Coaching and Leadership Development

By Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D.

This research paper imparts coaching education to executives to enhance their leadership skills and abilities. It justifies why successful leaders are great coaches. It explains that coaches must have a clear strategy with a blueprint detailing the execution of the coaching process, which must be aligned with the goals of the coachees. It outlines ways to turn your complaints and criticism into constructive comments. It enlightens that leadership development is incomplete without coaching. 

“Life is no brief candle for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” —George Bernard Shaw

Do you want to be a coach or a critic? Can there be a true coach who doesn’t criticize? Can there be a critic who doesn’t coach? People don’t appreciate coaches who criticize. They look for coaches who provide feedback while coaching and mentoring. There is a subtle difference between criticism and feedback, as criticism is individual-centric and sounds difficult to digest, while feedback is behavior-centric and sounds sweeter; therefore, it is easier to accept to bring about behavioral changes. Hence, in this regard, we will discuss coaching, leadership, and feedback that enables people to become good leaders. 

Imagine that you were 80 years old and on your deathbed. If you found that you had not shared your knowledge, experience, and expertise with the next generation, how would you feel? Would you regret it? If yes, then avoid regrets in your later life by sharing your wealth of wisdom and tons of experience with others from now onwards through coaching. 

What is Coaching?

Coaching is an ongoing professional relationship between the coach and coachee. It discovers the hidden talents of the coachees and develops certain competencies, capabilities, skills, and abilities through continuous interaction, questioning, and feedback. Finally, it aligns these skills and abilities with the talents of the coachees so that the latter can achieve all-round success. It is a smarter and wiser way of doing the hard work. 

Coaching is a gift from God. If you get a good coach who is passionate enough to make a difference in your personal, professional, and social life, you are really lucky. Coaches usually pay more attention to listening and observation and then shoot open-ended questions at coachees. It helps to touch the coachees’ subconscious minds and come out with viable solutions and ideas.

Coaching Types and Methods

Coaching helps to develop the abilities and skills of the coachees. It makes sure of their personal and professional advancement. There are various types of coaching, such as personal coaching, performance coaching, sports coaching, skills coaching, career coaching, corporate coaching, executive coaching, life coaching, leadership coaching, etc. With the rapid growth in technology and mushrooming knowledge workers, there are specialized coaches for specific domains. 

There are two methods of coaching: directive and non-directive coaching. In directive coaching, the coach teaches an extensive course for upgrading the skills and abilities of the coachees. However, in the non-directive method, the coach questions the coachees and moves them forward toward their goals. In this method, questioning is the key, and it emphasizes the Socratic Method. 

Coaching Merits

There is enormous excitement in turning ordinary individuals into extraordinary ones. The money you get out of coaching is temporary, but the satisfaction and pleasure you get from it are everlasting. You can taste success from the accomplishments of your coachees. It is beyond imagination and explanation. Coaching helps coachees in introspection. It helps in realizing their ambitions. It helps them to achieve personal, professional, and social success. Coaching helps in challenging limitations, stretching horizons, and empowering with new values and principles. Coaching helps in shaping the next generation of knowledge workers to become successful professionals.

Coaching vs. Mentoring

Coaching is different from mentoring. In mentoring, the mentors shape the attitudes, behavior, and personalities of the mentees. In contrast, in coaching, the coaches build the skills and abilities of coachees, thus widening their competencies and capabilities. In a nutshell, mentoring involves soft skills more than hard skills, while coaching involves more hard skills than soft skills. To put it succinctly, coaches accompany achievements and mentors ensure the shaping of the mentees. 

Coaching helps in discovering the inherent competencies and capabilities of the coachees, and in further shaping them as competent individuals. It helps to motivate and build confidence among the coachees through continuous support and guidance. However, mentoring helps to show mentees their inherent competencies, thereby grooming them further. 

Coaching is a structured and formal approach, while mentoring is not. Coaching involves physical interaction and constant correction with the right feedback. However, mentoring is all about sharing advice and experiences. 

Coaches must be confidential, and friendly, and must be psychologists. They must ask the right questions to get the best out of coachees. They must be good at giving objective feedback. Above all, they must be good listeners with the right reasoning and an analytical bent of mind. 

The coachees must be good listeners and should have respect for the coach. They must have a passion to learn and upgrade their skills and abilities, and must also have the ability to take feedback objectively and constructively. 

The roles and responsibilities of coaches go beyond coaching. However, let us briefly mention the same as those of a facilitator, catalyst, learner, domain expert, and, above all, mentor. They must facilitate learning through constant questioning, interaction, reflection, and feedback. The feedback must be sandwich and issues-oriented rather than individuals oriented. This means that it must emphasize attacking the behavior of the individuals, not the individuals themselves. It must bring out the necessary behavioral changes as well as be results-driven. They must act as catalysts where they need to bring about changes in the levels of thinking, behavior, and performance. They must be able to build confidence among the coachees and transform them. They must be very strong in their domain so that they can gain respect and win the trust of the coachees. Above all, they must also act as mentors and consultants by sharing their knowledge, experiences and providing advice to the coachees. 

Coaching Strategy

A coach must have a clear strategy complete with a blueprint detailing the execution of the coaching process, which must be aligned with the goals of the coachees. Both coach and coachee must set SMART strategies to achieve the desired results. They must set their strategies specifically to avoid deviation and ensure clarity. The duration of the coaching must be measurable and clear to enhance seriousness. The strategies must be achievable so that both coach and coachee are motivated to take it forward. Besides, the coaching strategy must be realistic, and should not be a mere daydream. Finally, the strategy must be trackable and time-bound to stay focused as well as ensure takeaways.

Coaching Stages

Coaching consists of various stages, such as direction, relationship, development, execution, and feedback. First, it is vital to set the direction with the clear outcomes expected from coaching. Second, it is necessary to build a relationship between the coach and coachees. This relationship paves the way for better communication, resulting in bridging barriers by looking at commonalities. Third, emphasize developmental activities to stay focused on the coaching process. Fourth, execution is the key to effective and successful coaching. Remove the stumbling blocks, if any, during the coaching process by minimizing both internal and external threats and maximizing both strengths and opportunities. The final stage of coaching is feedback, which measures the takeaways from coaching. Kirkpatrick evaluation is an ideal and useful tool to find out the coaching outcomes. 

Coaching and Questioning

Coaches must use several tools during the coaching process, such as the usage of inquiry, interaction, reflection, and requests to get the best out of the coachees. In addition, they must learn the art of questioning, as questioning is an integral part of coaching. They must ask open-ended questions that will help their coachees to think broadly and come out with solutions. Coachees will be able to think and come up with answers when faced with broad questions, as people are usually committed more to their ideas than to those of others. Here are the great coaching questions to ask your coachees—or even yourself!

  • What do you want to learn?
  • What skills and abilities would you like to acquire?
  • What action will you take to improve your abilities and skills?
  • What are your professional goals, and how much time do you take to reach them?
  • What do you mean by success? Does success have anything to do with coaching? How do you think coaching will help you to achieve success?
  • What are the current challenges you have and how will you overcome them?

Myths and Truths about Coaching

It is a myth that coaches provide quick-fix solutions to coachees. The coachees must not expect tailor-made solutions for their problems from coaches. What the coach does is spot the potential and passion of the coachees, and develop their competencies and capabilities. 

Another prevailing myth is that coaches are superhuman beings. The truth is that coaches are ordinary individuals with extraordinary mindsets, skill sets, and toolsets with which to shape the coachees. They are passionate about making a difference in the lives of the coachees. 

What is Feedback?

Coaching is incomplete without feedback. It is rightly said that feedback is the breakfast of champions. Continuous feedback helps in the continuous improvement of your employee. Hence, provide honest and constructive feedback so that the employee gets corrected, and feels gratefully towards you. While giving feedback, never attack the individual. Always attack the behavior of the individual. Depersonalize your feedback. Provide sandwich feedback. Do not criticize in the presence of others. 

What is Sandwich Feedback?

Sandwich feedback is a polished way of giving feedback to others. It starts by praising the strengths, then suggesting improvements, and concludes with further praise. Put precisely, it places tough news between two positive pieces of feedback. Coaches must adopt this tool as it helps to bring out the desired changes among coachees. It doesn’t hurt the receivers as the criticism is well-sandwiched. The receivers take what is needed and develop gratitude towards the coach.

As a reviewer of various international journals, I adopt the sandwich feedback where I start with the strengths of the manuscript, then move on to the corrections to be made, and finally conclude with the efforts made to create the manuscript. Every author puts in enormous effort in writing an article. If it is rejected outright only through criticism, the author gets demoralized. Hence, I adopt sandwich feedback both as a reviewer of manuscripts and also vis-à-vis my students, whose strengths should be encouraged and whose weaknesses corrected so that they can become better.

Is Leadership Development Incomplete Without Coaching?

Leadership development is incomplete without referring to coaching and mentoring. Hence, coaching is included in the content plan of leadership development programs (LDP) as it is considered the key to leadership development. The facilitators and consultants cover various concepts and aspects of coaching during their leadership development programs. Hence, both coaching and leadership development are two sides of the same coin. 

With the mushrooming of knowledge workers, there is huge potential for coaching, through which people can unlock and realize their hidden potential. People don’t hesitate to spend their money on personal and professional development. In addition, changing times and technologies have resulted in ambiguity and uncertainty, and that calls for coaching. Hence, there is a bright future ahead for all areas of coaching. 

Coaching is indeed a priceless gift. Coaching is an excellent career option when both coaches and coachees are passionate. It will exist as long as human civilization, as human beings crave continuous learning and growth. 

Coaches must love their profession. They must have the passion to make a difference in others. They must have a love for their profession rather than a love for money. They might not last, but their coaching lasts for several generations. In their later lives, they will never regret not coaching and guiding mankind if they provide timely coaching. Hence, start coaching from now onwards to make a difference in the lives of others.

About the Author

M.S. Rao, Ph.D.Professor M.S. Rao, Ph.D. is the Father of “Soft Leadership” and the Founder of MSR Leadership Consultants, India. He is an International Leadership Guru with forty-two years of experience and the author of fifty-two books including the award-winning ‘See the Light in You’ URL: He is a C-Suite advisor and global keynote speaker. He brings a strategic eye and long-range vision given his multifaceted professional experience including military, teaching, training, research, consultancy, and philosophy. He is passionate about serving and making a difference in the lives of others. He is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine. He trains a new generation of leaders through leadership education and publications. His vision is to build one million students as global leaders by 2030 URL:  


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