What is Leadership Coaching?

Business woman shaking hands with a colleague at a meeting.

Effective leadership today requires coaching through vertical development.

Businesses the world over have been forced to grapple with rapid, unprecedented change over the past three years. The shift to remote and hybrid work, labor shortages, economic uncertainty, and supply chain issues have coalesced to create a new employment paradigm — one that has left many organizations struggling with leadership gaps and ill-prepared for what lies ahead.

Leadership coaching is a proven approach that helps employees at all stages of their careers develop the capacity for managing change and adapt as new challenges emerge. But what is leadership coaching, and how is it beneficial to workplaces? Below, we’ll explore the benefits of leadership coaching, different approaches to the concept, and how coaching elevates leaders capabilities beyond traditional forms of mentorship.

What is leadership coaching?

Leadership coaching is a method of vertical development that allows businesses to:

  • Bridge leadership gaps at all levels of the organization
  • Complete mission-critical initiatives
  • Attract and engage talent
  • Thrive in an ever-changing marketplace

While there are varying approaches to leadership coaching, the most effective programs are based on behavioral science principles, which offer a comprehensive framework for understanding the motivations that drive employees. While some companies rely on generic, one-size-fits-all skill training for leadership development, these methods are less effective in the modern workplace. Leadership coaching uses situational learning and develops leaders within the context of their role and their organization.

Leadership coaching vs. mentorship: Key differences

The words “coaching” and “mentoring” are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same. Mentorship typically pairs an experienced manager with a less experienced employee of a lower level. In this arrangement, the senior employee shares their expertise in the field or of the organization, which can be a valuable source of inspiration and knowledge. However, a mentor will not necessarily help an employee develop leadership capabilities, or prepare them for future challenges.

To fill those gaps, a comprehensive leadership coaching program is necessary. Coaching goes beyond the mentor-mentee dichotomy to help employees gain the capabilities needed to adapt to new challenges and lead your company to success in a fluctuating market. Since every company and every employee has different needs and motivations, coaching requires contextualization to both the individual and the organization. Executives should consider programs that prioritize flexibility and customization in order to meet their specific business goals.

How modern leadership coaching improves on traditional leadership development

Historically, whether conducted one-on-one or in a group setting, leadership coaching has fallen into one of these predetermined categories:

  • Executive coaching: Designed for C-suite executives, this type of coaching focuses on strategic decision-making capabilities. Executive coaching helps a company’s top leaders learn to carefully balance business demands with company culture and employee engagement.
  • Performance coaching: Early on, coaching was used to resolve performance issues with leaders or as a corrective action. However, leadership coaching has evolved into a proactive approach to build leadership capabilities for greater impact.
  • New leader/onboarding coaching: This type of coaching helps close the new manager leadership gap and support first-time managers as they adjust to their heightened responsibility. Coaching new leaders is especially valuable because it helps them quickly become aligned with company goals while learning critical skills like delegation, critical thinking, and project management.
  • Legacy coaching: Leaders on the verge of retirement should be prepared to transfer their knowledge and capabilities to the next generation of managers. Legacy coaching helps these experienced leaders set their teams up for success in their absence.


While these siloed coaching styles have their benefits, the most successful leadership platforms take a more holistic method that encompasses experience, perception, cognition, and behavior. This requires shifts in both the leadership mindset and the format of the coaching itself, as well as adjustments to support each company’s shifting business objectives. For example, where traditional leadership development supported a leadership model with a top-down approach, coaching encourages leaders to wield power through collaboration, team-building, and emotional intelligence. In turn, employees become more engaged and develop effective problem-solving capabilities.

The holistic approach to leadership coaching leaves some of the more passive forms of training, such as lectures, pre-recorded videos, and buzzword-filled slide decks, in the past. Modern leadership coaching instead seeks to engage participants and challenge them through thoughtful and interactive exercises either partially or fully online. Moving coaching to a virtual platform provides access to a wider pool of coaches and a self-paced experience while supporting remote and hybrid workplaces, which employees find increasingly beneficial to productivity, focus, and work-life balance.

Perhaps most importantly, modern coaching platforms should be tailored to your unique business needs, not the other way around. Rather than making the organizational adjustments to suit a more traditional program, find a solution that’s flexible enough to equip leaders with the specific capabilities they need to succeed. This should be an ongoing process, not a solitary event.

Benefits of leadership coaching

Why is coaching important in leadership? Managers who receive robust leadership coaching are more likely to be in greater alignment with your company values, complete set goals, and bring out the best in their reports. All of these factors help improve company culture; increase employee engagement and retention; strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives; and facilitate more fluid communication between teams.

There’s another key reason why coaching is important in leadership: Stronger leadership contributes to positive business outcomes. Our data shows 91% of Sounding Board coachees believe that coaching improves their ability to reach business goals, as well as giving them a clearer understanding of their own impacts on the business. By aligning individual leadership goals with broader business goals, leaders spend more time directly contributing to the company’s success in the marketplace.

According to Forbes, a strong company culture can quadruple revenue growth. An environment that fosters growth and leadership improves team performance and productivity, which usually leads to better results for clients and facilitates business development. Additionally, leadership coaching helps your team stay on course amid turbulence, which is more important than ever when the marketplace experiences frequent disruptions.

Sounding Board: A holistic approach to leadership coaching

 Sounding Board helps companies bridge their leadership gaps through an interactive, customizable learning platform and a proprietary coaching methodology backed by behavioral science. Offering one-on-one and group sessions with certified coaches, Sounding Board helps leaders at all levels — from the ground floor to the executive suite — develop the critical capabilities needed to lead themselves, lead others, and lead for impact. If you’re ready to learn more about the extensive benefits of leadership coaching, book a demo today.

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