What is Leadership Coaching?
At the start of our career, we spend most of our energy trying to be the best individual contributor.
As the years pass and your responsibility grows, you find yourself managing.
However, if you haven’t received formal leadership training, you may wonder: Am I leading the right way and applying management practices?
The sudden but long-lasting transition to hybrid and remote work also means that what you have learned about leadership may be less relevant now.
Our recent research, “What hybrid and remote employees really want,” shows that people have distinctive expectations of their leaders, especially regarding autonomy, inclusion, and recognition.
As a remote or hybrid manager, this may be the right time for you to turn to a leadership coach.
Leadership coaching (or executive coaching) is a partnership between a leader and a coach in which the coach helps the leader grow their leadership skills.
“Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance.” - Sir John Whitmore, from Coaching for Performance.
For those considering a leadership coach, I dove into the wise thoughts of top leadership experts and gathered all you need to know to level up your leadership game today!
Benefits of Leadership Coaching
The cost of a leadership coach is not little, so let me lay down the benefits for you upfront.
According to Dr. Scott Dust, a leadership researcher from the University of Cincinnati, leadership coaching helps managers:
- Have higher self-efficacy: To be more confident in their abilities.
- Become more motivated: To have a sense of agency and know how to create change.
- Grow an optimistic mindset: To not dwell on past mistakes, appreciate the present, and see the future as full of possibilities.
- Develop resilience: To recover quickly and effectively from drawbacks by seeking helpful resources and managing the situation.
What’s more interesting is that the above attributes are considered relatively stable over time, but you can still significantly improve them with a coach!
All of this leads to higher job satisfaction, commitment, and better job performance among the managers being coached.
Moreover, when you become a better leader, your team thrives too.
When Sounding Board surveyed more than 400 human resources professionals, they found that leadership coaching can:
- Increase the team’s engagement and satisfaction.
- Improve team members’ perceptions of the quality of leadership.
- Help the team become more productive.
The Power of Having Leadership Coaching
Even if you think you can be more self-sufficient, more motivated, optimistic, and resilient on your own by reading good leadership books, remote work books or taking remote management training courses (and I believe that you can), a leadership coach still brings certain unmatchable advantages.
According to Adrian Furnham, a leadership professor at Norwegian Business School, a leadership coach is a valuable:
- Confessor: Whom leaders can talk to about concerns they have to keep confidential from their teams.
- Sounding board: For leaders to share their insights and call out the flaws in their thinking.
- Outsider: An unbiased point of view to help leaders in decision-making.
Besides, in the words of leadership expert Carol Schultz, a good coach will hold you accountable for your goals.
If you say you want to be a better manager today, your coach will make sure you do it today!
To get up to speed with the latest leadership trends, see our overview of 2024 leadership conferences.
Remote Leadership Skills to Focus on in Coaching
Whether or not you will succeed with a leadership coach depends greatly on your needs.
Do you know the skills you want to be coached on?
Similarly, if you’re a hybrid or remote manager and want to coach your team members, know their expectations.
“Coaching is not therapy. Before hiring a Coach, Coachees should clarify why they want to be coached and how they believe a Coach could help support them in meeting their personal and professional goals.” - Brandi Nicole Johnson
I put together a list of the five most valuable skills in hybrid and remote work for your reference.
When it comes to remote work principles, GitLab is an excellent place to learn from.
GitLab is one of the world’s largest remote companies, with more than 1500 workers located in 65 countries.
In its How to be a great remote manager guide, the first quality listed is self-awareness.
A remote manager must be highly aware of their working and communication styles.
Moreover, the manager should communicate those preferences clearly to the team (can be in the form of a personal user manual) so they can collaborate without ambiguity.
Self-awareness also helps remote managers realize when their efforts to keep track of a project have become micromanagement, which is detrimental in remote work.
GitLab’s CEO, Sid Sijbrandij, ensures everyone knows he takes self-awareness seriously by including his flaws in his user manual:
“When in a rush, I will jump to conclusions, it is OK to ask ‘can we take more time to discuss this.” - Sid Sijbrandij, GitLab’s CEO
2. Emotional intelligence
Earlier this year, thought leaders of the digital economy gathered at the Thinker-Fest 2023 to discuss the best ways to manage a partially or fully remote team.
- Be purposeful about interactions: Create space for small talk, design check-in points, and make sure your team has good well-being.
- Read the room in an online meeting: Is your team consensus about a decision, or have some members slid to a side chat to express their frustration?
- Use technology to highlight humanity: Video calls allow us to walk into our colleagues’ houses and meet their children or pets. Those are shots of humanity that leaders should encourage in remote work.
3. Cultural intelligence
In the words of Bernard Marr, a world-renowned futurist and thought leader in business and technology, cultural intelligence is the ability to relate to people from backgrounds very different from yours.
He also notes that cultural intelligence is a crucial predictor of success.
“Our perspective is increasingly global, and intentionally diversified against one worldview, one cultural lens, and one sociopolitical outlook.” - 37signals
As stated by future-of-work researcher Raghu Krishnamoorthy, General Electric’s former CHRO, remote workers need their managers to be in the game but not in the field.
This means that the manager micro-understands each team member's scope of work (and also the state of well-being!) but does not interfere too much.
Micro-understanding is shown through:
- Ruthless prioritization and clarification: The manager works with the team to understand detailed priorities and roles, leaving no room for ambiguity.
- Problem-solving: Remote leaders need to scan constantly for obstacles and set up an alert mechanism for the team to promptly report back when they hit a blocker.
- Check-ins: To understand the team’s challenges and show compassion.
5. Low-context communication
When we can only collaborate with our coworkers on virtual platforms, most of our communication will be in writing and not speaking.
Consequently, according to Darren Murph, former Head of Remote at GitLab, hybrid and remote workers must master low-context communication.
Low-context communication means that “you communicate with a very high degree of precision and detail, such that someone joining a project six months in could get up to speed simply by reading."
How to Find Your First Leadership Coach
Before we get into how to find the right coach, I think it’s worth mentioning that being the right client matters, too.
As Adrian Furnham, a leadership professor at Norwegian Business School, puts it, 40% of coaching success comes from a client’s “readiness for coaching”.
Being ready to be coached means you’re willing and able to learn, change, and embrace challenges.
If you think you’re ready, let’s get to it!
1. Signs that you need a coach
How do you know when you need a coach?
Irina Cozma, who has coached hundreds of Fortune 500 executives, and Yasmina Khelifi, a project management expert, propose three signs to consider:
- You feel frustrated and want to achieve more
- You want to switch to a new career
- You don't know what your career looks like in the near future
2. Find a leadership coach through your network
Once you make up your mind about finding a coach, the next step is to find a coach.
Before you look anywhere far, Cozma and Khelifi suggest that the optimal way to find a coach is actually through referrals.
You can reach out within your network and ask if anyone can recommend a coach that they had a positive experience with.
3. Find a leadership coach through professional platforms
If no one you know has worked with a coach before, there are multiple coach listing websites you can check out:
Reputable coaching accreditation organizations:
- International Association of Coaching
- International Coaching Federation
- European Mentoring and Coaching Council
Online coaching services:
Sophia Lee from Culture Amp also combined a comprehensive list of 22 leadership coaches recommended by Culture Amp's community here. Most of them are open to remote coaching and can travel if needed.
The cost of a professional coach may range from US$50 to US$250 per hour, depending on the coach's experience and certification.
4. Questions to ask potential leadership coaches
When you have narrowed down a list of potential coaches, you can start evaluating them by reading some of their articles or scheduling a discovery call with them.
- Can you tell me about your typical coaching client?
- What education, certification and advanced training do you possess?
- How do you stay on top of the latest trends and industry best practices?
- What support do you provide to your clients between sessions?
- Where can I see verified testimonials from previous executive coaching clients?
I find it interesting that Dr. Elliott also notes that the best coaches don't necessarily have the most social media followers.
“Top coaches spend much of their time off of social media, as they are busy serving clients and honing their skills.” - Dr. Kyle Elliott
If you want some more in-depth questions that may take your potential coaches off guard, below are some suggestions from leadership expert Carol Schultz:
- What are your previous successes and failures, and what you have learned from them?
- Are you a "subject matter" expert?
- How do you hold your clients accountable? Can you describe your style of coaching?
5. Evaluate and choose a leadership coach
After you have listened to all the potential coaches, reflect on their qualities with your needs and choose the one that matches you the most.
The Start of Your Coaching Journey
The way we work is undeniably changing, with hybrid and remote options now commonplace and cutting-edge innovations introduced daily.
Every leader and leader-to-be should be able to access appropriate training and coaching opportunities to get even better at their jobs.
Whether you seek more fulfillment, advice for people management challenges, or progress toward goals, coaching helps cut through the distractions and provides hands-on knowledge from the experienced.
I hope this guide has answered many of your questions about leadership coaching so that you can start your coaching journey today and become the best version of yourself as a leader!