Research Paper By Bar Schwartz
(Executive & Leadership Coach, GERMANY)
Bring your people along with your transformation
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. African Proverb
What is leadership?
Leadership is a practical set of skills and traits that enable an individual or an organization to guide other individuals, teams or the entire organization to reach a specific goal and purpose. This includes personal characteristics, situational interaction, vision, values, behaviours, and style. A leader can be anyone in the organization, regardless of their particular role in the organizational structure.
A leadership style is the leader’s method of enabling people to move in a particular direction or develop a specific skill or knowledge. It can be by providing guidelines, instructing implementation ways, motivating people, coaching-like conversations and other methods. Based on the culture and generation the leader is from, one leadership style might be more preferred for the leader than others. Regardless, the leader is expected to have the abilities to judge and apply the right leadership style in the proper context.
This research paper focuses on the Coaching Leadership Style, the benefits of developing this leadership style, the application of the style, and how Leadership Coaches can support their clients to develop and apply this style.
Leaders are not born, they are made
Vince Lombardi said,
Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.
In organizations, however, leaders are not made, they are selected based on their ability to do a particular work very well. For example, the most senior developer in a software development team or the best salesperson in a sales team. That suggests to the leader that the core strength to become a leader is their competency to do the work better than others, and the expectation from them in their new leadership role is to teach others to do the job in the same standards and ways as they do.
Research, however, has shown different results. The most successful leaders have strengths in the following emotional intelligence competencies: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill (Goleman 2000). Moreover, emotional and social intelligence accounts for more than 85 per cent of “star performance” in top leaders. Furthermore, the leaders an organization chooses to impacts business results. Goleman (2000) emphasized that managers often undermine the organizational climate influence on financial results. Madlock (2008) supports those claims by demonstrating the significant and positive relationship between relational leadership style and employee job satisfaction, accounting for 18% of the employee job satisfaction.
So how come those strengths are often not measured or observed when one is promoted to a leadership role? Many leaders mistakenly assume that they would perform well at their new leadership role with the same skill set they already have. Furthermore, they believe that their leadership style is a function of their personality and identity rather than a strategic choice, highly influenced by the context and circumstances (Goleman 2000).
There are six basic leadership styles (Goleman 2000). Each requires a different emotional intelligence competency and impacts the organization differently.
- The Coercive Style or “Do what I say” approach is beneficial in stressful situations when a plan should be executed as planned. Often, this leadership style is recommended to be used in crisis situations or with problem employees that are not trusted by the leader. This type of leadership takes away any autonomy an employee has over their job. Thus, in the wrong circumstances can lead to a reduction in employees motivation and sense of ownership, responsibility, and accountability on the work outcome.
- The Authoritative Style or “Come with me” approach states the overall goal while enabling the people to choose their own means of achieving it. Often, this leadership style requires the team to be highly competent in doing the work and the leadership to have the best understanding of the outcome. This style would not be as effective when the leader is not as experienced as the team or when the team has expert level expertise in defining the outcome that the leader does not have.
- The Affiliative Style or “People come first” attitude is the most effective style when the goal to accomplish is building team harmony or increasing morale. The focus of this leadership style is on praise. Thus, when the team is not performing well, it can validate those negative behaviours and performance.
- The Democratic Style or “People choose” approach gives the individuals in the organization a voice in decisions. When appropriate, this style of leadership builds organizational flexibility and responsibility, enabling generating innovative and fresh ideas. The price of that is often endless meetings and confused employees who feel leaderless and seek a clear vision and strategy to operate.
- The Pacesetting Style or “Lead by example” approach is usually shown by leaders who set high-performance standards and example himself how to perform the work to reach those standards. The impact of such a style is generally very positive as the employees perceive their leader to be self-motivated and highly competent. However, when overused, this style of leadership can also overwhelm employees who recognize a higher gap between their performance and their leadership performance. Furthermore, this style requires the leader to be consistently present with the employees which can lead to the employees resenting the leader taking over and not giving them autonomy to do the work in their way.
- The Coaching Style or “Bring your best self” approach is when a leader focuses on the personal development of their people rather than the immediate work to be done. When employees have the right autonomy and competencies to perform their job, and they are interested in developing themselves to deliver better results, this leadership style creates a very positive relationship between the leader and the employee. This style is usually not recommended with very junior employees or problem employees or would probably benefit more from the Pacesetting or Coercive styles until they reach a minimum level of competency and autonomy in their work.
This paper focuses on the Coaching Leadership style as an instrument to develop emotional intelligence in leaders as well as giving them a tool to retain their top performers. Emotional intelligence comes naturally to some but not to others. The good news is that we can all develop emotional and social competencies through learning to coach. Hence, coaching our leaders to become coaches themselves will not just enhance their own emotional intelligence, but will also develop the potential of their employees to lead in their own way.
Coaching Leadership Style
A coaching leader must not be confused with a coach. A leader who leads with a coaching leadership style is able to have coaching-like conversations with their employees with a clear intention to develop and improve the performance, qualities, and competencies of their employees so that they can perform better in their role or future role in the organization. In comparison to a coach, the coaching leader should have a vision for the employee and will often have to combine their coaching with consulting or mentoring. A good coaching leader has his employees perform their work independently but still makes them feel supported and involved in their work. Besides, when the outcome of the coaching conversations suggests that the employee will not be able to be their best self in the organization, the lead might have to coach the employee to move on.
Conditions for effective use of Coaching Leadership Style
Every leader can be coached to become more coaching-like and use the leadership coaching style. The following conditions should exist or be developed for effective use of the style by the leader:
- Integrity – Coaching conversations in their nature require a closer relationship than other styles of leadership. People often bring personal and private matters to coaching conversations, such as financial, relationship or health problems. These sensitive matters must be handled with tact, care and professionalism to create a safe place for the employee to explore.
- Know the Person – Professional coaches are able to have coaching conversations with individuals they do not yet have a close relationship with. However, in coaching conversations between a leader and an employee, it is a requirement for the leader to know the person they are coaching, their role and preferences to ensure they understand the context of the individual and are able to suggest an opportunity for improvement that is aligned with the employee’s aspiration.
- Asking Questions – Coaching conversations require the lead to let go of giving instructions, advice or solutions to the raised problems. For the employee to think themselves and come up with possible solutions to the problems they are facing, the lead should practice asking coaching questions, e.g., open questions that start with What.
- Feedback – Coaching conversations require additional support beyond the conversation itself. For coaching to be effective, the leader should be able to give and receive concrete and constructive feedback, provide enough time for reflection, and follow-up with the employee to ensure the feedback is understood.
- Structure – Coaching conversations require a structure to ensure the leader is not getting carried away in the conversation and invest long hours with no apparent results or outcomes. Objectives and expectations must be discussed continuously, so everyone is clear on their role, the time box, and the expected outcome. Furthermore, using a concrete structure, framework and markers would enable the leader to measure how well they are doing and how their employee is improving.
When to use the Coaching Leadership Style?
The style a leader chooses to use with a particular person in one specific situation impacts the outcome of the case. Therefore it is essential to explore the pros and cons of the style to enable a leader to make an informed judgment on when and how they should use it to achieve an effective and desirable outcome.
The following situations are suited best for the coaching leadership style:
- Create a positive organizational culture – The coaching leadership style encourages a sense of responsibility and commitment in employees. The leader creates a safe space for both the leader itself and the employee to express and explore feelings which result in the employee feeling acknowledge, competent and emancipated.
- Challenge talents to self-develop – The coaching leadership style offers employees space and freedom to explore and brainstorm ways to take responsibility and solve their own challenges. That enables the employee to break the habit of seeking solutions from their lead and push themselves forward beyond the role and the task they are performing.
- Build new knowledge and capabilities – The leader practicing a coaching leadership style is closer to the employee than an external coach. Therefore, they are informed about how well the employee is doing in their role. The coaching leadership style enables the leader to challenge employees on their limiting beliefs that might impact their current performance. As a result, the employee develops new awareness, capabilities, and skills.
The following situations are suited best for other leadership styles and using the coaching leadership style in those situations might be a disadvantage:
- Evaluation of performance – Coaching leadership style focuses on what the employee could be rather than what is. The objective is to explore how the employee can become better over time. Therefore, when the leader is also responsible for evaluating the functional performance of the employee, it takes upon the risk of the employee assuming the coaching relationship will impact their evaluation. Hence, not open up or benefit from the coaching conversations.
- Motivate employees who are not motivated – Coaching requires an investment from the employee side as much as it is from the leader’s side. An employee that is not interested in coaching and is not motivated would not invest the time and effort in their self-development. Thus, coaching conversations would be just conversations.
- Improve performance of dysfunctioning employees – Coaching leadership style enable employees to develop new skills and capabilities. However, it is not always suited to improve performance when a person is dealing with severe private issues, psychological problems or lack of skills. In those cases, consulting, therapy and training are a better option.
Coaching Leaders to Coach
Leadership coaches who would like to enable their leaders to develop the coaching leadership style can use the following steps to do so:
1. Agree on the objectives – Every coaching journey starts with a coaching agreement. The leader client should have an apparent desire to develop the style, understand what would change for them when they master the style and have a shared understanding with the coach of what it would look like for the leader when they master the style.
2. Assess their starting points – People are different. For some empathy and emotional intelligence are rooted in who they are, for others it is not. Having an honest, shared understanding of the starting point is crucial to ensure the leader is ready to practice coaching conversations with their employees. Go back to the “Conditions for effective use of Coaching Leadership Style” chapter and explore with your leader their current…
- ...self and social-emotional intelligence
- ...familiarity with their people
- ...ability to ask open questions instead of giving instructions, advice or solutions
- ...ability to give and receive feedback
- ...ability to create clear, measurable goals
- ...ability to follow-up and hold people accountable
- ...ability to structure a meeting
3. Agree on a baseline – a Certain level of the above starting points must exist for the leader to start practicing coaching conversations with their employees. The coach and the leader should agree on the level the leader would like to be in before they start practicing the coaching leadership style with their own employees.
4. Develop a plan to fill the gap – Each leader requires different time and support to develop to their baseline. Thus, the coach and the leader should create a concrete, measurable action plan to develop the leader to the baseline.
5. Select a practice partner – Once the leader is ready to start practicing their coaching leadership style with their employees, they are recommended to first select a colleague with whom they are already familiar and feel safe to practice. The colleague can be another leader in the organization, an employee from a different department or anyone who is interested in coaching and would be open to experimenting.
6. Practice – The leader should practice reaching a minimum level of confidence. If the colleague of the leader agrees, the coach can join the leader and observe some sessions to provide the leader with feedback. Once the leader is confident they can do the same with their employees, they are ready!
Like any skill, coaching leadership style is a work in progress. Even when hard at first, the coach should encourage the leader to keep practicing. Sometimes the first partner is not the right one, and the leader will need to seek someone else to practice with. The coach role is to keep the leader accountable and remind them of their vision of who they will be when they master it.
This research paper focused on the Coaching Leadership Style, the benefits of developing it, the application of it and how can leadership coaches support their clients to develop it. Concluding the above, coaching leadership style is an effective style to both increases the emotional intelligence of a leader as well as creating a meaningful relationship between the leader and their employees. Although developing this style require time and effort, the benefits for the leader are an excellent return for their investment.
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Goleman, D. (2000). Leadership That Gets Results. Harvard business review, march–april 2000.
Madlock, P.E. (2008). The Link Between Leadership Style, Communicator Competence and Employee Satisfaction. Journal of Business Communication 2008.