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What are coaching styles and how do they work?

The coaching leadership style is about inspiring your team, building their confidence, and teaching them the skills they need in order to develop and work together successfully while ensuring they feel supported by the coaching leader along the way.

It relies on the coaching leader having good communication and social skills - as constructive feedback is important in this leadership style - but the most successful coach will also ask questions of their employees to encourage brainstorming and problem-solving.

Coaching methods can be an effective way to tackle a workplace culture that feels at best unproductive and at worst, failing. With a strong focus on goals, personal and group development, and outcomes, the results often speak for themselves.

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What is your coaching style?

Coaching leaders use one or several of the different recognised coaching styles. Some even use their own approach or model. But the most successful recognise that tailoring their style to their team, employee, or organisational culture is the best way to ensure good results.

It’s also worth noting that different people respond to different management cues: tapping into the different coaching styles will impact positively on your team's performance and development, helping them achieve their goals.

Here, we’ll outline the pros and cons of five different types of coaching styles.

Democratic coaching

This method gives the team freedom and accountability, with the coach stepping in only when needed to keep the process going. Individuals will feel self-empowered and in control, and are encouraged to give input.

The result? Improved decision-making and communication, and greater cooperation.

It can take a little longer than other approaches to see the results, but when it comes to performance coaching styles, it can be very effective, as the onus is on the team to work together and explore solutions as a whole.

Authoritarian coaching

In this approach, the coach decides what to do and when and how to do it. All that's required from the team is their understanding.

With little to no input, employees are at risk of feeling disenfranchised and aren't encouraged to think for themselves, but this method instils discipline, rallies the team together, and by setting clear goals, has a strong focus on the outcome.

It can produce good results fast and is ideal for inexperienced teams.

Holistic coaching

When it comes to life coaching styles, holistic coaching leads the way. With the belief that everything is connected, this approach theorises that individuals are a sum of all their parts: in order to encourage growth in the workplace, balance needs to be achieved in all aspects of their life.

As well as giving employees a sense of their role in your team, it can give perspective on their place in the wider business, helping them feel more connected and showing them how they matter.

It can shine a spotlight on personal stumbling blocks and repetitive behaviours that might be negatively affecting work, as well as offering solutions like stress management, and relaxation techniques.

Again, this type of coaching can take time to achieve results, and there’s the possibility that deeper, emotional problems may be triggered.

Autocratic coaching

Rather than opening a dialogue between leader and employee, this approach tells individuals what to do rather than asking.

The autocratic coach is in control at all times and strives for perfectionism and excellence, while some may expect certain tasks to be done the same way every time.

As a result, employees are disciplined and committed, and have a structure in place to succeed - though with such rigidity in place, it can feel stifling.

Vision coaching

This style encourages and empowers employees by giving them clear direction and strategies for achieving objectives and encouraging focus.

Like a personal trainer, this approach feels like a partnership and draws on elements of feedback, reflection, and conversation to really motivate and influence employees.

Although intensive and short term, this approach can work well for high stress or overwhelming workplaces that need fast results and can be especially useful when driving teams to work on specific projects, by giving them a detailed plan.

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How to coach successfully

In most approaches to coaching, it pays to listen to your team, to use their creativity, and to take their ideas on board. Employees also benefit from feeling that their leader is present and willing to engage with them.

While some methods yield instant results, with others, you’ll be in it for the long term; sometimes this is the best way to get the most out of your team.

It can also be helpful to choose your approach based on the type of team or employee you have - for instance, whether they are experienced or new - and to find a method that fits with the company culture.

Are there any negatives to coaching?

As with all things, there are positives and negatives associated with each coaching style. Be mindful of the following.

  • Goals might change, with or without your team’s approval.
  • With some approaches (like holistic coaching) you may trigger emotional problems.
  • There is a risk of causing a decreased sense of meaning towards work.

The best way to combat all of these is to keep a line of communication with your team or employees and build strong, meaningful relationships. Keep them motivated and be upfront about any changes to objectives. Be prepared to demonstrate your own knowledge and expertise, and if you find that the method you’re using isn’t having the right impact, be ready and willing to switch things up.

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In conclusion

From holistic to authoritarian, all of these coaching styles can be effective, depending on the company, project, or the team itself. The key is to know when to use different coaching styles in business.

Of course, there are many other types of coaching styles in management, and there are also completely different approaches to management that don’t rely on a coaching mentality.

The most successful leaders will draw on some or all of them to tailor their approach or will flex between styles when the situation calls for it.

About the author

Graham Wilson

Graham Wilson

I enjoy and specialise in teaching leadership skills, how to create winning strategies, how to build high performance cultures. Outcomes and results are the most important measures for me!