3 Strategies for Developing Leaders as Coaches

A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, and has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you can be.”

-Tom Landry           

Everyone deserves a great leader. And great leaders are great coaches. Without great leader-coaches, employee performance, and therefore organizational performance, fails.  It’s true on any scale, from individual employees, to high-performance teams, to business units or functions, even entire organizations. All rely on coaching to optimize performance.

Leaders have a vastly influential role to play in optimizing employees’ performance. To a very large extent, leaders’ coaching skills can help employees’ performance flourish or erode. In Brandon Hall Group’s State of Performance Management study, more than half of organizations (53%) cited “improving overall business performance” as the number one organizational outcome of the performance management process. All executives interviewed cited “developing leaders as coaches” as a critical strategy to improving that performance, yet nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents indicated that training leaders to be effective development coaches was their greatest challenge.

[Click here to read 5 Tips on Transforming Managers into Coaches]

Our research shows that the prescription for developing leaders as effective development coaches includes at least 3 strategies.

Create a High-Performance Culture

Employees have reasonable expectations – treat me fairly, provide me with a leader who I trust and respect, and give me an opportunity to be a significant contributor on the team. Employees join, and stay with, organizations that honor these expectations. Leaders play a significant role in inspiring and cultivating collaborative work environments that enable achievement of those expectations. They do so by:

  • Prompting employees’ ideation by asking non-threatening questions
  • Helping employees see change as an opportunity, not a risk
  • Recognizing employees’ hard work and contributions

Organizational structures the forbade leaders to act in a “command and control” fashion and reward leaders who encourage cooperative, inclusive environments have created

leaders as coaches

Source: 2015 Brandon Hall Group

the requisite foundation to building a leadership team committed to coaching others to top performance.

Formally Train All Leaders in a Coaching Model

After instilling a desire and commitment in leaders to bring out the best performance in others, the next step is equipping leaders with the skills to do so. Too many organizations expect that leaders arrive with effective coaching skills. That is often not the case. Leaders at all levels, and particularly first-time and other junior-level leaders, typically have not been given an opportunity to develop coaching skills. Coaching is a unique skill that typically requires some sort of formal development. At high-performance organizations, the formal “leaders as coaches” development program:

  • Imparts the organizational coaching philosophy
  • Design the development solution around ensuring leaders have opportunity to practice conversations that require 1) identifying the performance goal; 2) checking assumptions associated with goal achievement; 3) identifying options for achieving the goal; and 4) committing to next steps and specific actions for achieving the goal
  • Leverages a “leaders teaching leaders” program
  • Provides performance support (often enabled via an online platform with templates, tools, and checklists available in a 24×7 just-as-I-need-it fashion)
  • Requires “certification” (every leader at the organization has successfully completed the organization’s formal coaching development program)

Build a Mentoring Program to Sustain Mastery of Coaching Fundamentals

Like any new skill, practicing it perfects it. This is certainly true of coaching. Leaders with only a handful of coaching conversations under their belts will be much less effective than their more experienced peers. Earning and sustaining “black belt” level coaching can be best accomplished by:

  • Pairing leaders “in development” with peers who have been successfully “certified” as coaches
  • Matching newly certified leaders with mentors at other organizations who can offer unique and different ways of approaching similar challenges
  • Soliciting regular feedback from seasoned coaches about specific activities that are useful in helping them to develop effective coaching behaviors

Business Impact of Leaders Who Are Effective Coaches

Leaders who have become effective coaches are members of a select group who can call coaching a habit. These leaders add value to their organization because they motivate employees and boost engagement; they leverage employees’ strengths and close skill gaps; they enhance team performance; they improve peer collaboration and relationships. In so doing, they optimize the performance of their employees and the organization at large in a sustainable fashion.

Effective Leader Coaches Improve Overall Business Performance


Level 4 Organizations 

Those with leaders who are highly effective coaches

Other All Organizations
(on average)
Those with leaders who are not effective coaches
Collaborative Culture Exists 62% 26%
Improved Revenue 63% 45%
Improved Retention 51% 19%

Source: Brandon Hall Group Performance Management and Team Development and Performance studies

If you are one of the few organizations with high-performance leader coaches, you have likely adopted one or more of the strategies described here and perhaps others. To create your team of effective leader coaches, what actions, what decisions, and what strategies have you taken a stand on? Implemented? And continuously improved?

Until next time….

Laci Loew, VP and Principal Analyst,
Talent Management, Brandon Hall Group


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Laci Loew