The Coaching Leader

By Chris Chittenden

"The glue that holds all relationships together -- including the relationship between the leader and the led is trust, and trust is based on integrity."

… Brian Tracy (b. 1944) US author and motivational speaker

Leadership and coaching have gone hand in hand for a long time. This is understandable as the idea of coaching stems from the sports domain where the coach was also seen as the key leader of the team. The idea of coaching beyond the sporting domain has become prevalent in recent times finding its way into life coaching and, more importantly for this article, organisations.

With leaders faced with ever-increasing change, complexity, pressure and stress, many organisations now engage a variety of organisational coaches to develop leaders, enhance resilience, build teams and generally improve performance. There is now a clear trend for people in leadership and management roles to also act as coaches. For many this is not just as simple as doing a two day coaching skills program and getting on with it.

To understand the challenge becoming a coach creates for many people, it is useful to look at a key difference between a sporting team and a business or similar organisation. This difference relates to the reason for the organisation's existence. For a sporting team, the reason it exists and its goals will tend to be very clear and limited to a specific domain. They will basically want to win the premiership or be top of the table in some way. The team may recognise they have some way to go and set their goals lower initially, but the end game will most likely be the same. It is fairly easy to see why the players, coaches, support staff and supporters have a clear sense of success and failure.

Business and community leaders face a different challenge. On the surface their organisations' reasons for existence and goals may be clear but the domains in which they operate tend to be significantly more varied and complex. Added to that is the wide variety of reasons why those who are part of such organisations are involved with them. In other words, there is often a greater complexity to the raison d'etre and goals of business and community organisations.

The key to effective leadership in an organisation is the capacity to create and maintain willing followers who cooperate to achieve meaningful goals. The challenge is the added complexity involved.
Effectively leading this expansive complexity requires significant abilities in the areas of relating, creating meaning, developing direction, gaining commitment in order to achieve success. These are domains in which good coaches excel. Accordingly there are many parallels between the domains of organisational coaching and leadership. The key difference between the two lies in whose agenda is important.

In coaching, the coach clearly works to serve the needs of their client, which are hopefully aligned with the needs of the organisation. The needs in the coaching domain are defined by the client. The leader’s agenda is more their own and that of their organisation. This difference implies that there is a significantly increased role for the ability to influence others when leading rather than coaching. Yet the way of being and skills of a coach clearly can be applied to leadership and the challenges of complexity and so on.

This distinction sets up what it means to be a Coaching Leader.

The Coaching Leader is one who possesses the way of being of a coach and who uses the skills of a coach to influence others and so creates and maintains willing followers who cooperate to achieve meaningful goals.

This emerging need for leaders to be coaches is starting to blossom around the world and is being seen by some as the next wave of management development.

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© 2013 Chris Chittenden