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5 Leadership Strategies to Create a Coaching Culture

  • POSTED ON JUNE 19, 2024
Two people working together in an office, symbolizing collaborative leadership and a coaching culture in a professional setting

Creating a Coaching Culture: Five Game Changers for Transformative Leadership 

Spreading a coaching culture around the world has been my focus for the last 20 years. Over this time, I've had the privilege of seeing leaders catch the "coaching bug" and transform their organizations into vibrant, collaborative environments. Let me share with you the five key elements that I believe are game changers in creating a coaching culture, along with practical tips for implementing each one. 

The Power of Listening 

One of the most profound changes I've witnessed comes from teaching people how to truly listen. It's not just about hearing words but about understanding the emotions and intentions behind them. I’ve seen colleagues, who have worked side by side for years, discover new things about each other in a coaching course. This kind of listening creates a sense of shared humanity and common ground that can transform relationships and the entire workplace dynamic. 

What is it about listening that is so impactful? It's such a simple act, yet we often underestimate it. Let me share an anecdote that I usually tell in my courses. 

When I was a college student studying in Granada, Spain, I often walked by a doctor's office that always had a long line of people waiting outside. As a young American, this scene was surprising to me. I had never seen people line up outside a doctor's office like that. 

About a month into my stay, I encountered the doctor at a local restaurant. Boldly, I approached him and asked, "What kind of medicine do you practice that you have such a long line of people at your door?" He looked at me and replied, "You know what I do? I listen. I really listen." 

He explained that many of his patients were elderly people who sometimes didn't even have a medical issue. They might claim their throat was sore or their knee hurt because they knew that when they sat down with him, he would listen to them—something no one else was doing. 

I was blown away by his answer. Although I didn’t get into coaching until many years later, that moment stayed with me. It became a window into what would become my life’s work: not only learning to listen deeply to others but having the honor of training leaders and organizations all over the world in how to truly listen. 

One tip for leaders transitioning to a coaching culture is to embed listening into the company’s core values or mission statement. You can reinforce listening as a value by using techniques like round-robin speaking at meetings, where each person has a chance to share their opinion or idea. 

Empowering Others 

There’s a major shift when, instead of giving orders, leaders start asking questions and showing genuine belief in their teams’ abilities. This simple change can have a huge impact. People rise to the expectations you set for them, and by empowering them, you give them a sense of ownership and initiative. You see them blossom when they start to believe in their own resourcefulness and come up with innovative solutions. This collective leadership style turns your team into a source of creativity and autonomy. 

One tip for leaders transitioning to a coaching culture is to start by asking questions before solving problems. When someone seeks your help, say, "I'll offer a solution in a moment, but first, what do you think we should do?" This approach encourages critical thinking and gradually shifts the focus from you providing answers to empowering your team to find their own solutions. 

Connecting to Values, Purpose, and Vision 

When was the last time you asked the people on your team what truly matters to them? Connecting to values, purpose, and vision is not just a corporate exercise, it’s about finding out what drives your people at a fundamental level. When individuals lead from their core values, they bring authenticity and passion to their roles. This connection creates a workplace filled with meaning and deeper interpersonal connections.

I've worked with top leaders who have been so focused on climbing the ladder that they've never stopped to connect with what truly matters to them. They've neglected exploring their values or even their purpose. The impact of addressing this is immediate and profound. When leaders connect with a deep sense of purpose and gain a clearer understanding of their values, it's like handing them a compass. Decisions and choices become much clearer. 

Suddenly, it's easy for them to say, "No, I'm going to stay home and have dinner with my family," or "I need to let this employee go because they're violating a core value." This newfound clarity helps them prioritize and recognize what actually deserves their energy. You can see the transformation on their faces as they connect with their core essence, realizing, "Yes, this is what truly matters to me." 

One tip for leaders transitioning to a coaching culture is to incorporate personal values and purpose into career development plans. You can help team members set career goals that align with their personal vision and the organization’s objectives. 

Leading by Example 

Coaching starts with self-awareness. There's nothing more powerful in an organization than individuals taking responsibility for who they are and how they show up. Through coaching, people become more aware of their strengths and their self-sabotaging behaviors. It’s like turning on a light in a dark room—they can suddenly see clearly which beliefs empower them and which ones need to be let go. Self-leadership is contagious and inspires others to take more accountability for their actions as well. 

One of my favorite quotes has always been, "Be the change you wish to see." This principle is especially relevant in organizations where people say to me, "It's great that we're learning all these coaching skills in middle management, but what about our bosses? What about the executive committee? They're not practicing any of this." 

I always respond by saying, "Be the change you want them to be. Inspire them with your example." It's much more powerful to look within and take care of your immediate circle of influence rather than complaining about who in the organization is not doing their part. 

There have been times when we've initiated organizational transformation starting with middle management. By leading by example, they inspire their teams and create positive changes. This often catches the attention of upper management and the executive committee, who then become interested and want to be part of that positive shift. So, I believe that being the change you want to see is the best thing you can do to transform a company’s culture. 

One tip for leaders transitioning to a coaching culture is to begin meetings by sharing personal stories or admitting mistakes they’ve made and learned from, which creates a safe environment for open dialogue and vulnerability. 

Cultivating Emotional Intelligence 

Emotional intelligence was important 20 years ago, but now it's absolutely essential for a healthy organization. Well-being should be at the top of the priority list for organizations and leaders today. It’s crucial for attracting and retaining talent, as well as maintaining high levels of engagement. 

We used to say, "Leave your emotions at home; there's no room for that at work." Those days are over. We now understand that emotions are incredibly important. They help us find the truth. When we create a healthy emotional environment—a culture that is psychologically safe for people to be authentic and express their feelings—there is a vitality and energy that flows through the organization, much like blood through the veins. 

The opposite of that is when an organization has a gossip problem or when people suppress their emotions. It becomes like blood clots forming in the veins. It stifles the energy and can lead to a toxic work environment. 

I would go so far as to say that emotional intelligence is the glue that holds a coaching culture together. Training your team to recognize and embrace their own emotions, and those of others, is crucial. We don't get emotional about things that don't matter to us. By creating a space where emotions are acknowledged and valued, you bring the human element back into the workplace, turning it from a place of “human doings” to “human beings.” I love saying that in courses! 

One tip for leaders transitioning to a coaching culture is to begin one-on-one conversations with a quick emotional check-in where the individual can share how they are feeling. This creates awareness and empathy. 

Transform Your Leadership with a Coaching Culture

These five game changers - listening, empowerment, connection to values, leading by example, and emotional intelligence are the cornerstones of a coaching culture. Integrating these principles can transform any organization into a thriving and collaborative community. 

A coaching culture is not just about having a strategy that works better for the future, it’s about a new way of being. When you embrace these elements, you create an environment that brings out the best in people and, ultimately, the entire organization.

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Written By

Michelle Kempton

Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC), Master Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation & founder of Kempton Coaching & Training. Michelle is passionate about leadership development and organizational change. She has a human-centric approach, guiding people and organizations through an evolutionary process to unleash their full potential.

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