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  • Writer's pictureStefano Calvetti

Coaching as a Leadership Style: Starting Tips to Implement it Effectively

When I started my process to become a coach, a few months before my official discharge from the military, while learning new skills and tools, I often found myself thinking: “I wish someone had taught me this earlier!”.

I understood that some of the same tools and skills that are considered essential for coaches could be very useful for leaders, too.

The fact is that while the "command and control" leadership style is often prevalent even in non-military organizations, coaching offers the foundation for a distinct and underutilized style.

An illustration showing three people standing in plant pots, symbolizing growth and development through coaching as a leadrship style. A hand is watering one of the people with a watering can. The individuals are dressed in business casual attire, holding notebooks and briefcases. The background is simple and clean with a soft color palette, emphasizing the nurturing and supportive aspects of coaching.
Coaching leadership style can foster greater autonomy, creativity, and engagement among team members.

I found that many of the skills and tools utilized in coaching were also highly relevant and valuable for leaders, shedding light on the potential of coaching as a growth-focused leadership model. It was an A-HA moment for me.

The empowering and collaborative nature of coaching holds great promise for any organization.

Coaching can positively shift organizational dynamics by fostering greater autonomy, creativity, and engagement among team members.

As a matter of fact, many enterprises, companies, and even military organizations have already implemented leadership development programs in which coaching is taught as a leading style and tool to support personal and professional growth.


Let’s put things in order by starting with a few necessary definitions.

A leadership style refers to how a leader guides, motivates and manages individuals or groups in an organizational setting. It encapsulates strategies, methods, and behavior patterns to achieve objectives, foster team cohesion, and handle challenges. Every leader will become more confident using the leadership style they find suitable, despite the fact that there is no such thing as an all-weather style.

Coaching is a personal growth-oriented methodology in which the coach and the coachee establish a unique and confidential relationship, working together to achieve the positive transformation the coachee seeks. The coach’s role is to facilitate self-awareness on behalf of the coachee through a “learn WITH me” approach, not “learn FROM me” (typical of a mentor or counselor).

The coach uses active listening, demonstrates empathy, and asks open-ended questions to facilitate self-reflection and hold the coachee accountable for achieving set goals. The “power” of coaching is based on neuroplasticity, that is, of the possibility -at any age- to recalibrate neural connections and learn to do new things differently. The fact that the coachee is the author of their transformation makes these changes remarkably resilient over time.

Thus, when leadership and coaching intertwine, leaders focus on their team members’ personal and professional growth, facilitating their hire learning and development by asking open-ended questions, providing feedback, and offering guidance. 

Why adopt a coaching leadership style

The power of leading as a coach resides in many advantages the leader, the team members, and the whole organization could benefit from.

A study conducted at Wayne State University concluded that “Teams led by a directive leader initially outperform those led by an empowering leader. However, despite the early performance, teams led by an empowering leader experience higher performance improvement over time because of a higher level of team learning, coordination, empowerment, and mental model development.

First and foremost, the coaching style encourages individuals to think critically and develop solutions. This empowerment fosters creativity and innovation, as team members are encouraged to seek new challenges, experiment with new ideas, and learn from their mistakes. At the same time, it creates a comprehensive sense of ownership since every individual will see their contribution valued.

Secondly, coaching leaders actively listen and invest in their team members’ growth, leading to higher levels of engagement. They feel supported, which boosts their morale and commitment to the organization. A coaching style increases team members’ engagement, motivation, and performance by showing them that the leader cares about their growth, supports their autonomy, and recognizes their achievements.

Furthermore, it is inherently tailored to the individual’s needs. It allows leaders to understand each team member’s unique strengths and areas for improvement, leading to more effective and personalized development plans. Team members will also discover their strengths, weaknesses, goals, and solutions rather than imposing the leader’s views or directions on them.

If we look at the effect of leading with a coaching mentality on the relationship dimension, it creates a foundation of trust and mutual respect between leaders and their teams. Trust is the “magic” bond in a team. It is the cornerstone to creating a psychologically safe environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their opinions, ideas, and concerns without fear of being judged, rejected, or punished by others. There is no such thing as burnout or “quiet quitting” there.

At its core, leading by coaching means putting an effort so that every team member is a leader on their own. As Simon Sinek observes, “When a leader has the humility to distribute power across the organization, the strength of the company becomes less dependent on one person and is thus better able to survive.”

The benefits of using coaching to manage a team go beyond the team members. Leaders themselves can enhance their skills and competencies by expanding their perspectives and improving their emotional intelligence.

Where to start

You do not need a coaching certificate to lead as a coach. It is mostly a matter of using this style as much as possible to understand how to master it.

The ideal starting point for being a coaching leader is learning to listen actively.

When asking a question, most people are caught in distracting thoughts or activities, keeping their attention not on the person talking to them but on something else. Given that science has proven that multitasking is an unproductive practice, listening to a person talk requires undivided attention.

Listening is an all-encompassing experience requiring full presence and attention. It is a form of art that allows one to decipher underlying emotions, values, and intentions, thereby facilitating deep human connections. Listening builds bridges between hearts by recognizing and appreciating diverse viewpoints and feelings.

As they teach to professional coaches, there are three levels of listening:

  • Level 1 (internal listening): it applies when the focus is primarily internal, on one’s thoughts, feelings, or agenda. At this level, individuals pay attention to their experiences, opinions, or reactions relating to what the other person is saying. Alternatively, they could prepare their response, interrupt, or give advice. This form of listening can be limiting, distracting, and disrespectful to the other person.

  • Level 2 (focused listening): it relates to people listening intently to the other person, with curiosity, empathy, and attention. They put aside their thoughts, feelings, or agenda and focus on understanding the other person’s perspective, emotions, and needs. They ask open-ended questions, reflect on what they hear, and provide constructive feedback.

  • Level 3 (global listening): a person listening at level 3 focuses on the other person in the context of their surroundings. They pay attention to the content of the communication and the meta-communication, such as body language, tone of voice, pauses, and hesitations. They can also notice how the environment interacts with the speaker, their mood, energy, and the situation’s dynamics. They sense the underlying themes, patterns, and opportunities from the conversation.

To build rapport, trust, and collaboration and help the other person learn and grow, a leader needs to practice level 2 and 3 listening, allowing the other person to express themselves fully and being curious about what they are saying (and what they are not saying).

Until next week

Before jumping to more tips on how to implement coaching as a leadership style, even if you are not a coach, take a week to experiment and have fun with the different levels of listening.

I invite you to try all three types to really understand the consistent difference in results and the impact you and the interlocutor will experience.

In the meantime, if you have any inquiries, feel free to write an email to


This blog post and the next one have been written consulting the following resources:

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