Coaching and Leadership Development 


Hierarchically positioned managers benefit from conversations with someone who can challenge their thinking, provide genuine feedback, and offer diverse perspectives. Senior leaders are often high performers in their functional areas. However, as they rise, their effectiveness drivers shift to how they lead themselves and handle personal and interpersonal challenges. Coaching provides focused learning and highly personalized and relevant leader development opportunity. 

Coaching facilitates quality thinking and accelerates skill development. It is developmental for both the client and the coach. Learning to coach is a powerful tool for the leader’s development. Senior leaders benefit from learning advanced skills in listening, questioning, and building rapport, which is fundamental for exemplary leadership. 

When coaching works best

The client has some clear development goals.

The line manager is closely involved in setting these goals and supports the client in meeting them and trying out new behavior.

The client can own these goals and work on other, more personal ones.

The line manager or organization holds the client accountable for demonstrating learning and progress.

There is a clear expectation that the developing leader will share learning and progress with peers within the modules.

Coaching is not compulsory but actively encouraged.

There is some introductory training for clients on what coaching is.

The coaches are familiar with the program and empowered to ask for the client’s accountability for developing and meeting goals.

Potential limitations

The organization drives the agenda too tightly and looks for conformance rather than development.

The organization is too hands-off, and the coaching is about whatever the client wants to cover, irrespective of organizational need.

The client does not know what to focus on in the coaching.

The coaching is disconnected from the development program.

There is no client accountability for any change or development.

Line managers are uninvolved or even skeptical about the program and the coaching.

Situational Leadership 

One-to-one interactions between a leader and a colleague or subordinate require a combination of direction and support. 

{CCL Leadership Model: Direction, Alignment, Commitment. CCL Coaching Model: Assessment, Challenge, Support.} 

Direction involves telling, asking, or giving feedback. Support involves listening, encouragement, and exploration.

The Hersey and Blanchard situational leadership model suggests that leaders must adopt various styles dependent on the follower’s developmental level, including delegating, directing, coaching, and mentoring. For example, when new to a job or a role, a person needs a lot of direction and relatively little support. As they progress, they need more support to handle challenges and setbacks. Once fully conversant with a role, the leader can move to a more delegating style.

The higher support styles need more time and skill. The time taken is an investment rather than a cost because the colleague is helped to reach their optimum performance level more quickly. Coaching skills help a leader be more proactive, committed to learning, positive about people, and positively communicating.


Leaders are used to driving the conversation agenda. Coaching, on the other hand, involves pausing and inquiring first about what a colleague wants to achieve: “What do you want?” inquiring into the big aim and “What would you like to get from our conversation here today?” inquiring into the current conversation’s aim.

Giving acknowledgment

It is important to acknowledge effort rather than only achievement or ability. What and how a leader acknowledges indicates to other colleagues what the leader values. When done genuinely and mindfully, it can build a growth mindset and support confidence, self-efficacy, hope, and optimism.


Leaders use advocacy, arguing their case and explaining their thinking, more than inquiry, asking, and exploring the other person’s thinking.

Coaching skills can restore balance.

Contracting and goal-setting stages

In coaching for organizational leaders, the corporate interest is presented by the coaching sponsor, who is likely to be part of the contracting and goal-setting stages. The coach must insist on the sponsoring manager’s expectation clarity and confront the client with behaviors not in the company’s interest. A typical three-way contracting structure follows

an initial referral to a coach and an introductory conversation between the coach and the client.

The three-way meeting between the coach, client, and client’s boss to agree on the coaching agenda and issues such as session confidentiality. During this meeting, the coach helps the boss to give clear feedback to and clarify expectations of the client and helps the client to ask questions and for the clarification they need.

Subsequent session to agree on overall coaching goals where the client matches their values to what the boss or company needs.

Continuing regular coaching sessions where the client sets the agenda. The coach may sometimes challenge how the boss’s expectations are being met. Session content remains confidential.

Interim or final three-way meeting to review progress. 

Impact of Leader Development Programs

What are individuals’ and organizations’ current and future leadership development needs?

Executives sponsoring their leaders’ development report three reasons initiatives don’t achieve the intended impact. First, the leader might learn new knowledge and skills, but these are too generalized to be applied in their particular role; the problem of utilizing off-the-shelf, over-the-counter remedies. It might make sense to determine the organization’s needs and the leader’s realized and emergent capabilities and devise an individualized development plan and method in alignment with strategy.

The second and closely related reason is insufficient learning transfer, resulting from insufficient organizational support, the leader’s daily task urgencies leaving no room to deploy new skills, learnings without a robust practice component and guidance for fieldwork, or the leader’s team members and colleagues not welcoming new behaviors. The world is not always happy when we change our habitual ways.

Third, the leader might develop too much and outgrow the role.

What is the solution? But wait; did we understand the problem?

What are we told? The world has changed; today’s world is vuca (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous). Well, bravo. You have spoken but have not told us anything.

Claim number one: We need leadership skills and organizational capabilities different from those that helped us succeed in the past.

Two: Leadership development should cascade through the organization.

Three: Local decisions should be high-quality, aligned with corporate strategy and culture, and responsible and consequential.

Plus one: Extensive studies indicate that more than half of senior leaders believe their talent development efforts don’t adequately build critical skills and organizational capabilities.

What are the challenges executives face today and those they will face tomorrow?

Maybe if we infused care for the human into human resources, we would not be so occupied with these long skills and competencies lists. Almost all discourse points to collaboration in one way or another as executives’ main concern. And then we go to reward a few for the results achieved by the many. Well, why on earth would collaboration be such a difficult thing to attain?

Look at how we draw the lines. We say this is east, and there is west; this is the production line, and this is sales; here begins design, and here is order fulfillment, for packaging and shipment go over there. I have an MBA in strategy, and he is a finance master; maybe we should hire someone with a marketing title.

Here are some short phrases to look for when judging development programs:

Learning and skills transfer: learning context; social environment when learning vs. social environment when applying learnings; functional context, using the skills for one type of task when learning while the workplace tasks differ considerably, requiring skills adaptation; time gap, learning today but getting the opportunity to apply skills only after considerable time passage;

Contextualized learning: adapting content and delivery to the needs and challenges of the client organization and learners;

Follow-up: customized monitoring, prompting application and use of learnings, progress evaluation and as-needed refreshing or boosting;

Evaluation and feedback for program improvement;

Individualized coaching and mentoring;

On-demand, modular learning resources;

Pre- and post-measures for acquisition and application: role requirements, skill levels, learning progress in skill levels, applied effectiveness;

Low-cost, easy-access: pre-recorded, pre-packaged, bundled, take-and-go;

High-value: personalized coaching, project-based learning, feedback-intensive group sessions, high-touch;

Interactional: digital forums, curated discussion, accountability circles, matching with learning buddies;

Institutional providers, free agents, specialized providers, boutique consultancies;

Open access: massive open online courses (MOOCs), interactive content delivery platforms;

Self-paced, self-selected, self-monitored, self-initiated;

Learning environments, collaborative knowledge mastery, social learning, learning cohorts, joint problem solving, distributed networks;

On-the-job professional development;

Transparency: learning outcomes, application and use, authentication, certification, skills- and capabilities-based certification vs. functional degrees, micro-certification to attest training in specific skills, micro-credentials, safe and auditable enrollment and achievement tracking and verification.

Some conclusions

Specify the skill sets to invest in;

Measure individuals’ learning and the firm’s capabilities enhancement;

Map out personalized learning journeys;

Consider the organization’s needs and the individual’s development and career-related needs and interests;

Aim for proficiency rather than going through the moves.