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The coaching leadership style was first defined by Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard in the late 1960s, when they described this as one of four leadership styles that a leader can adopt according to a specific situation, the maturity of the company’s employees, and current attitude. 

This article aims to provide a brief synopsis on this particular character of creative leadership and highlights how, with the ability to lead, question and encourage others, can be an effective way to draw people together.

This style of leadership is particularly useful in today’s workplace, which often encompasses a much flatter structure. With remote working, hot-desking and varied work hours, there tends to grow a more flexible and fertile culture. This is an environment where the ‘I say, you do’ approach is not only outdated, it is impractical due to the way people now work and get together.

Coaching leadership is a style that involves and facilitates the engagement of people, as well as drawing out and understanding and empathising with their specific and individual motivations. In exchange, this method provides a much closer and superior insight into an organisation’s challenges and some ideas on how they might be best resolved.

In what environment is the coaching leadership style of value?

If an organisation is tired, ineffective or the people are lacking in a particular skill or knowledge in order to realise the collective vision, then coaching leaders can be the solution. This style of leadership can motivate and assist others to develop their skills, become stronger and work together more successfully. Coaching leaders can also enable the alignment of the organisation’s goals and culture with the career and personal aspirations of the people who work there. 

Attributes of this leadership style

Traits of this style of leadership facilitate lots of 360-degree feedback is provided both by management and each individual within the organisation. Coaching leaders, therefore, are effective communicators, but also experienced in delegation and giving others the opportunity to take on new challenges and ‘try this’.  Whilst they are able to help people visualise a plan for the attainment of specific goals, they also have to be comfortable to let go and take on the role of observer to see how individuals thrive when given something different or challenging to do.  

Coaching leaders therefore have to be able to step back, not micro-manage, but be motivated themselves by assisting others to succeed and reach their own personal goals. They can do this by centring on others, drawing upon an active sense of empathy and self-awareness.

The advantages and disadvantages of this leadership style

Internationally known psychologist and science journalist, who reported on the brain and behavioural sciences for the New York Times, Daniel Goleman, states in his many articles that whilst this style of leadership does not accomplish tasks and goals quickly, these leaders are willing to put up with short-term failure if it furthers long-term learning.

Unfortunately, this leadership style is not used in organisations very often, primarily because of the high pressure, ‘get it done now’ economy. Developing people is seen as too time-consuming and resource draining. However, helping others within an organisation to grow is absolutely essential for an environment to thrive and leaders who choose to avoid this style are giving up a powerful way to make a significant impact on their culture and overall performance.

Coaching leadership can significantly improve results though. Yes, focus is taken away from daily business tasks and instead placed of personal development, but because this requires two-way communication individuals feel valued, develop a sense of importance within the culture and get fast and constructive feedback to continue and reach higher. 

The only caveat to this is when there is an existing culture where the employees are resistant to anything new or changing the status-quo. It also doesn’t work if the leader does not have the right level of knowledge or expertise to develop the people or indeed is fearful of negative feedback.

Examples of coaching leaders

In the 21st Century, coaching leaders tend to be referred to as ‘mentors’.  However, leadership is not simply one dimensional. Inspiring leaders tend to use a combination of styles dependent on the environment they are currently surrounded by. 

One particular famous coaching leader comes to mind though and that’s Mahatma Gandhi. He empowered a huge nation by getting the people motivated and believing in themselves. Other great leaders have used the coaching leadership style on occasion, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Apple’s Steve Jobs.

Self-awareness and creativity

To encompass this leadership style requires the ability to admit you cannot be right all the time and you need feedback from people around you in order to grow yourself and therefore your organisation. In effect, this form of leadership goes hand in hand with the principle of humility. 

This style of leadership also dovetails creative leadership comfortably. According to a recent IBM Global Chief Executive Officer Study, ‘creativity is the most important leadership competency. Leaders work with teams toward a shared vision and integrate a strong learning component with feedback loops that allow for learning and adapting to changing needs and services.'

Creative leadership embraces ideas from its people and environment and leaps above the tried and tested. The approach has to be collaborative and involve all. Coaching leadership can facilitate the necessary feedback required to adapt, move and thrive. 

HotHouse runs effective creative leadership programmes that use nature and the environment of the Eden Project to answer questions. These questions could relate to: what are the most effective leadership styles to adopt to engage an organisation’s community for positive change and to thrive? As Michelle Holiday states in her book, The Age of Thrivability: Vital Perspectives for a Better World: 'The journey into thrivability requires a shift in both perspective and practice.'


Photo: Markus Spiske