Effective leaders are outstanding coaches.

Title text: Effective leaders are outstanding coaches. Outline of a person standing on steps helping another person up the steps. Background blends blue and gray in soft edges.

-by Dr. Tim Grivois, Executive Director

I work with numerous school leaders and leaders of nonprofits, and I’ve interviewed dozens of superintendents and principals for the YouTube channel. While every leader is unique, I’ve noticed that they all seem to have the same strong coaching skills that I encourage in the leaders I work with. 

Characteristics of a coaching leadership style:

While good leaders employ a variety of styles to suit their context, a coaching leadership style tends to fit many work environments because coaches will

  • Provide feedback while watching their team do their work. Coaches don’t wait until after the task is over to provide feedback.
  • Describe success criteria clearly. What does ‘done well’ look like? Effective coaches can finish this sentence: “You’ll know it’s good when…”
  • Communicate their belief that their team can meet and exceed expectations.
  • Use effective questions to help team members discover their own solutions.

Coaching-style leaders have a knack for taming confusion and creating a culture of clarity. It’s evident because it’s true: people tend to do their best when they know how to do it.

Pros and Cons of Coaching Leadership

The advantage of coaching leadership is that the workplace tends to be solution-oriented and positive. People have good relationships with their leaders and with each other. Best of all, clarity and communication are shared values.

Coaching leadership can go wrong when leaders forget to learn from their team and don’t seek feedback from those doing the work. It’s easy to assume that we’re coaching people to do the ‘right’ thing in the ‘best’ way just because of our position.

How does coaching leadership differ from other styles of leadership?

Because coaching is effective, positive, and respectful of team members, coaching should be one element of all leadership styles. When leaders emphasize coaching in their leadership practice, you’ll notice a greater emphasis on keeping feedback small, bite-sized, and actionable immediately. You’ll also see leaders visible and actively helping. Typically, leaders who use the coaching style will have time built into their day for walk-throughs and coaching conversations.

Best tips to be a coaching leader:

  • When someone asks you what to do, ask “What would you like to do?” Helping your team take ownership of solutions is a hallmark of effective coaching leaders.
  • Provide feedback in the moment. When you hear an employee handle a phone call well, tell them immediately. Tell them that they did well and what precisely you heard that was exceptional. The time for feedback is right now, not at the end of the week debriefing.
  • Be visible. It’s impossible to coach after the fact. Good coaching happens in real-time, which means making time to be present for the work your team is doing.

Coaching leadership is especially effective when implementing a strategy requiring specific classroom or workplace actions. Particularly for new curricula, social and emotional learning initiatives, or schools new to Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS), coaching leaders tend to have the easiest time navigating change.

Are you a coaching leader? Is your leader an effective coach? Let’s have our own coaching conversation in the comments!

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