What Is the Coaching Leadership Style?

Written by Rebecca Turley

coaching leadership style

Ask any seasoned coach (both on and off the field) and they’ll tell you that it’s not just about the win. Sure, the win feels pretty good in the moment, but after the fanfare, you may be left wondering: Does my team have what it takes to deliver wins down the line? Have I equipped them with the tools they need to achieve those long-term, game-changing organizational goals?

In any type of business or organization, the coaching leadership style can be best described as inspiring and supporting the members of your team to achieve continuous momentum – keeping that proverbial football moving down the field.

This type of leadership flies directly in the face of the traditional form of leadership (also called autocratic or directive leadership) that’s based on:

1. Mastering a set of skills of foundation of knowledge

2. Teaching other members of your team to master the same set of skills to achieve a specific objective

3. Evaluating their performance

While this type of leadership has proven effective throughout time (consider an assembly line, for example), today’s leaders are met with a set of circumstances that simply don’t jive with the learn-teach-repeat cycle of leadership.

Today’s leaders aren’t looking for trainable bodies to repeat their strategies; they’re guiding members of a team to adapt to constantly changing environments and encouraging them to deliver their own patented blend of innovation and energy to get the job done. Everyone is learning and growing under the coaching style of leadership. Leaders aren’t instructing anymore; they’re cultivating an environment of learning that aligns with their organization’s culture and mission and creating team members who are positioned squarely in the driver’s seat of their own success.

"The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”

What Is the Coaching Style of Leadership and What Are Its Benefits and Challenges?

According to the National Society of Leadership and Success, the coach leadership style “is defined by the leader’s ability to see the strengths and weaknesses of individual team members so that the leader can help each individual grow and succeed.”

This type of leadership style is all about providing team members with the freedom that allows them to thrive. Leaders committed to the coaching style of leadership are focused on creating and nurturing a mentor-mentee relationship with the members of their team. It’s an incredibly personalized form of leadership that involves providing the encouragement, praise, and constructive feedback to elicit confidence in your team members.

Leading by coaching helps a company’s bottom line in more ways than one. Leaders who take the time to mentor employees, empower them to explore their strengths, and create teams who work together to achieve organizational objectives produce confident, inspired employees. They also create teams who are more likely to view the leader as trusted and knowledgeable. Members of these teams come together to realize a goal, and then stick around instead of moving on. A solid, motivated team with little turnover is beneficial to everyone in the long run, making the time you invest in your employers well worth it.

The coaching leadership style encourages:

Under the coaching leadership style, you’re developing a growth mindset and creating an environment that is open to learning and risk-taking by:

Through this type of leadership, managers are tasked with unleashing their employees’ strengths, their potential, and then backing off and allowing the innovation to take place.

This doesn’t mean a completely hands-off approach, as a leader’s purpose will always, to some degree, include imparting their knowledge, but the coach style of leadership focuses much more on creating an environment where employees begin to discover their own answers and realize their own potential.

While the coaching style of leadership can and is used in a variety of contexts, settings, and circumstances, it’s particularly valuable when:

Leaders who employ a coaching style of leadership are rewarded with:

But as with any type of leadership style, the coaching style of leadership can have its drawbacks.

Leaders who use the leadership style of coaching may struggle with:

“Coaching works because people learn by doing what they would have done anyway – just smarter, faster, better, and with support and feedback.”

What Does the Coaching Style of Leadership Look Like?

The coaching style of leadership was born out of the GROW concept created by Sir John Whitmore in the late 1980s. He introduced the GROW philosophy and the coaching style of leadership to the world in 1992 with the publication of Coaching for Performance. It’s been revised and updated several times since then and published in 23 languages. Today it remains the top-selling book on coaching in organizations.


G oal: What do you want? (What are your goals and aspirations?)

R eality: Where are you now? (What is your current situation, and what do you see as roadblocks to achieving your goals?)

O ptions: What could you do? (What are your strengths, and how can you use them to reach your goals?)

W ill: What will you do? (How will you take action and assume accountability?)

Using the GROW model, leaders and employees work together to identify their strengths, set a goal, and explore the steps they’ll need to take to reach the goal. Instead of simply recognizing their challenges and obstacles, leaders use the GROW model to set a plan of action into motion. Leadership through coaching is always an ongoing process, with leaders revisiting the GROW model when necessary and providing a blend of feedback, criticism, and support.

In the GROW model, leaders empower employees and spark a desire to achieve a goal.

How to Put the Coaching Style of Leadership Into Motion

The overarching goal of a coaching style of leadership is to provide all members of a team with the close mentorship that results in their personal and professional growth and the success of the team.

Here are steps you’ll take using this model of leadership:

  1. Meet with your team. Encourage them to provide you with insight into how they think their team is doing and what roadblocks to success they recognize. Create a team goal.
  2. Arrange one-on-one meetings with employees where you can employ the GROW model. Work with each employee to create developmental goals that align with the team goal. Clearly communicate what you hope to achieve with this coaching relationship.
  3. Offer continuous feedback and support at both the employee and team level. Adjust your strategy, as necessary.

During your one-on-one meetings, focus on nondirective questions that clearly demonstrate your role of supporter and listener, not as someone who’s there to judge them.

Your goal is to elicit open, honest dialogue with your employees, so your questions must reflect this.

Coaching Leadership Style Examples

Using the GROW model, you may approach each area with the following questions:


  • What is your goal related to this topic?
  • What do you hope to achieve?
  • In what way will achieving your goal help you and your professional growth?


  • What is helping you achieve your goal?
  • What is getting in the way of you achieving your goal?
  • What (if any) action have you taken towards achieving this goal?


  • What are your options for achieving this goal?
  • What else could you do/consider?
  • What are the advantages/disadvantages of each option?


  • What steps will you take?
  • How and when will you take these steps?
  • What (if anything) should you do to prepare to take these steps?

The Difference Between Knowing and Doing: Why It’s Important to Become a Leader Who Coaches

A traditional leadership style — “Here’s what needs to be done, and here’s how to do it” — may seem like an obvious way to get the job done, but it’s not usually sustainable. Leaders who produce teams that are tasked with doing little more than repeating what is asked of them create environments that stifle productivity, inspiration, and motivation. If you’re looking to create a team that values innovation and strives to achieve continuous momentum, you must reimagine what it means to lead.

Coaching takes time, and it involves nurturing relationships and creating a work environment where innovation is always rewarded. The coaching style of leadership turns the tables and makes leadership become “ask and listen,” not “tell and sell.”

Many leaders recognize that while this type of leadership is desirable, it’s not always convenient. Taking the time and energy to achieve this type of team environment can seem rather daunting, and time constraints often make it seem impossible.

But if the COVID pandemic and the resulting ripple effects it’s had on nearly every aspect of how we do business and how we work toward a company objective is any indication, it’s clear that leaders must turn the traditional business model on its head to survive and thrive in nearly any environment.

To succeed in a world where the status quo no longer exists and predictability is never guaranteed, leaders of businesses and organizations of every size, shape, sector, and setting know that they must create teams who feel comfortable exploring and cultivating their strengths. To succeed in today’s post-COVID environment, leaders must be able inspire employees to learn more about themselves and create a work environment where their insights are part of a collective energy that is adaptable and inspired.