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From Boss to Coach: Transforming Leadership Styles for Enhanced Employee Engagement

Remember when your parents would tell you to do something, and if you asked them why, their answer would simply be, “Because I said so”? For years, business organizations have run in a similar way. Management calls the shots, and employees do what their managers say because, well, they said so. In this model, employees have little say in decision-making.

Lately, however, the working world has seen a shift from traditional “boss-centric” leadership styles to a coaching approach that empowers employees and fosters open communication, employee autonomy and engagement, and collaboration, which in turn lead to increased productivity and organizational success. A coaching leadership style emphasizes relationships, motivation, and personal growth. This article presents essential strategies and practical insights for leaders seeking to transform their leadership styles from being mere “bosses” to becoming effective coaches.

Shifting Mindsets and Behaviors

In order to shift your mindset, you must be aware of the differences between the two models. Here are some key differences between a boss and coach:

  •         A boss issues orders, whereas a coach seeks input and feedback.
  •         A boss tells, whereas a coach asks and shows.
  •         A boss expects absolute commitment, whereas a coach inspires loyalty.
  •         A boss may resist change, whereas a coach welcomes and implements it.
  •         A boss reacts to challenges, whereas a coach seeks to prevent them.
  •         A boss prioritizes short-term results, whereas a coach prioritizes relationships that lead to long-term results.
  •         A boss relies on his or her authority to promote performance, whereas a coach fosters trust and accountability to achieve team success.

Understanding what coaching mindsets and behaviors look like in comparison to the boss-centric model is an imperative step in effecting change. First and foremost, however, you have to desire to make that change, and that desire is bred by results. As you strive to shift to a coaching mentality, you will see the following benefits manifest in your employees:

  •         Greater investment in their goals
  •         Increasing levels of engagement
  •         Growing feelings of trust in management
  •         A deeper level of learning
  •         Enhanced personal awareness

Empowering Employees and Promoting Collaboration

The coaching leadership style is built upon the foundational ideas of empowering employees and promoting collaboration rather than giving orders and expecting obedience. The concept is based on the tried-and-true adage “two heads are better than one,” and taken several steps further. Coach leaders understand that every team member has talents to offer and possibly ideas to move the organization forward. The trick is to access those skills and ideas.

Simply put, employee empowerment means giving employees an appropriate degree of autonomy and responsibility that enables them to use their own judgment in their organizational sphere. This self-sufficiency allows employees to think, make decisions, and take action with your support rather than your direction, which facilitates effective decision-making at the company’s lower levels, rather than always at the top.

Wired2perform’s founder Raghu Misra says, “Employee empowerment facilitates distinct advantages. Specifically, it validates the unique views employees could have regarding challenges facing the organization at a certain level. Also, empowered teams lead to increased responsiveness, increased productivity, a greater degree of employee commitment to organizational goals, increased accountability, and enhanced communication.”

That enhanced communication Misra speaks of is collaboration. To collaborate is to exchange ideas and communicate across departments in pursuit of a common goal. In other words, collaboration is teamwork. A collaborative culture enhances each employee’s knowledge and capabilities as they learn from and lean on each other.

Creating a Coaching Culture

If you’re interested in transforming your company’s leadership style, try executing the following strategies:

Increase individual freedom. Allow your people to try new approaches to solve the challenges your organization faces. Don’t get stuck in the mindset, “This is how we’ve always done it.” Someone’s new tactics could change the game for your business.

Create a culture of learning. A learning-loving culture refers to more than frequent training opportunities (although those are great too); it refers to a willingness to learn from mistakes. As mentioned above, allow your employees to try something new. If it works—great! If not, figure out why, use that knowledge to adjust, and move forward all the wiser.

Build team trust. Forbes Coaches Council member Cynthia Knapek says, “On the surface, it may seem faster to adopt a command-and-control style that says, ‘Let me just tell you how I want it done.’ But coaching your team to discover the path for themselves builds trust. Good managers show you their superpower—good leaders show you yours” (Forbes).

 Prioritize relationships. As a C-suite executive, you may feel that production and efficiency deserve your primary focus. However, your team’s work satisfaction and healthy work relationships are pivotal to your ability to achieve those ends.

To learn more about how to build a strong coaching culture, I recommend this further reading. Hopefully, I’ve whetted your appetite to learn more about this subject and given you some actionable insights to get started! 


By Octavio Lepe

By Octavio Lepe

Executive Vice-President

Octavio is the search practice leader for Executive Management, Sales & Marketing, and D&I in the Americas.

Barbachano International is the premier executive search and leadership advisory firm in the Americas (USA, Mexico, Canada, and Latin America) with a focus on diversity and multicultural target markets.  Outplacement, Executive Coaching and Onboarding services are provided by our sister allied company Challenger Gray & Christmas. BIP has been recognized by Forbes as Americas’ Best Executive Search Firms for 6 consecutive years and currently ranks #26 and #3 on the West Coast.  




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