Strength-Based Leadership Coaching

{MacKie, 2016. Strength-based Leadership Coaching in Organizations.}

Key components of coaching for positive leadership development in organizations

Before beginning any leadership development process, assess the readiness of the individual and the organization for a strength-based approach to leadership development.

How does a strength-based approach align with current, implicit and explicit models of leadership already extant in the organization?

What are the assumptions around a strength-based approach? Are these largely positive, negative, or neutral?

Participant readiness will impact the development process’ engagement, responses, and outcomes.

At the organizational level, support is vital for changes to be successfully transferred into the workplace.

How will the participants be supported in terms of time to consolidate developmental insights?

What opportunities will be provided to consolidate learnings?

How will the program be integrated into the existing learning and development framework?

Developmental readiness, a more focused element of the broader construct of change readiness, is a combination of motivation and ability to change and is a prerequisite for effective engagement and effective outcomes in leadership development.

The main elements of change readiness include beliefs about the possibility of change, willingness to experience discomfort in pursuing change, and awareness of potential focus areas.

Developmental readiness attempts to identify and assess key individual criteria for the change inherent in positive leader development to occur.


Assessing individual and organizational readiness: 

Individual readiness questions

Are you prepared to experience discomfort in the pursuit of enhanced leadership effectiveness?

What’s your motivation for engaging in this leadership development process (LDP)?

How will this process change how you think of yourself as a leader?

What resources do you have to sustain and support your development?

What goals have you set yourself in terms of engaging with this LDP?

How will you encourage others to give you the necessary developmental feedback?


Organizational readiness questions

How aligned is the strength-based approach with existing leadership development philosophies?

What is the prevailing mindset around leadership development? Is it growth or fixed?

Is the executive leadership team a sponsor? Are they participating?

How will the process be supported internally?

Are there any other competing change initiatives underway at this time?

How will this process be integrated into the Learning and Development framework?


Identifying and aligning the stakeholders

For coaching to be effective, we need the coach, client, and organizational factors to be in alignment.

The client: How committed is the client to the process? Is she ready? Does she have the resources? What’s her history of self-development, and does she take responsibility for her development?

The line manager: How transparent has the line manager been with the client? Is his leadership style compatible with a coaching approach? How sensitive is he to change, how supportive is he of the client, and what’s the quality of the relationship with the client?

The HR sponsor: Where is the client in the talent pool, what is the talent philosophy of the organization, are the line manager and HR sponsor aligned, where are the boundaries of confidentiality, and how does coaching connect to other talent development opportunities?


Selecting a strength-based leadership model

Assessing developmental readiness and identifying and aligning stakeholders will be followed by identifying and assessing strengths in the individual through self-report and multi-rater instruments.

For the development process, a well-validated leadership measure such as the MLQ360 can provide data on leadership strengths and changes attributable to coaching.

The assumption of multi-source feedback (MSF) is that other ratings are valid predictors of performance and carry some additional information unavailable to the client.

The purpose of feedback is to raise awareness, identify strengths and weaknesses, calibrate self-other ratings, understand different ratings by levels in organizations, and gain insight into the developmental readiness of the individual and the organization.

Intrapersonal strengths, with low observability, are more accurately assessed by the individual, whereas interpersonal strengths should display a significant degree of public manifestation.

MSF is used as a pre-and post-coaching 360-degree feedback process to identify potential areas for focus in the development process and evaluate the coaching intervention’s outcome effectiveness and developmental impact. MSF also serves as a tool to engage stakeholders in the development process and socialize them with the model, in addition to preparing the client for the change program.

Beyond demonstrating performance improvement and the gains made in coaching, it is essential to ensure these gains are effectively transferred to the workplace, sustained over time, and evaluated in terms of return on investment.


Ensuring reliable and valid outcomes and ROI

The timing of the evaluation needs to be considered.

Changes in leadership capability, leading to enhanced follower engagement, additional discretionary effort in followers, and enhanced job performance and organizational effectiveness, will take time.

The link between skill acquisition and performance improvement can be monitored and evaluated at four discrete stages or levels.

Level 1 captures the participant’s reaction to the leadership program and involves client (learner) satisfaction ratings, including the client’s perception of the coach’s competence and her satisfaction with the client-coach relationship.

Level 2 involves assessing client learning and measures changes in specific knowledge, skills, or attitudes that could be attributed to the coaching program, including self-awareness and increased behavioral flexibility.

Level 3 focuses on behavioral change, including leadership behavior, and is incorporated into a pre-and post-coaching 360-degree feedback process.

Level 4 relates the results of the coaching program to the attainment of organizational objectives and includes the impact on peers, direct reports, and other stakeholders, as well as the total return on investment (ROI).


The summative evaluation looks at the completed outcomes of the leadership intervention.

The formative evaluation consists of process-oriented questions focusing on program quality improvement and evaluating the delivery method. This component helps identify any implementation barriers to attaining the leadership coaching objectives and focuses on process criteria, including the client expectations, the coach’s competence, the quality of the client-coach relationship, and the coaching process itself.

For effective evaluation, include common factors in the coaching relationship involving qualities like expectancy, empathy, rapport, and positive regard; and specific factors including elements of the strength-based coaching, such as adherence to a strength-based protocol and tools and techniques for sustained behavior change.


Conducting a leadership coaching evaluation: 

Formative evaluation questions

What worked well in coaching delivery, and what could be improved for the next iteration?

Coaching process: Did the coach

spend time building rapport with you;

inspire confidence that he could assist you;

understand your role and industry;

seem committed to your development;

employ a balance of challenge and support;

hold you accountable for your actions?

Client qualities: Did the client

actively choose to participate;

prepare for each session;

collaborate in agenda-setting;

try out new strategies and approaches;

engage her line manager in the coaching process?

Organizational factors: Did the organization

display a coaching culture;

provide developmental opportunities;

facilitate skill transfer;

integrate coaching into the learning and development framework;

model a growth mindset?


Summative evaluation questions

Individual program impact: Did the leadership coaching

enhance your knowledge of leadership;

bring new awareness of your strengths;

generate greater positivity and optimism;

provide greater flexibility and innovation;

facilitate the empowerment and development of others;

promote greater commitment and engagement?

Team program impact: Did the leadership coaching

generate a positive climate in your team;

clarify the team’s vision and purpose;

promote greater role clarity;

improve stakeholder management;

help motivate team members?


Socializing the client to the strength-based model

Areas to cover in the initial discussions with the organization and the client include:

A strength-based approach …

does not deny the presence or relevance of weaknesses;

is linked to enhanced leadership effectiveness;

is linked to engagement, positivity, wellbeing, and goal attainment;

can engage the client and facilitate readiness and participation;

can leverage strengths directly or utilize strengths to address weaknesses;

can be more beneficial for enhancing states and skills rather than addressing traits.


Ensuring the client is ready for each session.

The client needs to prepare to maximize the gains from each session by reflecting, reviewing, and acting on commitments.

Reflecting on the previous session with questions:

What strengths did you identify?

What strengths do you overuse?

What strengths do you underuse?

What strengths work well together?

What situations bring out the best in you?

What actions can you take to leverage your strengths further?


Reviewing progress and monitoring change in terms of:

What strengths have they identified?

How are they applying those strengths?

How are they utilizing their strengths, not over-or underplaying?

What type of goals are they setting themselves?


Before meeting with the coach, the client may prepare and email topic areas to give the coach a chance to prepare. The client should come to the session with preparation. Having acted on the insight from the previous session, they may have identified an overused strength; so what have they done to alert themselves when this is happening? If it is an underutilized strength, where else have they found to apply this strength, and what was the outcome?


The FACTS model of coaching

Feedback – does the coach provide challenging and direct feedback to the leaders?

Accountability – does the coach hold the leader accountable for her actions?

Challenge – does the coach constructively challenge the leader and encourage her to experience the discomfort that challenge involves?

Tension – how does the coach hold tension in the process to ensure key issues are fully explored without damaging the underlying relationship?

Systemic thinking – how does the coach remain focused on the situational factors impacting the leader and the leader’s response to these factors?


Ensuring uniformity of delivery

To encourage adherence to the strength-based protocol, the key components for each coaching session for both coach and client can be manualized to provide structure and rigor while maintaining openness and receptivity to the client’s emergent needs.


Ensuring strategic goal alignment

Goal alignment between business and individual goals and objectives should be considered:

What am I energized or enthusiastic about changing?

Which goals are aligned with the organizational imperatives?

Which goals are aligned with my values?

Which goals are mastery-oriented?

Which goals will help me manage better the challenges I face?


Ensuring visibility of change

Raters at different levels focus on different aspects of the leader. For example, supervisor ratings may correlate more with external performance criteria; direct reports ratings may focus on interpersonal and relational criteria.

The gap in self-other ratings can act as a motivator to change.

A development plan with public goals and clear markers on how changes in leadership behavior will be observed can be highly validating of the change.


Ensuring the sustainability of change

The involvement of the line manager throughout the coaching process can support effective learning transfer to the workplace.

A three-cornered approach between the coach, client, and line manager involves, at the beginning of the coaching program, a three-way contracting session to clarify goals; periodic alignment sessions between client and line manager throughout the coaching process; and a further three-way closing session to review achievements and consider next steps at the end of the program.

Coaching goals can then be integrated into the organizational development plan and periodically reviewed as part of the existing performance review process. The broader the disclosure of the coaching goals, the greater the probability of maintaining focus and gains on them.


Technique and process factors in strength-based leadership coaching

Outcome Domains

Transformational leadership, Strengths awareness, Performance, Insight, Promotion, Positive affect, Retention, Confidence, Extra effort


Strength-Based Coaching Methodology

Strengths identification, Positive goal setting, Strategic alignment, Strengths development, Career/Transition, Committed actions


Process Variables

Alliance, Rapport, Challenge, Empathy


Client Characteristics

Developmental readiness, Self-awareness, Ambition, Career stage


Coach Characteristics

Credibility, Protocol adherence, Strength-based training, Systemic awareness


Organizational Characteristics

Supportive manager, Coaching culture, Opportunities, Organizational readiness