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How can leading with a coaching approach help you and your team?

Benefits of leading with a coaching approach

It’s not unusual now for leaders to engage coaches to help them make sense of the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environments in which they operate. Having found coaching useful themselves, they may wish to adopt a coaching approach in their own teams.

For employees who dislike the ‘command and control’ leadership styles that older generations endured, a leader who coaches may be welcomed as a partner in self- development.

Leaders benefit from conversations in which they are learning from different perspectives in an organisation. They're also increasingly able to rely on an empowered team rather than shouldering decision-making and performance by themselves.

Start-ups and scale-ups in particular benefit from leaders with a coaching approach who can help fast-growing companies become learning organisations of people who ‘evolve or revolve’ rather than ‘rest and vest’.

How might leaders take a coaching approach? And what are the limits to coaching of which leaders should be aware?


Tensions between coaching and performance management

Even where a leader is fully trained and experienced as a coach, there are key considerations as to whether a coaching approach is appropriate. Here are three questions to consider:

Is this a situation that needs me to be Directive or Developmental?

There are times when giving instructions or making suggestions or requests will be appropriate. However, directing others by default or because it feels quicker and easier is rarely the best option: skilful leaders stop and choose when to direct and when to take a coaching approach. Ironically, the more complex and fast-paced the environment, the more one might need to take a step back for better understanding and strategising before charging ahead.

Are we in the right state for coaching? 

If the conditions of mutual trust and respect have been impaired, or are hard to establish, the relationship might not (yet) be able to bear coaching as it requires enough openness to freely share one's thoughts and feelings.

Am I the right person to coach this person?

If habits or patterns of thinking or behaviour are keeping someone stuck, then a deeper and longer coaching engagement may be appropriate. Even if the manager has the coaching skills, their role as manager (which includes assessing performance) may make the disclosure and safety required for this work unfeasible. In which case, a skilful leader may use a coaching approach to create an initial opening for coaching but with another coach.


Pulling the thread of development

Much of the coaching in a leadership or management context focus is ‘performance coaching’, focused on generating ideas and strategies that will get coachees from Point A to Point B.

A popular performance coaching model taught to managers is Sir John Whitmore’s GROW model in which the manager asks questions designed to think through Goal, Reality, Options and Way Forward. GROW model coaching is suitable for coaching ‘on the spot’ or spontaneously and there is usually no agreement for ongoing or deeper coaching.

However, in many cases it is not only new strategies that we need, but new ways of seeing things ourselves and new habits. This developmental coaching digs deeper, takes longer and requires more trust as the coachee is not just working on new ideas and actions but on themselves.  Crucially, untangling issues of identity and self-image require the safety of a non-judgmental relationship, which is hard to achieve in a manager/report scenario for reasons as explored above.

What a manager can do, however, beyond performance coaching, is to start to pull on the threads of development.  By coaching for (self) insight, informed by robust frameworks of how adult development occurs, leaders can gently surface greater self-awareness and create openness to development.


Things you might like to try for yourself

If you’ve never been coached, you may want to experience coaching with one of our wonderful Bamboo Partner coaches: we have flexible packages and options at all levels.

If you are interested in learning how to take a coaching approach as a leader, you may want to join our two-day experiential training programme Leader as Coach.

If you are interested in becoming a Certified Coach and are a HR practitioner or leader and want a programme designed for busy executives rather than beginners, you may want to apply for our certified coach training, Coaching for Development.


Finding your folks

We take heart from the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone and if you want to go far, go together”. Since relationships are the foundation of developmental work, our experiences are curated to create diverse yet aligned cohorts and authentic and meaningful experiences whether within organisations or for individuals seeking development.

If you feel you might be interested in joining us in the future, please sign up for our Possibilities Newsletter to stay informed about what we’re up to.



  1. Leaders who can take a coaching approach benefit themselves, their teams and their organisations

  2. Being aware of different types of coaching and when it may, or may not, be appropriate to coach is key

  3. Coaching for insight takes people beyond performance and creates openings for development

  4. Consider coaching or coach trainings designed for leaders and HR practitioners to learn more

  5. Find companions for your developmental journey

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