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You step up – I’ll step back: the coaching approach to becoming a leader

The Coaching Approach to Leadership

=mc Director Laura Slater blogs on the benefits of using the ‘coach approach’ with your teams.

Here at =mc we know that stepping into leadership is a big deal. As you become more senior in an organisation, an exciting aspect of moving up is being able to actually set the direction for your team or department – and the organisation.

However, this is not easy to do. A big challenge experienced by participants on our leadership courses is that they continue to find themselves getting sucked into day to day operational tasks, rather than focussing on the more strategic elements of their work. Often there is no time left to progress these bigger picture items.

So how do we create opportunities to step back and give ourselves the time and headspace we need to lead?

One of the most powerful solutions to this conundrum is to adopt a coaching approach with your staff, where you focus on asking questions to help them find a solution, rather than telling them what to do. This helps to build your confidence in their capability, and their confidence in themselves to solve problems. They then feel enabled to sort things out with much less – and even, in some cases – no input from you.


For example, an experienced team member comes to you and asks how to find out a crucial piece of information. Traditionally you might either:

A. Give them the answer they need so they can get on. 


B. Realise it will be quicker and easier if you do it yourself, and take the task on for them. 

If you chose A then you are one of life’s Guru’s, helping and supporting others with their queries. If you feel you prefer B then you are a Rescuer for your team, taking on those things you feel could be done quicker or better by yourself.

While both these approaches support your team, it also means they are dependant on you for solutions to problems, clarity on queries and sign-off for activities. And you are forever stuck in the day-to-day.

Using coaching, on the other hand, means you draw out the skills and knowledge of others – and they learn to think for themselves. This is the basis of John Whitmore’s GROW model, which we use with managers and leaders. Rather than giving someone the solution straight away, ask questions, help them to reflect and think through the problem. That way they develop the skills to come up with their own answer.

If we go back to our earlier example, using a coaching approach you would:

C. Ask your team member to list options, including how they might find out the information they need. Follow this up by prompting them to consider which of option would be best.

The benefits of a coaching approach are:

  1. It promotes a learning organisation by enabling new solutions to be put into action.
  2. It promotes individual learning by putting learning into the hands of learner. People become self-reliant and own their successes.
  3. It promotes engagement and retention by empowering teams to put in place their own solutions.

And finally the big advantage for you is that saves time by helping your team members to take on more. They step up – you step back. And now you have the space to focus on the bigger picture.

Want to know more?

Our leadership or coaching programmes – available in-house – will provide you with practical tools and techniques to develop a range of leadership skills or focus on developing your confidence as an effective coach. Call us on 020 7978 1516 to discuss options, or view our management and leadership training programmes online.

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Laura Slater

About Laura Slater

Laura specialises in project governance and management, as well as leadership and management development. Laura has 8 years’ experience in the charity sector, in particular developing and delivering regional...