Newsletter #459 – Leadership Coaching

This weekend I plan to be on the west coast teaching a graduate course on Leadership Coaching. The books on my shelf give vague and conflicting descriptions of what leadership coaching involves. But from my experience leadership coaching includes a minimum of three components.

Leadership coaching is a process by which leaders and emerging leaders receive coaching and, as a result, improve in their competence as leaders, as career builders and as well-functioning human beings. Christian leadership coaching often facilitates greater spiritual growth and maturity. In his book The Next Generation Leader, Pastor Andy Stanley writes: “You will never maximize your potential in any area without coaching. It is impossible. You may be good. You may even be better than everyone else. But…. to be the best leader you can be, you must enlist the help of others…. You need a leadership coach.”

Second, leadership coaching teaches leaders and potential leaders to develop coaching abilities to be used in relating to others. From my perspective, coaching is a set of unique skills that are acquired, even though they overlap with management and therapy skills. Professional colleagues and students trained in counseling often assume that all trained counselors automatically know how to coach. My students quickly learn otherwise.

Third, leadership coaching is the art of using the methods of coaching to lead others. In an age when top-down, micro-managing leadership appears to be of minimum effectiveness, many people respond more effectively to leaders who know how to use coaching as a means for leadership. This is especially true if one leads younger people whose life perspectives often differ from those of us who are older.

Coaching is not some shining new method that solves all our problems. Coaching has limitations and undoubtedly is less effectiveness than some of its fans proclaim. But coaching, including leadership coaching, provides a set of skills that build on centuries-old principles which apply unusually well to the twenty-first century. That’s what my students are learning this weekend, in a class intended to be more like a coaching experience than a series of dull lectures from a visiting professor.

What is your view of coaching? And how do you view leadership coaching? Please comment.


  1. As a pastor and a coach I enjoyed your insights. I agree that the skills are a great match for my generation and the generations following. I wonder where mentoring and coaching meet. Some coaching reject mentoring completely. I see a need to bring both together but want to find the right balance.

    Where is the line?


  2. I work in a corporate environment and I feel some of the managers can use leadership coaching to better improve how they may manage their employees.
    Also with that, they would be able to better enable their employees for the tasks that need to be done.

    The managers having themselves being coached would be better able to coach their employees making a better and more productive work environment.

    I do not see this in my work environment as the micro managment style seems to be the norm with some of the managment here.


    1. Your comments are on target but so is your observation that top-down control kinds of leadership still rule. That is sad (and often indicates leader insecurity) although sometimes top-down decisions are needed on occasion.


  3. Lately I have been thinking about my leadership coaching in terms of closing the skill/character gap. Or as Tim Keller describes it the spiritual gift/fruit of the spirit gap. A leader might be very gifted/skilled in a particular area like communication, but does his character/fruit support that skill in a complementary way. This requires reflection about what kind of leader the person wants to be. Keller observes that many Christian leaders are very skilled and have a certain kind of success, but falter later in their careers because they have not developed character/fruit.


      1. I heard Tim Keller talk about this idea of the gift/fruit gap in a podcast.

        It is a recording of a D.Min. class at Reformed Seminary that Tim taught with Edmund Clowney. The podcast has several hours of great content, but unfortunately I can’t remember which track has this discussion. if I find it I will post another reply here.

        I have not read “The Dark Side of Leadership” but it looks interesting i will have to pick it up. Thanks for the recommendation.

  4. I have enjoyed following your work for over 25 years and appreciate your thoughtful perspectives. I’m a full-time executive coach and leadership development advisor for a large corporation. I also teach leadership coaching for a Christian coach training organization and in the D.Min. program at a seminary. I agree that coaching is more effective for leadership development than any other modality because it encompasses both “being” and “doing” while adressing real-world challenges. What many leadership coaches don’t realize though is that since leaders continue to develop over their lifetimes, it is important for coaches to understand the differing needs of leaders in each stage of development and during the transitions between those stages.


    1. I love your post – obviously from somebody who has been honing your skills for a long time.

      Can you help me? I have agreed to teach a graduate course in leadership coaching. I have maybe 10 books on this topic; none is very good. Some use leadership in the book title and do not even mention it in the book. Here are two questions:

      1. What are the best textbooks in leadership coaching?
      2. What do I need to read or do to learn more about the development of leaders (and the relevance of this to coaching)? I can’t recall reading about this in the books on my shelf or in the ages of magazines like Harvard Business Review.



  5. I’ve been wondering how mentoring and coaching differ. Also, how does coaching differ from encouraging — not at all meaning a pat on the back every now and again, but a life on life style of deep and sincere encouraging like was commanded of Moses toward Joshua?


    1. This is difficult to answer in a short space. In my coaching classes I spend at least an hour on these differences. Encouragement is a method used in both coaching and mentoring. In mentoring the mentor is an expert in what the protege needs to learn. In coaching the coach is an expert in asking the right questions and letting the client set the agenda and think through his or her direction. That is a quick answer


  6. Gary,
    I enjoyed our live conversation and decided to post a few thoughts here for others who are following this blog post.

    I define leadership coaching as coaching individuals who are currently in leadership roles who also desire to increase their leadership capacity. When I coach Christian executives, I take into account their stage of development as a leader so that I am aware of what is likely challenging them during their current stage and what they may be facing in the near future. I have spent many years studying the types of events that God uses to shape the character of leaders. Therefore, when I coach, I draw upon that body of research to support them. I believe God is at work in the life of every leader and my role as the coach is to help the leader notice what God has been doing, is doing, and may be doing in the future to provide additional context for their immediate challenges.

    On a related topic that emerged in these blog comments, I agree that there are significant differences between the modalities of mentoring, coaching, consulting, and teaching. The differences are the degree to which each modality is standardized or customized and whether the interaction relies primarily on the support person asking questions or providing answers. All four types of developmental support are important, but they result in different outcomes, so choosing which modality is best for a certain situation is critical to success. It is also important to note that one support person may be qualified to provide all four types of support or may not be, so multiple support individuals may be needed to achieve the desired results.


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