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What makes leadership coaching successful? Part I

Jul 28, 2021
Older business woman talking with younger female and male colleague

What does leadership coaching do? What makes coaching effective? What approaches are most effective in coaching, for yourself or someone whom you believe would benefit from it?

These are questions that I continue to explore in my evolution as a leadership coach.

One way to identify these variables is to gather data from coaching clients and their constituents. As part of this ongoing effort, I sent out a survey in 2020 to two groups who have experienced my coaching practice first-hand: 1) leaders who had work with me in leadership development coaching; and 2) key stakeholders in the coaching process, including those who referred or recommended coaching, or decision-makers, peers and staff who had participated in a 360° process to provide feedback regarding the leaders’ effectiveness.

The survey results provided rich insights into what the leaders and key stakeholders I have worked with found most useful in coaching. They also gave important recommendations as to how I could continue to improve my coaching services and delivery. Their input helped inform my objective – to continue to identify what makes coaching most effective, and to clarify what coaching approaches are most useful.

The focus of coaching is often to assist the leader to build skill and competency in specific areas. Here are areas of improvement as seen by leaders and stakeholders in key leadership competencies, accompanied by specific comments when applicable:

  • Increased strategic thinking – 80% of the coaching clients and key stakeholders reported significant improvement in the leader’s application of strategic thinking to opportunities and challenges.
  • Increased confidence – A high percentage of the respondents noticed increased confidence, executive presence, and composure. “Thanks to coaching, the self-confidence of each of the emerging leaders soared. Each one became more decisive and sensitive to how they impacted the people around them. Critically, these leaders also became more willing to address poor leadership or behavior in others; their coaching showed them the ‘right path’ and they weren’t willing to accept anything less in the workplace.”
  • Leading Others – Over 90% of the clients reported improvement in leading and mentoring direct reports. “The coaching has made me think about my leadership role more intentionally and this has helped our faculty get through a very challenging time with the Covid19 epidemic. Carolyn helped me to see their trust in me as an asset that I can utilize to help when we are asking faculty to do difficult work for the good of the institution.”
  • Career Advancement – “Following the completion of coaching, the leader I referred to you was promoted to a newly-created position in a higher-ranking office, built her own team, took on a much larger portfolio of responsibilities, and was recognized by leadership for her accountability and innovativeness.”
  • Positive reputation – Key stakeholders noted a strong return-on-investment due to the positive impact on the leader’s reputation with customers, within the department and throughout the organization.

The results also identified the specific approaches used by the coach that they found effective:

  • Focus on strengths: “I felt seen by Carolyn. In her own quiet way, she helped me identify strengths I was underutilizing and encouraged me to think bigger and aim higher in my goals for my team and the faculty. After working with her, I now feel excited about exercising my leadership in areas that are important to me like diversity, inclusion, and equity.”
  • Provide support and suggestions: “As I was trying to find my footing in a new role with greater responsibility, she was both a sounding board and a support, validating my observations, encouraging my decision-making, and providing ideas and strategies for addressing certain problems.

The surveys were invaluable in identifying ways in which my coaching services could be improved, including:

  • Helping clients build their capacity to assume more responsibilities
  • Increasing their collaboration skills with peers and stakeholders
  • Helping leaders develop their mentorship abilities more fully
  • Requesting key stakeholders to be kept in the loop as to how the leader was doing in their development process

I have integrated these into my coaching practice, in the effort to continually improve my coaching effectiveness.

What should you expect from coaching, and what should you look for in a coach? Use this data to help you consider areas of leadership in which you’d like to improve and consider the approaches and qualities in a coach that will be most useful to you!


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