Coaching Chemistry: Building a Collaborative Relationship - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #311

Coaching Chemistry: Building a Collaborative Relationship

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The best circumstances for successful coaching include a number of factors, from the skill, style, and experience of the coach, to the desire of the coachee to develop, to the actual process of coaching sessions. But none of these will work effectively if the relationship between the two is lacking. What can leaders do to get the best out of their teams, and the best out of themselves as coaches?


Leaders cannot succeed in isolation. By definition, leadership is about getting the best from other people throughout the organization. The cumulative improvement leaders can generate in their teams through successful coaching will have far more impact than any efforts as an individual. It is therefore vital to foster the best in your people by embedding a positive coaching culture. And that can start with you, as you impart your skills and knowledge and take on the role of coach.

The use of coaching as a leadership style can have a real impact on organizational culture, because it allows people to take responsibility for their own development; it creates an opportunity for stronger working relationships; and it builds organizational performance levels. The knock-on effect of individuals wanting to manifest a level of change in themselves is that they will be able to perform their role more effectively and therefore be of more benefit to the organization.

Leaders are most likely to use their coaching style when time is not a major issue, and when forward planning is possible. Crisis management or a state of flux within the organization calls for more personal leadership intervention. But for many other situations, coaching can be a useful approach, allowing the leader to step out of their own reference zone, and see things from their coachee’s point of view.

A leader will invariably already have a relationship with their coachee/s, but the key to succeeding with coaching is to use that connection and strengthen it further, to develop a deeper rapport. Having established that you want to introduce more coaching into your schedule, be aware of the stages involved in developing a good coaching relationship with your team members, and recognise the needs of both parties.

At first, your coachee may be looking at you to see how much you are ‘like’ them, and whether they can relate to you. If you can fit in with their own identity, next examine what your/their needs are relating to control. Control in a coaching relationship can swing back and forth, depending on the issue being discussed, so you need to know when to take over, i.e. if they are unsure in a certain situation, and when to let them hold the reins, helping the conversation with them move forward by active listening. Finally, be mindful of maintaining a balance between appropriate closeness to gain your coachee’s confidence and openness, and a professional distance so you can conduct the relationship in a work setting.


Having considered how to establish the relationship, how do you get the best out of this ‘working alliance’? Flexibility is key, because you need to constantly monitor the nature of the relationship, listening to your coachee’s view and adapting to their levels of need. A useful comparable here would be the doctor/patient relationship in which the doctor may have to adapt his/her approach to get maximum input from the patient. In the same way, you may need to adapt your style or the approach you take within the coaching sessions, considering the suggestions below, for example.

  • Be yourself – you need to let your coachee see the ‘real you’ not only to build trust, but also because letting your own self shine through will be a much easier state for you to maintain.
  • Agree arrangements – work out how you want to conduct coaching, whether informal ad hoc meetings as the need arises, or more structured sessions in a specific setting.
  • Active listening – pay attention, and use body language to demonstrate that attention to your coachee. By making the effort to really listen and understand their view of the world, you will gain their trust and achieve a much more productive relationship that can bring about significant and lasting change. It’s common sense really ¬– the more attention you give, and the more intensely you listen to their issues, the more likely they are to want to change and reach their goals.
  • Ask incisive questions – don’t be afraid to put forward questions or ideas that challenge assumptions the coachee (or you) may have, and that limit ideas or possibilities. Every now and then, summarise what you are hearing in response, and reflect on it, to show you have really listened.
  • Empathy, rapport, openness and trust – looking at the world through the lens of you coachee will help you support them better because you become sensitised to their particular issues. Clear your head of your own needs and thoughts, this time is about your coachee.
  • Be mindful – take space and time to think so that you can both approach coaching sessions clearly and with fresh eyes.
  • Appreciation – treat your coachee as your thinking peer, encouraging them to move beyond assumptions that limit their thinking and their ideas. Practice the art of appreciation over criticism. The ratio of the former to the latter should be high, so that coachees grow in confidence and feel that they matter, both as individuals, and to the organization.
  • Enjoy the learning journey – the process of coaching can help build self-awareness in you as well as your coachee. However experienced you may be, interaction of this sort can really help you as you work with others in a coaching setting.



The Leader as Coach – the coaching relationship. Clair Collins. White Paper (2013).

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Idea conceived

December 1, 2013

Idea posted

Jan 2014
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