The Benefits of Coaching…and Being Coached

Formal coaching can teach leaders to ‘unstick’ bad habits—knowledge they can then impart to their own teams, says emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman.

Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, "Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body," is available now. 

Great leaders may seem all knowing if they have been successful throughout their career and have led teams effectively. They may seem to have little room for improvement.

Yet unlike “hard” skills, such as mastery of a software program, the development of emotional intelligence—the heart of outstanding leadership—is an ongoing process. Each of us can improve our emotional intelligence (or EI), and great leaders are no exception.

Working with a coach is one of the most impactful ways to cultivate further strengths in EI competencies. Leaders at any level can benefit from a coach’s feedback. A coach can help us recognize patterns in our behavior we would otherwise be unaware of, and can guide us in developing new ways of handling emotions in ourselves and in our relationships. A coach can also help us “unstick” unproductive habits and provide motivation as we encounter roadblocks.

Above all, a coach’s ability to provide objective, yet highly tailored guidance and feedback makes a critical difference in the long-term development of EI competencies. By identifying the competencies we need to improve, and harnessing the energy of our passions and goals to guide those improvements, a coach can have an enduring influence on a leader. Long after formal coaching is complete, a leader will be able to access their own inner-coach through the positive habits and competencies they’ve developed.

Great leaders are coaches too. Coach and Mentor, one of the twelve EI competencies, creates a mutually beneficial relationship for both coach and coachee. A leader who coaches with compassion, by valuing their direct reports’ well-being as well as their future aspirations (and not just their performance), motivates them to be fully engaged and continue learning and improving.

Leaders who excel as a coach foster teams with a solid foundation of loyalty and trust. They elevate the career satisfaction and productivity of their team. Research published in the Frontiers in Psychology in 2016 shows that coaching effectively enhances performance, and supports the coachee’s own goal attainment and satisfaction.

In addition to the personal rewards of coaching, high-performing leaders enhance their own status within their organization. The Center for Creative Leadership found that leaders who support their teams with career-related coaching are rated as higher performers by their bosses.

Whether it is leader-as-coachee, or leader-as-coach, both of these relationships help us to develop emotional and social Intelligence competencies, and to engage in lifelong learning regardless of formal professional role.