In its essence, the word refers to the ability of leading a group of people towards a specific objective or vision. It involves the ability to inspire, motivate and develop subordinates during the process of obtaining the shared goals.
The subtle divergences in definition come from the different leadership styles, i.e. the strategies and the styles leaders use to inspire, motivate and develop. Listen to the interview below where leadership expert John C. Maxwell provides his in-depth view on what leadership means.
The above snippet into leadership does highlight the importance of the development to leadership. The concept on its own relies heavily on the ability to teach and empower.
Defining leadership coaching
So, what, then, is the definition of leadership coaching? Leadership coaching, which is sometimes referred to as business or executive coaching, is essentially about leadership. It’s about enhancing a person’s abilities and skills to lead and to help the organization meet its operational objectives. It’s about boosting the person’s ability to perform as a leader and to achieve the vision.
Whilst leadership is built on values and soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, leadership coaching doesn’t just focus on driving personal growth. Personal development is part of the process, but the coaching goes also deeper into the specific organizational needs. The idea is to provide the person a better understanding of things like creating a vision, setting realistic goals and so on.
Leadership coaching is built around the various coaching strategies. It can be about one-on-one interactions or include a group element as part of the strategy. Different leadership coaching programs and mentors apply various methods from technical help to consultancy. The key is to help the person find sustainable behavioral change and to transform the person’s life for the better in both private and public.
WHAT HAPPENS IN LEADERSHIP COACHING?
Now that we understand what leadership coaching means in principle, it’s time to examine it in action. Leadership coaching is essentially an individualized process during which the leader’s ability to achieve short- and long-term organizational, and personal, development is enhanced.
While coaching tends to be personal and take place between a coach and the person, group leadership coaching is an increasingly favored solution for many organizations. In 2014 Corporate Learning Survey conducted by Henley Business School, team coaching was named by 55% of respondents as an important L&D tool, with individual coaching achieving recognition from 83% of respondents.
As mentioned above, the objective of leadership coaching is to improve the leader’s ability to lead and achieve specific organizational objectives. Therefore, leadership coaching is not the same as life coaching. Nonetheless, because good leadership is so often tied with personal values and characteristics, and it’s impossible to always leave your personal life at the door of the office, there is a level of overlap between the two.
Leadership coaching can also address personal issues and address any areas that might be holding the person back from achieving career goals. The process can be helpful in providing the person help with their personal growth, as well as improve their communication skills with others.
But how does coaching achieve the above? Leadership coaching should ultimately work as a partnership. Therefore, both the coach and the leader can teach invaluable lessons to each other and help each other better to understand the current situation. The leader’s role is to let the coach in on the organizational matters and the way the company operates, while the coach would help the leader to build on these skills. In order to do this, coaching uses a variety of methods.
The commonly used methods to develop and deepen the leader’s knowledge and skills include:
- Provision of data and surveys, which are aimed at identifying specific behaviors within the organization or by the individual that can influence business outcomes.
- One-on-one sessions during which the coach will listen to the leader’s problems and provide feedback and guidance to help him or her resolve the problems.
- Guidance and help in setting priorities, both in terms of organizational growth and personal development.
- Supporting the leader during crises and helping him or her to find the right processes and tools to solve operational and sometimes personal problems.
- Providing the leader with resources and tools that can help in goal setting and action planning. These can range from books to technology, such as specific software to create mind-maps.
- Directing the leader towards new sources of learning. These can be specific leadership or skill courses, self-help guides or other such materials.
- Implementing assignments, which will help the leader analyze his or her behavior and skill, as well as provide the coach a deeper understanding of the person he or she is dealing with. Assignments can range from daily activities, such as focusing on communication, to keeping a list of things, such as response times.
In a nutshell, the coaching process is about feedback and deeper analysis of behaviors and skill. The leadership coach is there to help the leader to focus on the most important issues and to improve on the leader’s strengths and weaknesses.
The idea is not to outright tell the leader how and why things should be done, but support the leader in understanding why certain things might work better than others. The process is about raising self-awareness through different methods and supporting the leader’s journey to a deeper understanding of him or herself.
Executive coach and diversity strategist Dr Cherry Collier outlined four key steps that have to be taken during successful leadership coaching. According to Collier, the process consists of:
- Gathering data about the leader – The coach should find data about the “behavior, leadership styles, and overall effectiveness” of the person. This could be done through interviews, personnel records and assessments.
- Providing feedback on the gathered data – Once the coach has analyzed the data, he or she needs to provide the leader feedback on the findings. Collier emphasizes the importance of focusing on the positives and areas that can be changed, not the most negative behaviors the leader has. She writes that the feedback process “must emphasize that change is not only possible, but feasible”.
- Coaching to make a change – The feedback will help set objectives for the leadership coaching process and the next step is about focusing on these behaviors.
- Evaluating the progress – The final step is about evaluating how the process is going and whether the leadership coaching is creating the necessary changes. Evaluations can take place after each coaching session or at the end of the whole process.
Leadership coaching is generally organized by the organization. As we’ll see in the next session this is largely driven by the organizational benefits leadership coaching has. But in principle, it’s possible to get yourself a coach at any time of your career if you feel like. Furthermore, leadership coaching can be organized on a fixed-term basis, which can range from weeks to months. But as any leader would say, leadership is ultimately a lifelong development process.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF LEADERSHIP COACHING?
Leadership coaching might seem like an interesting concept, but you might wonder what the benefits of it are. Isn’t leadership just about experience? While it’s true leadership is essentially about gaining enough experience to find your own voice and style, experience isn’t just gained through your own experiences. You can learn and develop your leadership by listening to other people and gaining their perspective on things.
The benefits of leadership coaching are multiple. Furthermore, a number of famous leaders vouch for coaching as a tool that has helped them become the leaders they are today. Bill Gates has advocated for the importance of a mentor and in the YouTube clip below, Google’s Eric Schmidt says having a coach was the best advice he ever received:
Why is leadership coaching so important? The biggest benefit of coaching is the way it provides perspective and direction. First, you can get rather lost in your own thinking and the way of doing things, if you never ask for feedback on your behavior or attitude. No matter how self-reflective we try to be, another person will always provide us with a fresh angle on how we do things. Just by having someone else evaluate your behavior or provide feedback on your approach, you can keep doing the things that are effective and focus on removing the ones that aren’t creating the right impact.
Furthermore, this extra perspective can help you gain more focus on the direction you’re heading. Leadership coaching’s most important principle is to establish a strategic plan. As we’ll discuss in the following sections, the process helps you identify the direction you and the organization need to head towards and the objectives to achieve. Both perspective and direction will have the potential to improve operational and personal effectiveness. You and the organization will be more productive and more able to react to changes within the industry and your personal life.
Leadership coaching helps to enhance self-awareness; to better understand your strengths and weaknesses, and how these relate to organizational objectives. Therefore, through leadership coaching organization’s can unleash real talent, identify weak links and improve communication within the organization. These benefits naturally are also visible on a personal level. You can boost your self-confidence and emotional intelligence.
Naturally, you don’t just learn about your existing skills and attributes through leadership coaching, but you’ll also gain new skills. Leadership coaching provides help in learning new skills and gaining deeper knowledge about the industry and human behavior. You’ll be strengthening and boosting your skill set.
In addition to the above, coaching has a strong supporting element as well. Leadership coaching can work like mentoring, which means you don’t need to make tough decisions on your own. The feedback and the resources are a big part of the support structure that can make difficult tasks seem a bit easier. You have a partner in your coach who can not only guide you during difficult decisions, but also simply listen to your worries. The ability to talk about problems can have an important impact in surviving turbulent times and guiding an organization back to shore after a storm.
Henley Business School published its Corporate Learning Survey in 2014 and the survey found leadership development continuing to be an essential part of organizations’ development agenda. Professor Bernd Vogel said,
“Organizations clearly feel that this investment [in leadership coaching] is essential, and are confident that this will reap rewards. Interestingly we found that this is true for both the smallest organizations and for the largest.”
The findings of this and other similar studies indicate the importance of leadership development, but also the fact organizations find real value in these coaching programs.
WHY IT MATTERS FOR CAREER ADVANCEMENT?
While the above outlined some of the organizational, as well as personal, benefits of leadership coaching, you might be quick to think these are the only uses for the process. What does it have to do with your career advancement? The answer is: a lot. Leadership coaching can be a magnificent tool for boosting your career prospects and helping you take your career to the next level.
Leadership coaching matters to career advancement because it enhances your skills and therefore boosts your promotion opportunities and widens your career prospects in general. Your career advancement is enhanced through the following five ways.
Enhanced awareness of your talent
As briefly discussed above, one of the major benefits of leadership coaching is how it helps you become more aware of your strengths and weaknesses. You are forced to examine your skillset and to challenge your knowledge of yourself. The coaching aims to help you become more self-aware and be able to notice when you are performing at your best and when you aren’t quite as good as you might hope to be.
The awareness of your strengths and weaknesses is important in terms of career advancement because it helps you be more aware of your talent. By analyzing what you are good at and what are not your strongest skills or behaviors, you can identify the jobs and positions that are the most suited for you. If you aren’t aware of your skillset, you can’t expect to find the perfect career paths.
During leadership coaching, you might realise your unique talent for training and developing others, which might mean you start looking at possibilities of leading a development team or become a career coach! It’s not just about finding the right positions for your talent. Self-awareness can help you become more confident, which can further boost your career prospects.
When you learn about your own skills, you start to trust yourself more because you know you have the right talent for a specific job or project. Your confidence will radiate to the people around you, who will be more willing to follow you as a leader because they can see you know what you are doing.
Improved and widened skillset
Not only will leadership coaching help you understand your strengths and weaknesses, but you’ll also be able to improve and widen your skillset. As you identify your weaknesses, you realize the effect they might have on your career advancement. If you are weak at delegation, you can prioritize this skill in your coaching plan.
As you improve the behavior, you add another strength to you resume. You also show commitment to improve and to learn, which will be helpful on your career path. Career progression is not a stagnant process and it will ask you to develop yourself continuously. Each new job and role will always require something a bit different than the previous.
It’s also not just about enhancing your skills in terms of leadership qualities and behaviors. Leadership coaching will teach you a lot about the industry you work in. Since you will focus on operational goals as well, you’ll become better at dealing with the challenges of the organization. This can include tangible skills such as dealing with third-party suppliers, improving your understanding of accounting or accustoming yourself with the Human Resources department.
Furthermore, during leadership coaching you are not just improving your existing talent, but also widening your skillset. Overall, the new and improved skills and behaviors will always advance your chances of advancing your career. In fact, the organization providing the training wants you to go through with the program because that can ensure the organization can promote you to a bigger role in the future, since your skills have improved.
Leadership and career progression are not the sunniest roads you’ll ever take. Leadership roles and new career paths will always throw new challenges on your way. But you can learn more about resilience through leadership coaching. The problem-solving skills you learn will help you focus on the important things and keep stepping up the career ladder even when things are not going your way.
You’ll receive a lot of support and tools for coping with difficult situations from a good career coach. The coping mechanism can be vital for surviving in a leadership position, as they help you focus on the essential. Since you’ll need to focus on setting objectives during the process, you will improve your ability to find the right way among different paths.
You learn to focus on your objectives instead of aimlessly walking around looking for the big break. The ability to move past adversity will give you self-confidence – you’ll know that you can achieve the career goals you set for yourself, if you just work hard and maintain your focus.
Understanding of emotional intelligence
One of the key things you learn during leadership coaching deals with emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is an essential skill, especially for leaders. It’s about the ability to control and assess both your own and others’ emotions. If you’re not familiar with the term, you can find out more about it in the SlideShare presentation below.
The ability to control your emotions and to relate to how other people are feeling are crucial because you need people to be on your side as a leader. You can’t be a success or achieve workplace success, if the people working with you don’t like you. No one has to love you, but they have to respect you in order for leadership to work.
Emotional intelligence matters for career advancement because it guarantees you can get along with different people. You won’t need to worry about facing a new boss or leading a new team because you have the skills to meet these people with empathy and dignity, and you understand your own emotional limitations as well.
Leaders need followers and if you are looking to become a leader, you need people to look up to you and feel they can trust you. Through emotional intelligence, you can achieve this and create relationships that are built on trust and respect. The Executive Education department at the University of Florida published an article on the topic, in which they outlined the key ways a lack of emotional intelligence can harm your career. The five ways are:
- You are insensitive towards other people.
- You are arrogant and don’t show enough humility.
- You are volatile and react to things emotionally rather than logically.
- You are inflexible and lack the ability to be a team player.
- You are selfish and you want to focus on your own agenda.
Developing your emotional intelligence will help you avoid those and become more employable to a variety of organizations.
Finally, leadership coaching can help boost your career advancement in a practical way by helping you create a larger network. The benefits of networking in terms of career advancement should be known to you. The more you know people in different industries and positions, the more better you will be at getting an inside look into possible job openings. Having recommendations from people within the organization or in influential positions can guarantee you have that extra advantage over other applicants.
How can leadership coaching widen your network? Your first new contact is naturally the coach. Your contact with him or her should never end once the leadership coaching ends – you should continue staying in touch to maintain the relationship. Your coach might be able to offer invaluable tips further down the road that will boost your leadership further.
But your coach is not just a single contact you gain; you’ll also gain access to his or her network. The coach might suggest you talk to an expert in your particular field during the coaching or have you meet up with people who’ve faced similar issues that you are in the past. Once you show improvements, he or she might even ask you to mentor someone! All these new contacts add to your network and thereby boost your career opportunities.
HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF LEADERSHIP COACHING
Just enrolling in a leadership coaching program doesn’t automatically guarantee results. To ensure you get the most out of the program, you need to focus on a few essential points.
Define your objectives
Your first step is to define clear objectives for the leadership coaching process. The easy way to do this is by answering the following questions:
- Why are you doing it? You shouldn’t say, “Because the company pays for it”. If that’s your approach to the program, it’s already a doomed project and you are better off giving the opportunity to someone else. Indeed, consider the process as an opportunity and think what you might benefit from it.
- What do you want to gain from the process? List the specific behavioral or operational objectives you want to walk away with. This could include things such as becoming better at delegating or communicating.
- What are the career-specific objectives you want the process to help you with? If you want to use the leadership coaching process for career advancement, then identify what exactly you want to achieve. Are you looking to enhance specific skills required in higher roles or would you like to improve your industry understanding?
By defining your objectives, you establish more clarity and you help the leadership coach. It makes the coach’ role easier, since you are focused and motivated right from the get-go. If you know what you want, then you are more likely to get it.
Focus on the essential
Defining objectives is not enough to guarantee success, as you need to make sure you focus on achieving these objectives during the process. You need to ensure you and the coach keep these objectives at the core of what you do. Don’t waste your leadership coaching sessions to blabber about something irrelevant, but keep reminding yourself of your objectives.
If you’ve been able to find the right coach, then he or she will be able to help you prioritize and focus on the right things. If you feel an activity doesn’t help you with your objectives, stop for a moment and think what the underlying lesson might be. If you still aren’t sure about the meaning of the assessment or resource, have a conversation with your coach. A good coach will be able to teach you things with methods you might not always associate with your objectives.
Furthermore, if you feel your focus shifting or waning, talk to your coach. Don’t waste the opportunity to improve your behavior and boost your career outlook by stepping away from your objectives. If you’re struggling to stay focused on the important things, the YouTube clip by author Brendon Burchard is a great watch.
Provide and receive
During leadership coaching, the ability to provide and to receive feedback is at the heart of the process being a success. If you aren’t able to listen to feedback and to actually learn from what you are hearing, you won’t be able to create a meaningful difference in your behavior or skillset. Therefore, you need to spend time learning about feedback and how to receive it.
If you find it a major problem in your behavior, you should naturally ask your leadership coach to help you with it. Psychology Today has published a great article titled “How to take feedback” in which they identify scientific studies that have shown we respond more to bad rather than good feedback. Listening to someone criticize you is not easy without it creating an emotional, immediate reaction. But the key is to breathe, and take a moment before responding. You need to try to understand what the other person is saying and just admit certain criticism or feedback might not be coming out of nowhere or be intended as malicious.
In addition to receiving feedback, leadership coaching will be more effective if you can give feedback as well. The coach will, in fact, expect you to have an opinion regarding the assessments, exercises and meetings that you do. If you never say what you think about the coaching, you can’t expect it to change. So when you feel like something is not working or when you find something extremely helpful, provide feedback for the coach on the topic.
Commit to the goals
Finally, for the process to work and for you to achieve the objectives you want, you need to fully commit. If you approach leadership coaching half-heartedly, you won’t be able to receive the real benefits. Just like leadership and entrepreneurship, personal development takes time and it requires an investment on your part. If you are not interested or willing to put your heart and soul in the process, you are unlikely to achieve the goals you set out or gain the kind of leadership skills you need further in your career.
When your leadership coach recommends a book to you, read it; when he or she wants you to have a conversation, don’t just listen and participate in the moment, but also reflect on it later. Take action and responsibility in using the opportunity to the best of your ability.
Logan Marshall wrote a guest blog for Paid To Exist, in which he identified four steps to fully commit to your goals. The steps are:
- Establishing the right mindset. You need to be willing to take steps that might make you scared and to step out of your comfort zone at all times.
- Clarify your goals. Committing to your goals will be easier, if you are truly aware of what it is you want to achieve. The goals have to come from within and not be something you don’t fully agree with.
- Prioritize on the important activities. Don’t waste time on activities or behaviors that don’t get you closer to your goals.
- Hold yourself accountable. You need to measure and assess your performance to ensure you are actually taking the steps needed, instead of just saying you are.
Leadership coaching is about developing yourself as a leader and a person. It’s about raising your self-awareness and enhancing your operational abilities to help the corporation you work for prosper. But aside from the benefits of organizational efficiency, you’ll also gain advantages in your own career path.
You are more able to truly appreciate and use your talent, as well as gain leadership qualities that make you a better leader. It’ll help you define your vision and push you in the direction you want to go. But for the coaching to work its magic, you need to be willing to walk down the path of hard work. Leadership coaching is not about comfort – it requires commitment and resilience, just like leadership.