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What is a coaching leadership style?

How a coaching leadership style unlocks potential

A coaching leadership style is the approach that creates a culture of high performance. Characteristics of this culture are collaboration, empowerment, and fulfilment. Collaboration is the most important of these characteristics and this is often contrasted against a command and control approach which stifles potential.

Coaching leadership incorporates coaching mindsets and behaviours, synthesizing them to create the highest performing type of leadership. It does this by unlocking and enabling potential. This is distinct from traditional management style of command and control which can often stifle potential.

A coaching leadership style is underpinned by clear skills and ethics which include:

  • partnership and collaboration
  • belief in potential
  • trust and safety
  • intention
  • powerful questions
  • active listening
  • feedback
  • learning & development

Who created the coaching leadership style?

Our Co-Founder, Sir John Whitmore pioneered the coaching style of leadership. The story began when he and his partners brought The Inner Game to Europe in the late 1970s. A group of IBM managers who experienced it as skiers asked if he could bring it to their company to teach new managers how to unlock potential. Sir John accepted the challenge and the “leader-coach” approach was born.

Today, leaders around the world continue to discover this powerful coaching approach in our Coaching for Performance Leadership Certification Pathway.

“A leader’s task is simple: to get the job done and develop employees. Coaching is one process with both effects.”

Sir John Whitmore

How does a coaching style differ from traditional a management style?

A traditional management style like “command and control” is one where leaders know best and have all the answers (or feel like they ought to). A coaching management style creates a collaboration between the leader and team members that empowers all. Making this shift puts people in the driving seat of their own performance.

To see this in action, watch below our all-time favourite vintage video of Sir John Whitmore, Co-Founder of Performance Consultants and co-creator of the GROW Model, demonstrating the impact of a coaching leadership style in contrast to a traditional management style.

Sir John Whitmore demonstrates the benefits of coaching versus instruction | Archive Video

We hope you enjoyed the video! It quickly demonstrates just how easy it is to inspire others and gain immediate performance improvement by using coaching skills such as asking powerful questions.

Register for our free Coaching for Performance webinar to find out more about a coaching leadership style

Is a coaching approach linked to emotional intelligence?

In our book Coaching for Performance, known as the “Bible” of coaching, Sir John Whitmore explains that coaching is actually the practice of emotional intelligence. It is a behaviour and mindset, a way of being, rather than a skill set.

What are the benefits of a coach leadership style?

Clients and alumni frequently report back to us their successes following the adoption of a coaching style, including measurable improvements to engagement and the bottom line. Among the most immediate benefits is typically a reduction of stress both in team members, who feel more empowered, and in leaders, who no longer feel that they need to provide all the answers.

“It will change your life, not just the way you work with others.”

Coaching for Performance course participant

How does a leader–coach improve performance?

Leaders who adopt a coaching approach are known as “leader–coaches”. They increase self-responsibility and self-belief in their people by giving choice wherever possible, while also providing a good balance of support and challenge.

When we were working with McKinsey in the 1980s, the coaching style was so successful at improving performance and unlocking potential that they asked us to develop a memorable framework to underpin the coaching approach – as a result, the famous GROW Model was born.

Independent studies show the impact of our work when organizations adopt this approach at scale.

meeting your needs

How can you bring a coaching leadership style into your organization?

Sir John and his colleagues at Performance Consultants were the first to take coaching into the workplace and coined the term “performance coaching” in the early 1980s. We continue to lead the field in performance improvement through coaching leadership training.

Select one of the options shown. Or get in touch and one of our world-class leadership development consultants will work with you to create a tailored programme that meets your specific needs.

  • Attend a Coaching Course – experience the benefits of coaching first hand. See our Global Training Calendar to find the right course for you
  • Transformational Leader Pathway – learn how to be a leader–coach with a coaching leadership style that creates a culture of high performance for you, your team and entire organization
  • Performance Coach Certification – become a coach or take your coaching skills to the next level so that you can practise transformational leadership coaching
  • Individual Coaching (1:1) – take your leadership to the next level with a tailored, fast-track professional development coaching programme
  • Team Development – unlock the next level of potential in your team with team coaching