Leadership Coaching Styles with High Engagement

Gartner’s recent report entitled ‘Top Priorities IT: Leadership Vision for 2021’ has a lot of interesting topics. But one of the most important themes was how management roles were shifting away from commanding and visionary approaches, and towards coaching and democratic leadership.

This should hardly be a surprise, on the tail end of working from home for a year or more, at least for many tech companies. With the full incorporation of technology like Zoom, getting face time with management has never been easier. And the managers who delegated decisions to the correct teams and provided a lot of guidance and coaching to individuals were the ones to shine during the pandemic.

In this article, we’ll cover the leadership coaching styles that have resulted in the highest engagement levels with employees, and how to adopt a company culture that rewards coaching.

GROW is Back

Like a blast from the past, Sir John Whitmore’s GROW model has returned with a vengeance. The rise in coaching and informed democratic team decisions means that asking insightful questions, getting constructive answers, and structuring an action plan that has both practical and educational aspects is one of the most effective high engagement coaching styles.

GROW stands for:

Goal: What do we want to achieve from this project or task?

Reality: If that’s the goal, what resources do we have, and how far away are we from achieving it?

Obstacles or Options: Given our resources and timeline, what are the main things standing in our way? And what scenarios can we come up with to overcome those obstacles?

Way Forward: Now we can establish a course of action, take on any additional education or coaching that we need to get there, and marshal our team based and personal resources to implement a sane plan.

GROW is a way to directly probe the issues that an employee is trying to overcome, and get them the coaching and actual support that they need to achieve their goals. It works quite well in conjunction with Agile, since tasks are already broken down into bite sized chunks, and the reporting mechanisms are analogous to the progressive steps an individual needs to take in order to contribute to the team and project as a whole.

There are some limits to using GROW, based on the context of the coaching taking place. In 2012, Jonathan Passmore and Stefan Cantore mentioned:

“One argument against behavioural-based approaches such as GROW is that their goal nature excludes the potential to explore philosophical aspects of life. Thus GROW may be suited to working in goal-directed areas of sports or business, but may be less well suited to careers conversations, person–role fit or life-coaching conversations where other approaches such as the transpersonal or existential approaches may be more helpful.”

GROW is goal specific. It isn’t meant for the more visionary coaching styles that are required for long term career planning or broad lifestyle changes.

Coaching Has No Metrics Other Than Success

High engagement with staff means that the manager must spend significant time away from clients. Even if they effectively delegate client oriented tasks to members of their team, the optics of ‘choosing’ the team over being an external liaison can be harsh.

The loop that senior management often goes through is as follows: They say that a manager needs to coach more. That manager does so, and their team is more successful. Upon examination, they use the manager’s personal metrics (sales, code contributions, etc.) as promotion and raise criteria. The manager feels punished for doing coaching rather than pumping up their own stats. Everyone backslides into the old way of doing things. Team progress decays.

Before transitioning to high employee engagement leadership coaching styles, the manager should get specific buy-in from senior management and executives: Their year end review and metrics must be based solely on the success of their team.Otherwise, asking a manager to literally tank their metrics and stall their own career to improve the company’s bottom line is unreasonable.

In short, senior executives must value coaching, or coaching will not happen in a significant way.

If nothing else is taken from this article, from Gartner’s studies, and from the leading management training seminars on the market today, the above statement should be burned into the minds of corporate leadership prior to transitioning to coaching oriented management styles.

Coaching Must Be Trained and Accepted

The ‘natural coach’ is a rare thing. Many can manage, but few have the right combination of teaching ability, technique, attitude, and language skills to coach with no training.

Managers should seek out professional courses that offer accredited coach-specific training. Whether that is ICF certification or a respected organization within a specific country, the training must be structured, and the resulting certification recognised and valued in the industry.

Once the management is professionally trained, they can help their teams to best make use of coaching resources… if they aren’t punished for it. The metrics issue can rear its ugly head at the team level as well, if everyone in the organization isn’t onboard with the value of the coaching process. If a given team member’s metrics drop because they take time to receive coaching, that must be factored in when it comes to review time. Otherwise, employees will reject coaching as a career damaging activity. The success of their team and peer assessments must be the main metrics by which a coached employee is judged.

What is the Impact of Coaching?

According to Corry Robertson leadership training, 57% of companies that fully adopted a coaching culture improved their team functions. They also associated that culture with the success of their productivity, employee relations, and leadership training initiatives. There was a 12% bump in the number of employees who considered themselves ‘highly engaged’.


The most difficult hurdle to adopting a leadership coaching style with high engagement is changing how employee and manager metrics are seen. The moment that individual metrics are valued above team performance, coaching culture suffers. Individual metrics punish both the manager doing the coaching and the employees receiving the coaching, which would be a backward policy for any organization seeking high employee engagement.

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