Is coaching key to successful system leadership?

Is coaching key to successful system leadership?
posted 07 November 2019 in category Upskilling Leadership

“Coaching is often perceived as the single most effective development intervention that a senior leader in the NHS can access” (NHS Leadership Academy, 2019). We agree.

Over the years in the NHS, coaching has become progressively used as an intervention to support organisational change and shifting roles, providing both clarity and guidance. Leadership coaching enhances a person’s abilities and skills to effectively lead and help support the organisation to meet its operational objectives ( Leadership coaching may involve 1:1 interactions or group work with the aim being to help the person find sustainable behavioural change and positively transform the person’s private and professional life. Whilst system leadership will always require performance and leadership aspects for effective management, coaching provides an angle that is beneficial to any senior management role. This is because the focus of coaching is deploying the most effective strategy in a given situation, helping the coachee to own solutions through a bottom-up approach.

There may still be an assumption that coaching is woolly and fluffy, and that using a coach means you’re failing in some way. However, there are multiple benefits of coaching and, if done correctly, it can enhance performance. System leadership coaching sessions often focus on boosting the person’s ability to perform as a leader and to achieve the organisational vision. Although leadership is often built on values and soft skills (e.g. emotional intelligence), leadership coaching pushes personal development even further. There is a deep dive into specific organisational needs which helps the person better understand the realistic goals that need to be set for the organisation.

The biggest benefit of coaching is how it helps provide both perspective and direction. Even if you’re self-reflective, anyone can become lost in their own thinking and ways of doing things. A leadership coach provides a different viewpoint by evaluating behaviour. In 2008, The Institute for Employment Studies evaluated coaching in the NHS and found a number of common themes on how coaching impacted behaviour and approaches to work (

  • A more objective and strategic approach
  • Better work prioritisation
  • Increased confidence
  • Increased ability to influence key people
  • Better team management
  • Better self‐presentation in job applications.

Essentially, leadership coaching is about feedback and deeper analysis of behaviours and skill. It helps raise self-awareness and enhances operational abilities, as well as providing career path advantages. The key to realising the benefits of leadership coaching is commitment from the leader – with commitment, coaching can provide leadership qualities to make better leaders.