Most human resource professionals and academics believe that coaching is an integral part of the HR toolkit for improving skills and behaviours within organisations and that coaching helps executives become more effective leaders. This article briefly explores leadership, leadership development and the role of coaching in leadership development.

Leadership and leadership development

Jim Collins identifies leadership, specifically level 5 leadership, as the foundation that differentiates companies from being good or great. His research concludes that it is the leader’s role to inspire trust, create vision, execute strategy, and build and develop a team around them. Collins identifies two levels of leaders an “Effective Leader” who “catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling company vision, stimulating higher performance standards” and a “Level 5 Executive” who “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will”. The level 5 leader is focused on the greater good and success of the company, team, organization rather than their own personal goal with Collins stating that these individuals are “incredibly ambitions, but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution and not themselves”.

In “Discover your true north” Bill George establishes the key trait of true leaders is authenticity stating, “authenticity is the natural way of leading and authentic leaders have learnt from their crucibles and setbacks, they know that they must be authentic to gain legitimacy with those they work with and their multiple stakeholders”. George’s research identifies that authentic leaders who follow their “true north” are committed to building value for their institutions, in the same vein as Collins’ “Level 5 leader”.

However, leaders are not only in the “C-suite” of organisations but at every level of a business or team. In an organization the middle and lower management leaders are essential for the execution, interpretation, and development of plans. Here leadership can be exercised through “doing the Job” and guiding or supporting their team as whilst executing the plan.

Leadership development is clearly complex sometimes described as “an art and is often about emotions rather than facts and about people management rather than tasks”. As talented individuals and managers move through organisations they transition into positions which require less functional expertise and more about leading through their team and their ability to build and maintain a high performing team. Research identifies that many managers fail because of their inability to change their behaviors they become more senior and transition into leadership roles. Pelham builds on this identifying that if a manager is successful because of their technical expertise as they are promoted “their new leadership role is more about influencing and developing others their current, existing strengths will not be enough”. The transition into a leadership role and the development of leaders is therefore more about improving softer interpersonal skills and behaviors than technical or functional expertise.

The role of coaching in leadership development

Coaching is recognised as an effective method to unlock and improve emotional intelligence in individuals, providing a framework to discover, challenge and develop their thinking, emotions and behavior. Clutterbuck states that there is a compelling need for leadership coaching in the 21st Century, in that coaching supports people to manage transitions, personal development, goal attainment and organisational change. Goldman also states that “developing emotional intelligence has become a key part of the coaching agenda for most people in leadership positions”. Pelham also identifies that the transition from a functional manager to a leader is “probably not just a matter of adding a new behavior to an existing set because the change goes deeper” adding “you may need to challenge ingrained patterns of behavior”.

As a result, leadership and executive coaching has developed as part of learning and development programs within many organisations.  As individuals transition into new, more senior and leadership roles coaching is clearly an effective mechanism to help them re-evaluate existing beliefs and habits to ensure that they maximise their own potential and their team.

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Bond, A., & Naughton, N. (2011). The Role of Coaching in Managing Leadership Transitions. International Coaching Psychology Review, 6(2), 165-179.

Collins, J. (2001). Good to Great (1st ed., pp. 17-40). London: Random House Business Books.

Cox, Bachkirova, & Clutterbuck. (2018). The Complete Handbook of Coaching. (3rd Ed., pp.276-294). London: Sage

George, B. (2015). Discover Your True North (2nd ed., pp. 3-56). New Jersey: Wiley & Sons.

Pelham, G. (2016). The Coaching Relationship in Practice (1st ed., pp. 41-44, 86-88, 136-141). London: Sage.