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The Competitive Advantage of Leadership Coaching

Successful leaders can coach team members to gain a professional edge.

Amy Hirschi / Unsplash
Source: Amy Hirschi / Unsplash

I’m truly in awe of leaders who remain agile despite a barrage of crazy, unforeseen obstacles: The global pandemic. A talent shortage. An economic crisis. The hits keep coming, but these adversity ninjas somehow continue pivoting and finding innovative ways to survive.

The problem is that even the best leaders are still struggling with major challenges right now. I hear about these over and over from the global executives I work with.

First, they are forced to do more with less. Efficiency is critical, and their often-smaller teams have to perform consistently at an optimal level. Second, they have to find a way to hang onto their top talent. They don’t have the time or the money for frequent turnover and an endless cycle of recruiting, onboarding, and training.

As I’ve watched this complex evolution in the business environment, one thing has become increasingly clear: The most successful leaders are coaching their team members to gain a competitive advantage.

  • Leaders who make coaching a top priority create exceptional teams that are consistently positioned to meet and exceed goals.
  • Leaders who invest time in coaching have employees who are more engaged, more productive, and more likely to remain with the company.
  • Leaders who excel at coaching others are recognized as unique assets and often experience a dramatic acceleration of their own career success.

The business case for coaching is rock solid. That’s precisely why I felt compelled to write a book about this topic.

Understanding the Basics

Despite the data that prove the benefits of coaching, I still find managers (especially new ones) who express anxiety about the process. They may not feel qualified: They never even coached their kids’ softball teams. Or they worry that their introverted personalities don’t align with the image of the charismatic, high-energy coach we’ve all gotten from movies and TV shows.

The main point I emphasize with these clients is that anyone can be a successful coach if they commit to learning the basics and applying them with a disciplined approach.

While all leaders bring their own unique flavor to the process, the most effective coaches have some key things in common: They know the fundamentals. They have a thorough understanding of the best practices in coaching, including the skills and attributes required to build mutually beneficial relationships with direct reports. They also make use of a proven coaching model that guides them through the general steps to keep the process on track.

Perhaps more importantly, talented leaders adopt a specific mindset that gives them an edge in their coaching, particularly when they encounter unexpected twists or the inevitable curveball. The truth is that every person is different, and every situation is different. There’s no set-in-stone formula that gets applied over and over in the exact same way.

Successful coaches are prepared for those unknowns with a mental toolkit filled with phrases and questions they can use so they aren’t stumbling for the right words. Having the proper frame of mind and the necessary tools gives these leaders the capacity to adjust quickly and handle whatever coaching challenges present themselves.

Practicing in Advance

As with many things in life—skiing, baking the perfect soufflé, or performing open-heart surgery—there’s a relatively big leap involved to go from knowing the facts about coaching to putting them into action.

I encourage clients to get the practice they need by thinking through detailed, real-world scenarios or doing role-play exercises with a trusted peer. That’s one of the best ways to build those mental coaching muscles and polish their instincts for making in-the-moment choices that get the best results. What would I say in that instance? How should I respond? What can I do to increase my influence and generate a better outcome? This type of preparation significantly shortens the learning curve.

Putting It All Together

Managers who invest the time to learn about the science of leadership coaching and then practice it consistently will reap the benefits—and not just in terms of productive employees and bottom-line impact. Leaders who excel in coaching also report that it’s the most rewarding and meaningful part of their role.

Whether you’re just getting started as a leader-coach or you want to step up your game, you’ll quickly discover that coaching gives you a real purpose that takes you beyond the daily grind of meeting deadlines, putting out fires, and reaching goals. It can help you reconnect with the reasons you pursued a leadership position in the first place.

Becoming a successful leader-coach could be one of the most fulfilling parts of your career, while also allowing you to create top-performing teams and position yourself as a highly-valued person within your company. In the current business environment of chaos and struggle, that’s a competitive advantage that’s hard to ignore.