The Coach Approach


Many organisations have adopted the practice of coaching to support the engagement, development and performance of their employees. According to research by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), 83% of organisations surveyed plan to extend the scope of their managers and leaders using coaching skills during the next five years (see references). With the use of coaching skills by managers and leaders now forming a significant sector of the field of coaching, this marks an interesting trend pointing toward a more sustained and mainstream shift in the focus of leadership development and the range of skills expected from leaders today and in the future.

This already noticeable trend is set against the backdrop of an increasingly VUCA environment, accelerated and perpetuated by globally felt events such as COVID-19. Homeworking, remote teams, virtual organisations and challenged economies mean that most organisations need to be placing a high priority on how they can not only survive the current situation (and we know that many are not surviving) but ideally even Build Back Better.

Previously, I have written about Business as Unusual and how organisations that survive and even thrive through this period, are focussed on how they can rapidly adapt to the new environment and circumstances, mobilising their employees to get business flowing again. Critical to this, is the leaders’ ability to engage, motivate and develop employees to adapt and learn and apply themselves to the best of their abilities, so that the collective impact is enough to turn things around, bring the organisation back to life and potentially enable significant improvements in how the organisation operates and performs.

The positive impact of coaching within organisations and particularly the use of a coach approach by managers and leaders is becoming well documented. I have previously shared some of these positive outcomes and benefits as part of the Coaching Culture Series. Here I'll focus more specifically on the Coach Approach by managers and leaders in organisations. I"ll be taking a look into how this approach is defined and differentiated between other roles and leadership styles and will share some ideas for ways to evaluate how a coach approach is being deployed within your organisation.

Firstly, it is important to mention that a coach approach by managers and leaders is different in several ways to coaching services provided by internal or external professional coaches. Areas such as structure, formality, contracting, confidentiality, training and agenda are examples where these differences may be noticed. The essence of a coach approach is where the leader has engaged in learning, developing and implementing coaching skills as part of their leadership role. This means that coaching becomes an integral part of the mix of skills the leader can display and apply, based on what is most called for in any given situation. A well-known and useful model to exemplify this skill-mix is the Situational Leadership Model by Blanchard and Hersey.


Situational Leadership Model, Blanchard and Hersey

In this way, coaching is not viewed as the golden panacea of leadership, rather it is integrated into a range of skills the leader can bring to conversations with employees and colleagues in order to leverage the best outcome and also to nurture the relationship with that individual or team at the same time.

The coach approach is defined by certain characteristics and principles that can also help the leader to identify if that approach is most suitable. These include, and are not limited to, things such as:

  • The leader believes in the capability of the other person.

  • The leader is able and willing to allow the other person a level of freedom, autonomy and empowerment to approach their work and act with choice.

  • The task is one where the leader wants to encourage initiative by the other person.

  • The leader is willing and able to invest in building the relationship with the other person and to their ongoing development

In the past, the coaching muscle of the leadership skillset has been typically under-developed, compared to other styles, with many leaders favouring approaches that are perceived to be more time efficient. A lack of time has been one of the most commonly noted barriers for leaders to use coaching skills and yet it is the style that is most effective when it comes to employee motivation, engagement and development. These also happen to be three critical qualities needed for organisations to most successfully navigate current times and challenges.

For those organisations that have realised the benefits of the coach approach, the key now is how to measure, evaluate, recognise and further develop these skills in the leader. A recent white paper from the ICF (see references), outlines some very useful questions that can act as indicators of the use of a coach approach within your organisation:

How often did the manager or leader:

  • ask a question that initiated learning?

  • focus his or her complete attention on the conversation and spontaneously build the relationship with the other person?

  • make an effort to develop a collaborative and trusting relationship?

  • actively listen and reflect on what the other person was or was not saying?

  • use language that was direct?

  • have interactions with the other person that lead to greater awareness, insight or understanding?

  • work with the other person to design actions that will most effectively promote their growth or job performance?

  • work with the other person to plan and set goals that will most effectively promote their growth or job performance?

  • work with the other person to manage their progress and hold them accountable for working toward their career or job performance goals.

In summary, both quantitative and qualitative data indicate that the use of a coach approach positively impacts manager-employee relationships. This in turn promotes employee engagement and this is a vital ingredient of the much-needed connection and commitment that employees feel and exhibit toward their organisation.

References and resources:

Building Strong Coaching Cultures for the Future, research paper by the International Coaching Federation, November 2019


An Exploration of the Coach Approach to Managing and Leading, A White Paper for Managers, Leaders and Professional Coaches, J.A. DiGirolamo and J. T. Tkach (International Coaching Federation)

Tracy Sinclair is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She is also, a trained Coaching Supervisor, Mentor Coach and ICF Assessor. Tracy trains coaches and works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability. She works as an international Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, a leadership development designer and facilitator working with a wide range of organisations. Tracy also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. Tracy has co-authored a book: Becoming a Coach: The Essential ICF Guide published in 2020 which provides a comprehensive guide to coaching for coaches at all levels of skill and experience, the psychology that underpins coaching and the updated ICF Core Competency Model. In this same year she founded Coaching with Conscience which exists to have a positive impact on society and our environment through coaching. She was named as one of the Leading Global Coach winners of the Thinkers50 Marshall Goldsmith Awards of 2019. Tracy was the President of the UK ICF from 2013-2014 and has been an ICF Global Board Director since 2016, serving as Treasurer in 2017, Global Chair in 2018 and Immediate Past Global Chair in 2019. She currently serves as a Director at Large on the International Coaching Federation Global Enterprise Board.

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