Leadership Coaching and its Benefits

It’s no secret, businesspeople are turning to leadership coaching as a way of improving their productivity, especially for middle managers who are often left to find their own skills without enough development. In fact, the Harvard Business Review states that leadership coaching boosts productivity by 44% while research of the International Coaching Federation claims that the return on investment for coaching expenditure is 788%.  Executive coaching programs can make a dramatic difference to managers and the corporations they work with.

Do you know what coaching is?  Do you understand how it might work for you?  Do you know why should you engage a coach?  Read on to have these questions answered.

What Happens in Leadership Coaching?

Leadership coaching involves a deliberate process that creates an environment to help the person being coached to develop their particular skills and talents to improve their leadership skills.

This sounds more complicated than it should be, but if you think about it more generally, almost any form of performance activity is going to be improved through coaching.  Children are coached in their sports, good schoolteachers are more coaches than teachers, sports people use coaches to develop and maintain their skills, musicians use coaches to improve their performance… the list goes on, almost indefinitely.  It follows then that someone who wants to be a great leader would use coaching to improve their own leadership skills.

Teaching and coaching are different.  If you to a class or a lecture, you are being taught; someone explains and provides information, in some cases it involves testing to see if you understood the concepts, but it is not about a specific individual’s performance.  In comparison, when you coach, you help the person improve their own performance, you help them to learn. 

Thinking about leadership coaching, it is the performance of the leader that the two people work towards.  This is a multifaceted approach and involves:

  1. Teaching. At times the coach provides information to their coachee, however, unlike the simple process of teaching and following a curriculum, the coach’s information will be relevant to the situation important to the coachee.  A coaching program is flexible and addresses the person’s questions and needs, delivers information relevant to those needs in a way that is flexible.  Coaching creates opportunities to teach but starts with the person’s experience; it more than information delivery.
  2. Listening. Listening is an important aspect of any coaching relationship.  It helps the coachee express what is happening at work and their lives more broadly.  This helps identify problems and helps the coachee focus on issues that challenges them.  These challenges relate to anything involving leadership – from the need to understand people better, to focusing on one’s own responses, helping people manage conflicts, and so on.
  3. Guide, Mentor, and Counsel. The coach’s role goes beyond ‘instructing’ and instead focuses on guiding, mentoring and counselling.  Listening is a fundamentally important part of this process, but it’s what you do with that information that really makes a difference.  A hallmark of coaching is to help the coachee become reflective.  The person must develop reflective skills and put them into practice.  This allows them to contemplate their situation, expand and re-evaluate their thoughts, leading to the potential of better decisions.

Being able to use reflective skills is central to successful leadership.  Non-reflective leaders tend to be single minded and can’t consider other people’s thoughts, feelings, and concerns, they can’t easily change course when circumstances change, and they find it harder to ‘lead’ people as opposed to directing people.

  1. Encouragement. It probably goes without saying, but a coach will find it difficult to be successful without being encouraging.  A coach needs to be realistic and honest, which means identifying places and situations that cause concern, but this must be done with encouragement.  Encouragement to reflectively question what has happened, encouragement to explore other options, and encouragement to act on these options.
  2. Setting Limits. Setting limits is an important concept in leadership coaching.  First, it is important that the coach sets limits on their own involvement.  The coachee needs to understand that they are responsible for their own success, and this means that while the coach is there to support and guide, they are not there to ‘fix’ the coachee.  Similarly, and one reason that a lot of leaders run into trouble, is that they also have trouble setting limits on the people around them.  Being able to discuss these situations with a coach really helps people see the problems they face with other people when they don’t set limits.  Another aspect of ‘setting limits’ is the ability to set limits on one’s own thoughts, feelings, and behaviour.  This highlights another issue that a lot of leader’s face, which is the tendency say and do things that reflect their own inner turmoil and frustration.  It always ends badly.

What Benefits Can I Expect from Coaching?

Being involved in a coaching experience is one of the most valuable experiences an individual can have, and it doesn’t really matter what it is based around.  Everyone knows about the value of sports coaching; virtually no professional sportsperson would claim that they achieved their goals without coaching.  The vast majority of professional sportspeople use coaches throughout their career.  Similarly, professional musicians use coaches from the beginning of their experience and continue to use some form of coaching throughout their career.  Again, no professional musician could claim that they had not achieved their goals without coaching.  These same comments also apply to people in non-professional areas; sport and music are probably the two most common areas where people continually use coaches to improve their performance.

Leadership is an area of performance that also benefits from coaching.  In the past, formal leadership coaching may not have been recognised as much, but this was often provided in other ways.  For example, people would be ‘teamed’ up with someone who was more experienced who would mentor them, or perhaps through family connections with people who could guide them, or even private schools and colleges where leadership guidance was important. 

The interest in formalised leadership coaching is growing, and for good reason.  Leaders who choose to have leadership coaching are more successful, their teams are more successful, they typically earn more money, and their careers progress more quickly while they reach higher levels.

For an employer who is considering investing in leadership coaching, the return on investment has been shown to be 788%.  This is calculated using factors like team productivity, staff retention, reduced litigation, and better client relationships.  It’s a fantastic return and what employer wouldn’t be interested in spending money to get that type of return.

For the individual, higher incomes, greater work satisfaction, improved performance, faster trajectory, and so on, are all great reasons to engage in leadership coaching.  While the focus is often on workplace issues, virtually everyone also notices gains in their personal life.  A leader uses their emotional intelligence to understand themselves better, to understand others, setting limits, and reducing conflict.  These same things can be applied to their personal life, so they experience better control of their emotions, the emotions of others and experience reduced conflict.  These benefits create a strong motivation to choose to fund their own coaching experiences… it’s about developing your own success.

How Long Should Coaching Continue For?

Compare leadership coaching to other forms of coaching and you will soon realise that coaching should be ongoing.  Professional coaches aren’t there just to see you through until you get to a particular level, they are there to continually guide you throughout your career – whatever that might be.  Having a coach gives the person huge advantages, it allows a person to see in their blind spots, reimagine what has happened, and reorganize what might develop with a different approach.

This doesn’t necessarily mean a person needs the same coach for the entirety of their career.  Think about tennis as an example: coaches are with the player throughout their career, but there are specialist coaches who focus on specific areas of the game.  They could be forehand coaches, backhand coaches, serving coaches, and of course, sports psychology coaches.  They all get used and are often used at selected times to target specific areas of the person’s game.

The same applies to leadership coaching.  There will be times when a leader needs greater focus on business issues, or interpersonal issues, conflict management, and so on.  What a leader needs at any given time will depend on the prevailing circumstances.  Through all this, a good ‘all round’ coach will know this and be prepared to bring in an expert from time to time to address specific issues, to really target the leader’s thoughts about their activities at that time, to focus on where shortcomings might lie.

With all this said, leadership coaching, like other forms of performance coaching should be continuous, although there is a lot of scope for changing the shape of the coaching according to the needs of the time.  However, one should always see coaching as an important part of the professional leader’s working life.

Conclusion: Leadership Coaching Provides Real Value

Leadership is a performance occupation and coaching should be a part of that pathway.  It is different from simply ‘learning’, it is much more personal and completely targeted to the person being coached.  When someone’s performance involves effective coaching, there is no doubt that their performance will improve over time.  With the improved performance, comes greater personal and professional satisfaction, greater income levels for the individual, improved performance from their team, and for the organisation they work with.

There are no downsides to leadership coaching, and you should take a closer look.  Start exploring options, speak to a coach, assess their rapport, decide if they understand the problems you face, or even the problems you don’t know you are facing.  Then, just give it ago.  If that person doesn’t work for you, if you don’t really connect with them, or you find that their views are not aligned to your own, move on and try someone else.  You are looking for someone who can take you to the next level and beyond.

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We offer individual coaching for individuals and middle managers.  It helps people developer their emotional intelligence and improves their management skills.  Most of our clients have achieved promotions within the first 12 months after completing the program, it is well worth it.

If you would like to get a taste of how I work and what you can learn, they you should read my book, Hyperconnected.  It provides a clear understanding of the concepts important for your emotional intelligence which is they key to your success.  

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Dr Schultz spent 22 years working in psychiatry and then went on to qualify as a lawyer. He has spent 34 years helping people solve problems and the unique combination of medicine, psychiatry, law and mediation provides a unique academic and practical approach to life's challenges.

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