Does leadership coaching improve organizational performance?

The economic downturn that emerged from 2009, led to unprecedented challenges in global competition, rapidly changing markets, and stakeholder expectations that resulted in organizations tightening their budgets.  As companies tried to do more with less, employees were being asked to take on greater demands and carry more stress in the midst of declining morale and loss of productivity during uncertain times.

While redundancies were made and early retirements offered to senior leaders and middle managers to reduce the financial burden, some organizations saw wisdom in taking steps to acquire and retain leadership competencies through a range of development interventions that would set them apart from the competition once the economic tide turned.  Furthermore, they didn’t want to see the loss of their own leadership talent become the potential gain of other companies who saw an opportunity to address their own leadership deficiencies.

Aligning leadership goals and development with business outcomes

In part, this dynamic led to the emergence of leadership coaches keen to meet a need in the marketplace, while at the same time, businesses remained skeptical about the value coaching can add to the bottom-line, particularly when there was little or no attempt to measure how the desired outcomes supported a company’s business objectives.

At its broadest level, coaching is generally defined as a “process of equipping people with the tools, knowledge, and opportunities they need to develop themselves and become more effective”[i]

While research into the effectiveness of behavioral feedback as a method of management development has been relatively weak and inconsistent, some results show that when it is coupled with leadership coaching, subordinates indicate a small, but significant improvement[ii].  This was further strengthened when leaders provided opportunities, encouragement, and incentives to apply the feedback.

Another key factor in delivering leadership coaching with the goal of seeing improved performance is that those receiving the coaching must believe that the primary motivation for it is “to help the employee” rather than the organization.”[iii]  Therefore, when coaching is being provided directly through an individual’s supervisor, it is important that supervisors be trained to improve the quality of the exchange.  While this doesn’t negate the obvious underlying motivation every organization has which is to see leaders improve their performance as it relates to business outcomes, it says that from a development perspective the primary goal must be individually focused, knowing that the organization will ultimately be the beneficiary.

To better understand the impact of leadership coaching, Right Management conducted a global study of more than 28,000 employees in ten industry sectors in 15 countries. The results provided a compelling case for leadership coaching that showed when leadership development was in alignment and informed by their organization’s strategy, culture, values, processes and structure, coaching became a powerful mechanism for impacting the organization.[iv]  Leadership coaching, therefore, should never be delivered in a vacuum.

What’s the bottom-line?

 While it is sometimes necessary for the integrity of the coaching process to use the services of an independent coach, it is vital that all coaches be accountable—not for an individual leader’s behavior, but for ensuring that the individual is equipped with strategies that empower him or her to deliver agreed business outcomes. Below are some questions to reflect on:

  • Am I open to the idea of appointing a leadership coach that can empower my team to focus better on delivering business outcomes my company has identified?
  • What concerns or constraints do I need to overcome that would help me to get more out of my leaders?  What would I hope to achieve?
  • What would be the benefits of appointing an independent leadership coach in contrast to appointing an internal resource?

[i] D. B. Peterson and M. D. Hicks. The leader as coach: Strategies for coaching and developing others (Minneapolis, MN: Personnel Decisions), 1995, 41.

[ii] Susan Kochanowski, Charles F. Seifert, and Gary Yukl. “Using Coaching to Enhance the Effects of Behavioral Feedback to Managers”, Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies (2010):17, 363.

[iii] Christina Sue-Chan, Ziguang Chen and Wing Lam. “LMX, Coaching Attributions, and Employee Performance”, Group & Organization Management (2011): 36 (4), 488.

[iv] “Aligning Leader Coaching to Business Outcomes: Australia and New Zealand”, Leadership Insights. Right Management, 2009, 10.

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