Introduction to Leadership Coaching

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Introduction to Leadership Coaching

This article outlines the basic concepts in coaching and skills required to be successful.

What skills are necessary to good coaching? – Here are some of the most basic skills we need in order to engage in coaching conversations.

  • Active Listening is to let the listener know that you are hearing what they are saying.

  • Three levels of listening, and the benefits of operating at the higher levels.

  • Recognizing the Saboteur and eliminating your limiting beliefs

  • Appreciative Inquiry approach to improvement which builds upon the positive vs. starting from a premise of what is wrong.

  • Championing – showing that you believe in the client and his/her abilities

Active Listening

Becoming an Active Listener

There are five key elements of active listening. They all help you ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are hearing what they are saying.

1. Pay attention

Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message. Recognize that what is not said also speaks loudly.

  • Look at the speaker directly.

  • Put aside distracting thoughts. Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal!

  • Avoid being distracted by environmental factors. o “Listen” to the speaker’s body language.

  • Refrain from side conversations when listening in a group setting.

2. Show that you are listening.

Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.

  • Nod occasionally.

  • Smile and use other facial expressions.

  • Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting.

  • Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and uh huh.

3. Provide feedback.

Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect what is being said and ask questions.

  • Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. “What I’m hearing is…” and “Sounds like you are saying…” are great ways to reflect back.

  • Ask questions to clarify certain points. “What do you mean when you say…” “Is this what you mean?”

  • Summarize the speaker’s comments periodically.

Tip: If you find yourself responding emotionally to what someone said, say so, and ask for more information: "I may not be understanding you correctly, and I find myself taking what you said personally. What I thought you just said is XXX; is that what you meant?"

4. Defer Judgment

Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.

  • Allow the speaker to finish.

  • Don’t interrupt with counter-arguments.

5. Respond Appropriately.

Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down.

  • Be candid, open, and honest in your response.

  • Assert your opinions respectfully.

  • Treat the other person as he or she would want to be treated.

Mentor training: active listening skills

In this two-minute video with mentoring experts Richard Naish and John Lorriman of UK-based Qi Concepts, you will see an actual coaching session on listening skills.

A number of writers talk about different levels of listening with differing numbers of levels defined and variously described. One of the best introductory book that captures the spirit of coaching is the well known Co-Active Coaching: New skills for coaching people toward success in work and life. (Find out more about this book in our Basics learning tour). Laura Whitworth and her colleagues introduce us to the coach approach to listening – on 3 levels.

Level 1 or ‘Internal listening’

Here as the listener your focus in on yourself and your own thoughts rather than the speaker. As the speaker is talking you interpret what you hear in terms of what it means to you. This is normal everyday conversation where it is natural as the listener to gather information to help you form opinions and make decisions. Generally, as a good coach you will not be listening at this level, after all a coaching session isn’t about you, it is about your client and their needs. However, there are times when it may be appropriate for example when you want to establish from your client a convenient time for their next coaching session. In this instance you need to take into account your own availability and make a judgement in order to agree a mutually convenient time.

Level 2 or ‘Listening to understand’

As a listener operating at level 2 you are focusing totally on the speaker, listening to their words, tone of voice and body language and are not distracted by your own thoughts and feelings. As a good coach you will be using this level of listening in your coaching sessions where the purpose of gathering information is solely for the benefit of your client rather than you. By listening at level 2 you can get a real understanding of where the coachee is ‘coming from’, the client will feel understood and the coach’s own thoughts will not influence the coaching session.

Level 3 or ‘Global Listening’

This involves the listener focusing on the speaker and picking up more than what is being said. When coaching, you will be listening to everything available using intuition, picking up emotion and sensing signals from your coachee’s body language. You can gauge the energy of your coachee and their emotions as well as picking up what they are not saying. You will understand what they are thinking and feeling, and trusting your own senses can be extremely responsive to the needs of your coachee, knowing what question to ask next.

Source: Co-active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life by Laura Whitworth, Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, and Phil Sandahl (Paperback - 15 Feb 2007)

What's Your Listening Level?

YouTube DescriptionHow well do you listen when you're in a conversation? Communication expert Dr. Bill Lampton describes Stephen Covey's five listening levels, and challenges you to accept the highest level.


Since vision is based on knowing what you truly desire, it's helpful to examine the thoughts and beliefs that hold you back from what you want. Freeing yourself from internal barriers releases you to identify, build and actualize a vision based on your deepest desires and wildest dreams.

Here, how to approach two obstacles to listening to your inner voice.

1. Recognize your saboteur.

Each of us has our very own special saboteur. The saboteur is the voice in your head that says, You are not good enough or Who do you think you are? or If you take this new job, everyone will find out what a fraud you are. The saboteur mistakenly believes that it is protecting you when it stops you from making changes or taking a risk. We hear the saboteur's voice any time we judge ourselves or assume that someone else is judging us. It's important to remember that you are not your saboteur.

Benefits: Learn to distinguish between your voice and the saboteur's messages. Become aware of the saboteur's ability to drive your choices and decisions. When you do these two things it allows you to choose freely based on your intuition and your true desires.

New Focus: Simply notice the negative voices playing in your head. Notice the times when they crop up. Recognize that the voices aren't you and they aren't true. Observe what they say without engaging in a conversation with them. When you learn to separate your inner voice from that of the saboteur, you begin to change your life.

2. Uncover your limiting beliefs.

We each carry a set of beliefs that we live by. Certain beliefs you hold consciously, while others are mainly unconscious. Beliefs develop out of past experiences and our interpretations of those experiences. Growing up, we also develop beliefs when we internalize the messages we receive from social conditioning. Since many beliefs are based on past experiences, they may limit us in the present. For example, a pertinent belief at age ten will most likely be limiting to you at age thirty. Some of the conscious and unconscious beliefs that you develop limit your ability to grow and move forward in your life. For example: One of your goals as a successful entrepreneur is to make a certain income. You discover that you have a belief - a limiting one - that it's wrong to make a lot of money. Until you begin to alter your beliefs about money, it will be difficult for you to listen to your inner voice and its messages to you about financial abundance.

Benefits: Learning to notice a limiting belief allows you to become conscious of it, and then change it. Releasing a belief that limits you puts you back in the driver's seat of your life. You, rather than an old belief, make the choices that are right for you and allow you to fulfill your potential.

Ways to spot a limiting belief:

  1. You tell yourself that you only have one or two choices in a situation or "no choice" at all.

  2. Your saboteur expresses its opinion, generally based on a limiting belief.

  3. A decision may appear to be black and white to you, or an either/or situation.

  4. You have decided that "this is the way the world is."

  5. You make a decision based on fear.

  6. You feel constricted and notice that you lack clarity about a specific situation.

New Focus: Look at some of your beliefs more closely. How does a particular belief allow you to attract what you really want in life? How does it prevent you from identifying your vision and attaining your goals? When you reach an obstacle in your path, make sure that it's not an old belief in your way.

Most of the obstacles we encounter are inside of us, based in fear or what someone else thinks we should do. Break some of your own rules. Go after what you want, and bring that bold, beautiful vision to life.

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is an organizational development process or philosophy that engages individuals within an organizational system in its renewal, change and focused performance. AI is based on the assumption that organizations change in the way they inquire and the claim that an organization which inquires into problems or difficult situations will keep finding more of the same but an organization which tries to appreciate what is best in itself will find/discover more and more of what is good. [1] .

Appreciative Inquiry was adopted from work done by earlier action research theorists and practitioners and further developed by David Cooperrider of Case Western Reserve University and Suresh Srivastva in the 1980s. Cooperrider and Srivastva say that an organization is a miracle to be embraced rather than a problem to be solved. According to them, inquiry into organizational life should have the following characteristics: [1] .

  • Appreciative

  • Applicable

  • Provocative

  • Collaborative

It is now a commonly accepted practice in the creation of organizational development strategy and implementation of organizational effectiveness tactics. Appreciative Inquiry is a particular way of asking questions and envisioning the future that fosters positive relationships and builds on the basic goodness in a person, a situation, or an organization. In so doing, it enhances a system's capacity for collaboration and change. [2] Appreciative Inquiry utilizes a cycle of 4 processes focusing on:

  1. DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes that work well.

  2. DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.

  3. DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.

  4. DESTINY (or DELIVER): The implementation (execution) of the proposed design. [3] [4]

The basic idea is to build organizations around what works, rather than trying to fix what doesn't. It is the opposite of problem solving. Instead of focusing on gaps and inadequacies to remediate skills or practices, AI focuses on how to create more of the exceptional performance that is occurring when a core of strengths is aligned. It opens the door to a universe of possibilities, since the work doesn't stop when a particular problem is solved but rather focuses on "What is the best we can be?" The approach acknowledges the contribution of individuals, in order to increase trust and organizational alignment. The method aims to create meaning by drawing from stories of concrete successes and lends itself to cross-industrial social activities.

There are a variety of approaches to implementing Appreciative Inquiry, including mass-mobilized interviews and a large, diverse gathering called an Appreciative Inquiry Summit (Ludema, Whitney, Mohr and Griffin, 2003). Both approaches involve bringing very large, diverse groups of people together to study and build upon the best in an organization or community. The basic philosophy of AI is also found in other positively oriented approaches to individual change as well as organizational change. As noted above, " AI ...fosters positive relationships and builds on the basic goodness in a person, or a situation ...." The principles behind A.I. are based in the rapidly developing science of Positive Psychology. The idea of building on strength, rather than just focusing on faults and weakness is a powerful idea in use in mentoring programs, and in coaching dynamics. It is the basic idea behind teaching "micro-affirmations" as well as teaching about micro-inequities. (See Microinequity Rowe Micro-Affirmations and Micro-inequities in the Journal of the International Ombudsman Association, Volume 1, Number 1, March 2008.) AI has been used extensively to foster change in businesses (a variety of sectors), health care systems, social profit organizations, educational institutions, communities, local governments, and religious institutions.

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