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How to Coach Your Team as a Leader

Published Tue May 16 2023

How to Coach Your Team as a Leader

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Leadership coaching is a foundational element of professional development. It offers a variety of benefits in the workplace, including higher job satisfaction, strong performance, and increased engagement. Learning how to coach your employees will set you and your organization up for success. Vanderbilt University’s Mark Cannon breaks down the skills and practices needed to effectively coach your team as a leader.

Give positive feedback and constructive criticism.

Effective leadership coaching involves giving consistent positive feedback and constructive criticism. Cannon describes coaching with the age-old parable of teaching someone to fish, rather than giving them the fish.


“It’s listening, asking questions, and getting the person to think, reflect, and take responsibility and pride in their work,” Cannon said.

Balancing positive and constructive feedback is important for boosting employee morale and bringing areas for improvement to their attention.

“There may be things they don’t see; coaching is helping them see what they don’t see but that they need to see in order to be a better performer,” Cannon said.

Build developmental relationships.

Establishing trust with team members allows for honest and open feedback.

“You can really get to the heart of the issue versus just trying to do some face-saving,” Cannon said.


He added that strong listening skills are part of building this relationship, as they allow coaches and employees to learn from each other as they develop. It also gives coaches insight into how best to help team members.

Set goals and action plan.

Goal setting is important to clarify responsibilities and desired end results for employees. Cannon says action planning that sets teams up for success is also important to realize those goals.

“People are often lacking a clear perception of where they stand and a clear sense of where they might want to go,” Cannon said.

This goal setting and action planning can help improve employees’ motivation and, subsequently, their efficiency.

Coach as a leader even without industry experience.

Cannon added that being new to a field or company doesn’t prevent you from effectively coaching as a leader. He explains that coaching does not require typical “technical” skills.


“A coach doesn’t have to have any knowledge or expertise in the area that they’re coaching on; it’s more about coaching someone to be more effective in their work, to think better, to make better decisions, to have better judgment,” Cannon said.

Understand the benefits of coaching.

This leadership style results in employees developing into leaders themselves, driving the productivity and competitiveness of the group or company.

“Coaching facilitates learning and development, engagement, and internal commitment,” Cannon said. “Employees become more independent, more self-managing, because as they learn to do better, they take more initiative, with better judgment and better skills.”

Amid nationwide staffing shortages, Cannon says appealing to the values of potential and current employees is crucial for maintaining a consistent staff. Having a coach as a leader can promote employees’ development—an important aspect of employee satisfaction and a beneficial nonmonetary compensation for their work.

“Somebody who coaches and develops you and takes an interest in your career is very attractive,” Cannon said.

To learn more about coaching as a leader and professional development for your team, check out Vanderbilt's Executive Education programs. We cover various topics, from leadership and communication to finance and management. Your team will learn from top industry experts and Vanderbilt faculty and receive hands-on training and practical tools they can use immediately.

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