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The 6 Essential Principles of Leadership Coaching

The 6 Essential Principles of Effective Leadership Coaching

You may be pretty familiar — and probably fairly comfortable — with the model of the visiting leadership coach. Sometimes it’s easier to dispense leadership advice to an audience you don’t know. So it’s no wonder these leadership pros seem so confident. But what if you’re asked to coach a subordinate or a peer within your organization? Is coaching someone you might work with daily an impossible task?

6 Core Leadership Coaching Principles

Whether you’re an outside executive coach or a leader-coach working in the trenches of your organization, a lot of the same rules of thumb apply in terms of what it takes to coach your people.

Use these 6 core principles for leadership coaching to coach someone from an office or cubicle near you:

  1. First, when coaching a peer or a subordinate, you must create a safe and supportive, yet challenging environment. Your coachee needs to feel they’re in a place of psychological safety at work, so it’s up to you to provide a space where risk-taking is rewarded and not risky business. Remember, if you’re the coachee’s boss or manager, they may wonder if they can reveal vulnerabilities that will be used against them in other aspects of their job. So keep your attitude as open and as nonjudgmental as possible, and let the coachee know you support them, even as you test their knowledge and skills.
  2. Try to work within the coachee’s agenda. Remember, this coaching session is not about you, so let the coachee decide which goals to work on and even how to go about improving. Sure, it’s great when the coachee’s own agenda aligns perfectly with the organization’s goals, but never impose your personal priorities on the relationship. When it’s clear you need to push a point, put on your managerial hat — thereby preserving the special collaborative coaching relationship you’re trying so hard to build.
  3. Facilitate and collaborate. Like Socrates, who always led his students with questions, the best coaches don’t give direct answers or act the expert. To hold a coaching conversation, focus on the coachee’s needs, and avoid filling the lesson with your own life stories and pet theories. Although you may suggest several options for responding to a problem, the ultimate choice should rest with the coachee — with you acting as the facilitator and collaborator.
  4. Advocate self-awareness. You want your coachee to learn how to recognize their own strengths and present weaknesses — a prerequisite skill for any good leader. In the same way, you should understand how your own behaviors as a coach impact the people around you. Demonstrate a sense of awareness in yourself and you’re more likely to foster in your coachee a similar self-awareness. You may also want to share ways to boost self-awareness.
  5. Promote learning from experience. Most people can learn, grow, and change only if they have the right set of experiences and are open to learning from them. As a coach, always help your coachee reflect on past events and to analyze what went well and what didn’t. Foster experiential learning and using experience to fuel development, and your student will continue to improve long after the end of your lessons.
  6. Finally, model what you coach. This, the last of the 6 core principles of coaching, may be the most difficult to embody, as it means putting into practice outside of class the leadership lessons you’ve been trying to communicate.

And remember, if you don’t feel you have the capacity to coach on a particular issue, refer your coachee to someone more experienced — perhaps somehow who, we hope, puts into practice the 6 core leadership coaching principles even better than you do.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Support and retain your top talent using the time-tested principles of effective coaching. Build coaching skills and strengthen your team’s ability to hold effective coaching conversations with our Better Conversations & Coaching program, a coach training for leaders.


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March 25, 2020
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff to help you and your organization's leaders at every level. Want more content like this? Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-backed articles, webinars, insights, and news about leadership development solutions sent straight to your inbox.

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