Dan Beverly

Of Daniel Goleman’s 6 leadership styles, the coaching style (along with the authoritative style) has been shown to be the most effective over the long term.

Of course, the best leadership is characterised not by having one dominant style (which we all have) over another; but by being able to adapt our style of leadership to the context.

Here are 12 changes you can make to up your coaching leadership style for those moments when thinking, learning and ongoing performance are the priority.

1. Listen more

We could all stand to listen more. No two brains are wired the same; and no two people see the world quite the same. Listening and observing are the only ways we get insight into another person’s thinking.

So listen generously and for potential. Listen for meaning and at all levels. And listen without judgement. You’ll hear so much more. And be in a much better position to help the other person’s thinking.

2. Speak less

If we’re listening more, we’re also speaking less. And again, this is in service to the other person’s thinking: nothing stops an in-train thought like being asked another question.

So use the silence. And when you do speak, speak with purpose and impact by following these 3 rules: be succinct; be specific; be generous.

3. Have questions be the answer

People don’t develop nearly as well when they’re told the answer. And people don’t commit to a course of action nearly as much when they’re instructed to do something.

Let people make their own connections by asking the question. Have your questions be open and exploratory. Avoid asking “why” questions. And always start with the vision, then the plan, then the action.

One cautionary note, here: in conversation, even a coaching-style dialogue, people expect input too. So ask questions, get their ideas first. But also listen-out for when someone is really stuck and asking for input.

4. Ask about solutions

A coaching style is characterised by a “self-directed” solutions-focus. So ask, don’t tell. And focus on solutions, not problems.

Problem thinking only reinforces those circuits and finds more problems. Instead, get curious about solutions. The more you ask, the closer the solution will become.

5. Provide challenge and stretch

When practising deeper-level listening, you’ll start hearing faulty thinking and limiting beliefs. When you spot these, challenge such thinking and beliefs: they’re blocking progress.

Challenge is about removing obstacles. Stretch is about building on positive visions and plans. Ask how much more stretch could be added and it still be possible. Our brains love to be stretched.

6. Keep coming back to the big picture

In a coaching-style dialogue, as coach you own the process. Your counterpart, as coachee, owns the content. With all the deep thinking you’re helping induce, your coachee can easily get lost in the content and lose sight of the big picture. Your job is to bring it back on track.

Have a desired outcome to every exchange; and keep tying the conversation back to that outcome and back to the wider context.

7. Stop driving, start developing

Driving is when we take all the responsibility in a dialogue – and so leave the other person with none. Driving comes in many guises: from suggesting and asking (“why don’t you …”); through to instructing and demanding (“if you don’t …”). From a brain-based perspective, this is not the most effective approach.

Instead, focus on developing others. Facilitate an insight in the other person and generate their commitment to an action of their design.

8. Stop over-adding value

I’ve written about this before: the leader’s burning need to add value to everything. But every time we tweak, upgrade or otherwise improve on someone else’s idea, we make it a little less their idea – and a little more our own.

So really challenge yourself to leave it alone. Accept their idea and get behind it.

9. Prefer feedforward to feedback

“Can I give you some feedback?” is status-threatening and can put others in an un-resourceful state. Instead, invite others to feedforward: to give feedback on themselves. It’s status-rewarding.

Ask: what did you do well? And: what will you do differently, next time?

10. Use acknowledgement

Most of us are our own worst critic. Add to that the regular criticism we get throughout the day: deserved and undeserved, transparent and veiled, actual and imagined. It’s fair to say we spend a huge amount of time feeling criticised – and how useful is that?

Acknowledgement is the counterbalance, focusing on the positive rather than the negative. Ken Blanchard in The One Minute Manager captures is beautifully: acknowledgement is about “catching people doing things right”. It’s a powerful way to move people forward. Look for opportunities to acknowledge those around you.

11. Leave things properly complete

A great coaching-style conversation leaves time at the end for “completion”: a graceful conclusion to the dialogue. Completion gives an opportunity to reflect on the conversation as a whole, pull together any insights and check back in against the originally intended outcome. It also makes it easier for both of you to return to your day.

Completion need only be the briefest exchange. “Thanks for bringing this to me. It feels like we’ve really moved this forward. Anything else you want to say to bring things to a close?”

12. Practise

Just like coaching, a coaching leadership style is perfected with intentional practise. And no need to force the issue: opportunities for a coaching approach are plentiful.

. . .

A coaching approach to leadership

A leader’s qualities are shown in being able to adapt their style to suit the situation. And clearly there are times when a coaching approach (at least, alone) just won’t do.

But for those times when the quality of a performance or the learning from the experience is important, a coaching approach will do so much more for those around you. And as a leader, isn’t that one of your primary charges?


  • Daniel Goleman et al., Primal Leadership (Harvard: HBR Press, 2013).
Dan Beverly

Dan Beverly is a leadership and performance coach helping high-calibre, high-performing professional women embrace the pivotal career moments.

To work with Dan, go online to book your complimentary “Session Zero” – and start capitalising on your pivotal career moment, today.