Leaders exist in innumerable contexts and circumstances. Yet even among leaders, some stand out and become iconic. From Simón Bolivar to Margaret Thatcher, some leaders inspire and provoke on a level that is exceptional. How are such leadership icons created? The key word is “created,” because despite some people seeming to have innate leadership potential, world-class leaders in politics, business, or humanitarianism don’t just spring onto the world stage fully formed. Time and hard work are both necessary.

Though young, Alexander the Great was immersed in military intelligence education practically since birth.

While an aptitude for leadership may give someone a higher baseline from which to start becoming a great leader, the greatest leaders are shaped internally and externally. They not only have the training and knowledge they need to lead in their respective fields, but also introspection, emotional intelligence, and the ability to work with people with widely varying personalities, backgrounds, and beliefs.

Leadership coaching is a profession that assists individuals with their capacity to achieve both short- and long-term goals. It’s a personalized, typically one-on-one process that occurs over a defined time period, usually with specific, articulated goals in mind. Organizations that invest in the particular type of leadership development that leadership coaches offer find that they strengthen their existing and emerging leaders, giving organizations a deeper “bench” that can be called on to meet organizational challenges.

Who Are Leadership Coaches?

While leadership coaching can be provided by an internal coach, a supervisor, or even a colleague, typically leadership coaches are brought to an organization from the outside, due to their fresh, more objective perspective.

Leading organizations regularly choose to bring in an external coach to work with their senior leaders. Gone are the days when a coach was only brought in to “rehabilitate” the leader who was going off the rails. Today they are seen for what they are: valuable providers who can take an organization’s leaders to a higher level of leadership, with benefits that can reach through all organizational levels, vertically and horizontally.

As for “who” specifically they are, leadership coaches may hail from just about any business and personal background you can imagine. Many are former business executives, to be sure, but they often have something extra that they bring to the table, such as a successful side career, unique personal experiences, or a career trajectory that has not followed a traditional path.

In other words, you can’t really choose a leadership coach the way you do, say, a can of soup on the way home from work. Finding the right leadership coach is going to require time, research, questions, references, and follow-up. The right leadership coach for your needs is out there, and rest assured they are worth the time and effort you put into locating and selecting them.

Who Needs Leadership Coaches?

Don’t sell yourself or your organization short by sticking to the old thinking that leadership coaches were only needed for “fixing” problem leaders, like someone who arrived at their position through nepotism who doesn’t have anywhere near the right skill set or experience. That may make a good premise for a sitcom series, but successful businesses know better. In reality, leadership coaching concentrates on enhancing the performance of leaders at any organizational level. Most businesses, however, are only able to invest in leadership coaching for leaders at or near the top.

Leadership coaching is almost universally pursued as an investment in further development of highly competent leaders.

A majority of Fortune 500 CEOs are estimated to have their own personal coaches. They already have the education and training they need to handle the technical demands of their role, and they may show outstanding leadership potential, but they (and their organizations) know that becoming a true leader will happen faster with the help of a one-on-one leadership coaching relationship. The type of focus and candid feedback provided by a leadership coach simply isn’t available to many leaders at the highest levels of the corporate hierarchy. Therefore, “blind spots,” and lack of key leadership competencies can go unnoticed, holding back both the leader and the rest of their organization to fulfill their potential.

In short, the right leadership coach teaches top executive how to truly lead. Furthermore, they help executives practice leadership skills and techniques so they become almost a reflexive action when those skills and techniques are needed. There are many parallels between leadership coaching and sports coaching of world-class athletes.

Coaching addresses a custom blend of personal, business, and organizational needs.

What Kind of Training Is Involved with Becoming a Leadership Coach?

Theoretically, anyone could print up business cards and call themselves a leadership coach. But the leadership coaches you want to invest in for your top leaders is one who has not only established their own leadership capabilities, but has also undergone the right combination of coaching training and experience to be able to address your needs.

Coaching training programs vary, of course, but the ones that help people become effective leadership coaches examine and teach proven coaching principles and best practices. They typically offer extensive personal assessment tools to help emerging leadership coaches to understand how they are perceived, and train coaches on competencies involving how to think and what to do as a coach.

Effective leadership coaching training helps people learn to adapt their coaching practices to the specific needs of the leaders they will be coaching, using techniques like mirroring, guiding, and facilitating productive conversations. Programs also teach methods of overcoming common challenges coaches face, like how to deliver sensitive feedback in a constructive manner.

Hundreds of coaching training programs exist, and the most effective ones are generally ones accredited by organizations like the International Coach Federation (ICF) and the Association of Corporate Executive Coaches (ACEC), which establish several criteria for training programs.

What Types of Issues Can a Leadership Coach Help With?

Excellence in time management is one of countless skills leadership coaches can help clients with.

The main issue a leadership coach helps with is development of a more effective leadership style. How this happens varies with the client, the coach, and the context. Some of the issues leadership coaches frequently assist with include, but are not limited to:

  • Excellent time management and prioritization
  • Succession planning
  • Communication skills
  • Work-life balance
  • Presentation skills
  • Networking skills
  • Conflict management
  • Self-confidence and assertiveness

In addition, leadership coaching may be called upon because of a specific event, such as a recent or upcoming merger or spin-off. Perhaps one department is absorbing another department, and the leader of the conglomerate department suddenly leads twice as many people. The point is, whenever the answer to an issue is (in whole or in part) “better leadership,” then leadership coaching can be beneficial.

What Is It Like to Work with a Leadership Coach?

The relationship between a client and a coach is a partnership. The coach is not the “expert” teaching the “student” executive in the way of executive wisdom as set out in some comprehensive leadership manual. Rather, both have expertise. The client is the expert concerning the organization, and the coach is the expert in helping the client maximize potential. How this is done may follow a particular coach’s proven techniques, but it is always customized to both the organization and the individual. Here are some ways in which coach-client relationships proceed.

  • The coach may use active listening or other guiding techniques to help the client solve their own problems
  • Survey and inventory tools may be used to identify which client behaviors are linked with which business outcomes
  • The coach and client together may outline potential obstacles, and then set priorities and develop methods of overcoming them
  • The coach may recommend specific learning sources like books, videos, or podcasts
  • The coach may help the client emerge from their “comfort zone” so as to explore new opportunities
  • The client may perform “homework” between coaching sessions designed to accomplish certain things, like develop better setting of goals and action planning
  • Throughout, the coach maintains strict confidentiality in the coaching partnership. While the business or organization is the “official” client who pays the bills, the individual is considered the real client.

What Results Can Someone Expect from Working with a Leadership Coach?

Organizations can expect not only improvement in the specific coaching client, but throughout the organization.

Can a leadership coach turn around a completely derailed coach in a failing organization? Probably not. Coaches can do a lot, but they’re not miracle workers. In the best scenarios, leadership coaches help executives and other leaders who want to excel to do so in order to improve both themselves and their organization. When this happens, the benefits ripple outward, throughout the organization. Often, it leads to a significantly healthier organization, with many more people than just the coaching client experiencing better performance and stronger motivation.

The client should also expect their goals to be addressed during the coaching process. If the client says, for example, “I want to learn how to delegate better,” then by the end of the coaching process, they should be regularly demonstrating improved delegation. If a client wants to improve their presentation skills, they should have had several opportunities to put new presentation skills into practice during the coaching relationship. The client’s goals should never be ignored or given short shrift.

What Should Someone Not Expect from Working with a Leadership Coach?

Clients should not expect their coaches to offer them the technical guidance they need to do their job. Even if the coach happens to have the same technical background as the client, that’s not what leadership coaching is for. Coaching relationships assume that the client is fully qualified for their position.

Neither is coaching career counseling. The client who isn’t sure that being an executive is the right career for them in the first place won’t get much from the coaching relationship. And while the coaching process shares similarities with consulting, generally consultants are brought in as experts on a particular problem they have been hired to solve.

Coaching, mentoring, and consulting have some overlap, but each has its own goals and techniques.

Coaching and mentoring are not the same thing. Mentors often have years- or decades-long relationships that naturally ebb and flow as the mentee develops as a professional. Mentoring is generally less formal and involves more sharing of company- or industry-specific wisdom. Coaching, by contrast, is typically done for a defined time period, and the skills and techniques developed through leadership coaching tend not to be organization- or industry-centric.

Coaching is not training. Returning to a sports analogy, a trainer helps a pitcher develop and perfect the different types of pitches, but the coach helps the pitcher know where and when to put those specific skills to work for the betterment of the team. Training is critical, of course, but it generally involves less introspection than coaching does.

What Are Some Different Types of Leadership Coaches?

There are probably as many “types” of coaches as there are coaches, because leadership coaches aren’t categorized. Each coach has their own specific style of communicating and working toward goals. Different coaches may operate on different psychological depths with their clients too. For example, some coaches may focus more on skill refinement, while others may dig a little deeper to understand the motivations behind performance, and why certain competencies are necessary.

Different coaches and clients operate at different, personalized psychological depths.

Other coaches focus more on reflective and experiential learning, helping clients improve their emotional intelligence to improve their leadership style. This type of coaching relationship may deal with psychological or emotional “blind spots,” bad habits, or the uncovering of hidden agendas. Clearly, this requires a different approach and different techniques compared to the coach who has been brought in to help a client develop better communication or presentation skills, for example.

All coaches work with their clients and others in the workplace (while maintaining confidentiality) to define and address performance gaps and reach a defined set of goals. All of them include accountability as part of the coaching process.

Why Is John Mattone Unique among Leadership Coaches?

The most effective leaders set ambitious goals, and challenge their employees to help meet them, giving them the appropriate autonomy to do what they do best. This type of corporate culture substitutes “yours” with “ours,” helping everyone develop a sense of being in it together rather than each person being a replaceable cog in a huge corporate machine.

John Mattone is an expert in corporate culture, having written several books on the subject. He is also an extensively experienced leadership coach. As one of the world’s most in-demand CEO coaches, John was recently named one of only eight finalists for the 2017 Thinkers50 Leadership Award, which recognizes the world’s top leadership authorities and influencers. He has received honors from executive coaching peers through the Association of Corporate Executive Coaches, and won the 2015 International Executive Coach Thought Leader of Distinction Award. That same year, John Mattone’s Intelligent Leadership program was named, along with programs by Tony Robbins and John Maxwell, as one of the top three Advanced Leadership Development Programs that Change Lives.

His Intelligent Leadership Executive Coaching Process is an immersive leadership and personal growth journey lasting six to 12 months. It is designed to unlock each client’s full potential, based on a leadership blueprint he developed himself, and in which he certifies other world-class executive coaches. John Mattone not only has the experience and developed expertise to be a globally respected coach, but he has also taught many other world-renowned coaches.

Worldwide demand for leadership coaching has never been greater than it is today. That is because enough globally influential and successful organizations have experienced for themselves the positive difference that leadership coaching has made to individuals and to their organizations as a whole. Business moves at a faster pace than it ever has, so leaders must be able to cope effectively with change, and who can guide their organizations in a rapidly evolving business world. John Mattone is a globally respected leadership coach who is ready to take individuals and the organizations they work for to a higher plane of leadership and operation through his leadership coaching services.

Glossary of Terms

Accountability – a condition of taking responsibility and being held responsible

Accreditation – certification or recognition that a person or program has been qualified by an independent entity to perform a particular task

Blind spot – actions or thought patterns that a person doesn’t recognize as occurring within themselves

Confidentiality – the status of being kept private

Consultant – someone with special expertise brought in to solve a specific business problem

Emotional intelligence – a person’s capacity for self-awareness, control of emotions, and ability to handle interpersonal relationships responsibly

External (outside) coach – a coach brought in from outside the organization with the client being coached

Internal (inside) coach – a coach that is already within the organization of the client being coached

Introspection – the act of self-examination, or observing one’s own intellectual, mental or emotional processes

Leadership coaching – a personalized process designed to build a leader’s capacity to achieve personal and organizational goals

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