Have you ever noticed that coaching is promoted as the holy grail of a ‘good’ leader? Similarly, have you noticed that the managers who don’t coach often cite being too time-poor to coach?

The reality is that coaching team members are an effective way to drive performance. It will assist in increasing engagement and will lead to greater flexibility for both the team member and manager, once coaching has started to pay off through a more significant application of skills, autonomy, and motivation.

However, there is a direct correlation to the skill of the leader, and how they adapt to the needs of their team member when coaching.  This is why the ‘Hersey Blanchard’ Situational leadership model  is often paired with coaching training.

The Tuckman model of team effectiveness is also a useful reference when coaching teams to increase performance outcomes and can assist in identifying where the leader should place their effort in leading and coaching.

Let’s take a moment to review the Tuckman model.

Tuckman Model of Team Development
Stage Characteristics Leader role
Forming Team meets (formation), begins collective work. Outlines mission. Seeks agreement for team roles, rules and guides decision making. Fosters relationship building and trust.
Storming Team deals with confusion and conflict over goals, decision making, roles and control. Facilitates discussion, ensures a common understanding of agreements, resolves conflict constructively, reclarifies team goals. Adapts to the needs of individuals to bring them along on the journey.
Norming The team accepts goals, roles and commences working productively Encourages norming process, supports and coaches, celebrates success. Encourages robust discussion
Performing The team focusses on achieving goals. Personal growth for the team, conflict handled positively Encourages high performance, continues to coach and encourage. Celebrates success. The role of the leader is that of a facilitator, aiding the team to communicate effectively and assisting if the team reverts to a prior stage.
Adjourning If the team is temporary, such as a project team, the team may be disbanded once the project has concluded. Team members may leave, or business may restructure. Active communication and engagement with team members are critical here to reduce the risk of highly engaged, performing team members becoming disengaged and performance affected.

Image adapted from University of Wales image

An effective leader is genuinely curious about what makes their team member ‘tick’ and utilises their motivation for a mutually beneficial outcome. This process starts at the forming stage of team development.  The leader is required to establish a genuine connection with their team members, which enhances trust.

Let’s face it, being coached and receiving feedback as to where you can improve is a really vulnerable place to be. The relationship that leaders develop with their team members is more important than all the best coaching methods that are available. Without building a solid foundation of trust, the easiest option for the team member who is being coached, is, to dismiss the feedback.


The leader should take the time to reclarify the purpose and role of team members. Coaching can be used to assist in the clarification process. Asking open-ended questions such as “Tell me about …” will help to determine where and if there is any confusion for the team member.


Coaching isn’t always about telling people the answer. Rather, it is more about having a conversation and asking good, open-ended questions that allow the people being coached to reflect on what they are doing and how they can do things differently in the future to improve performance. In most instances, the coachee will ‘know’ their areas for development.  Adults prefer to play a part in their own development and solutions.  The leader should work with their team members by asking them what they could do differently, to improve and work together to finesse the solution and associated coaching actions.


For the most part, team members will be in the consolidation phase of their skill development.  Less coaching may be required, freeing up the leaders time.

Additionally, high performing team members can be used to assist in skilling others via buddying and skill sharing.

However, it is essential that coaching continues, enabling fine-tuning, and communication and engagement between the team member and leader.


For many, this stage will be where the trust between the team member and leader is most important. Team members can feel vulnerable and, conflict can arise in the team.  The leader should continue to proactively communicate about the changes occurring within the team and organisation.  One on one coaching and feedback sessions during this time can help to reduce the team member’s anxiety and reduce the dip of performance that often occurs during periods of change.

For new managers and coaches, it should be remembered that their skills in regards to coaching are also developing.  Many before them have walked this road. They should take advantage of this and find someone who is a good coach in their organization and ask them to share their insights.

  • What do they do?
  • Ask why they coach.
  • Actively listen and learn.


Alternatively, new coaches and leaders could consider creating a peer support network – it could be as simple as creating a ‘WhatsApp’ group where questions and confidential scenarios are posed, to leverage the experience of other managers and coaches.

To answer the question posed in the title of this article, is coaching the holy grail of leadership?  The answer is, it can be.  However, it is only as effective as the time taken to establish trust with team members and the ability to adapt to the ever-changing needs of your team.