Thought Leadership & Research IndexArticle

How a Coaching Leader Communicates

By Cynthia Roman

As a practicing executive coach and a professor of leadership coaching, I am often asked, “How does one get a traditional manager to rely less on power and control and become more of a coaching leader?” This is a tough question, because it sounds like the coach is being asked to change the heart and soul of another human being. And as we all know, the only heart and soul we can really change is our own! And yet, the most powerful coaching is when real transformation occurs in our coaching clients — when they realize they have learned something powerful or new about themselves. With that transformative learning, the coaching client begins to behave and relate to the world around them in an entirely different way.

In our book, Leading from the Inside Out: a Coaching Model (Bianco, Nabors, & Roman, 2002), we define coaching leadership as “…a way of being based on the commitment to align beliefs with actions. Coaching leaders communicate powerfully, help others to create desired outcomes, and hold relationships based on honesty, acceptance and accountability.”

Is there a shortcut to stimulating this kind of learning in the leader of an organization? Over the last twenty years of working with leaders from all types of organizations, my business partners and I have observed a phenomenon discussed in any basic psychology textbook — people will repeat a behavior that gets them the outcome they desire. So, there are two relevant questions: 1) what are the outcomes the leader is striving to achieve? and 2) what behaviors are most likely to achieve those outcomes?

The outcomes that most leaders expect from employees today haven’t changed much over the last fifty years. They want their employees to be accountable for their performance. What has changed is the realization that the traditional management methods of directing, advising, coercing and controlling only work in the short-term to produce desired performance. Long-term performance accountability requires coaching behaviors: influencing, teaching, questioning and enabling.

Use Inquiry and Advocacy to Communicate Skillfully as a Leader

These coaching behaviors of influencing, teaching, questioning and enabling can be seen in the conversations a coaching leader holds with others. Coaching leaders communicate to understand, not to convince; test their assumptions; ask powerful questions; question organizational and team discrepancies between behavior and outcomes; and reach agreements that lead to higher levels of performance. These leaders communicate quite differently from traditional managers. They share their reasoning, perceptions and beliefs with openness, and change their points of view if presented with new reasoning or data. They ask their employees to back up their points of view with facts and defensible reasoning.

Let’s return to the original question. “How does one get a traditional manager to rely less on power and control and become more of a coaching leader?” As a coach, a good place to start is to focus on behaviors. Such “advocacy” and “inquiry” skills can be learned, practiced and reinforced in the coaching relationship. Following is a chart of short “recipes” that coaches can help their clients to start using in staff meetings, performance discussions, planning meetings, and countless other settings.

Advocacy Inquiry
I came to this conclusion because… How did you come to that conclusion? Or
Why do you say that?
I’m making the following assumptions when I make this statement. What assumptions are you making when you say that?
The following facts lead me to believe that… What information did you consider when you came to that conclusion?
I think…because…I assumed…because… Help me to understand your reasoning/thinking here.
I see the situation as… How do you see this situation?
Testing Your Reasoning
Here’s the data I looked at. What other data would be important to look at?
I infer that you mean… Am I making an accurate inference?
I assumed that… because… What other assumptions could I make?
I came to this conclusion because… What conclusion would you come to?
Have I missed anything?

The Results of Skillful Communication

Coaching leaders communicate skillfully by balancing advocacy and inquiry. Results can be astounding. At the individual level, employees feel more valued and they are able to contribute their ideas more fully. At the team level, the promise of synergistic team problem-solving is more fully realized. At the organizational level, higher levels of performance are achieved in the bottom line. At the heart of the skills of advocacy and inquiry is the insistence on learning instead of judging. As leaders begin to focus on the behaviors of coaching leadership, they may begin to change their heart and soul and truly become a coaching leader.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Summer Issue 2005, Volume 1, Issue 2).

Cynthia Roman, Ed.D, PCC

Cynthia Roman, Ed.D, PCC, is an Executive Coach and Partner with Strategic Performance Group and a Professor of Leadership Coaching at The George Washington University. She also teaches Leadership at University of Maryland, University College. She is co-author of Leading From the Inside Out: A Coaching Model (2002, Sage Publications). Read more about Cynthia’s work at

Get Involved

Contribute Your Expertise

It's an exciting time to be involved with WABC. We invite experts and researchers to contribute to the renewal, innovation and high quality of our profession. Let's explore how you can build your reputation as a leader and share your knowledge with the WABC global community