Transformational Leadership Theory (Burns 1978) is about leaders engaging with the people around them in such a manner that leaders and their followers raise each other to higher levels of motivation, ethical behavior, and performance. It is about aligning the goals of the leaders with those of the followers in such a manner that everyone is acting in the best interest of each other and in the best interest of the organization. This sounds like the type of organization that we ultimately want for ourselves—where everyone is working towards the same goals in a motivated, ethical, and result-oriented manner.
One of the practical tools that forward-thinking organizations use to drive transformational leadership is coaching. Coaching is the language of transformational leadership—it is the way that transformational leaders engage and interact with the people around them. One of the hallmarks of coaching is that it is non-judgmental and non-prescriptive. It also focuses exclusively on goals rather than problems, and it uses a lot of questioning and exploration to help people find their own path to achieving their goals.
Forward-thinking organizations that appreciate the power that coaching offers are implementing workplace coaching programs to create a culture of transformational leadership and reap the benefits that it offers.
Some researchers, Evered & Salman (1989); Wales (2010); and Grant (2014) have identified a number of best practices for the implementation of coaching programs in organizations and based on our own experience and practice, we will highlight a few of them to offer you guidance as you bring the power of transformational leadership into your organizations through coaching.
A very important practice is to provide education and training on the benefits of coaching for personal and organizational success and the skills for effective coaching. Because coaching remains a relatively new subject that is often misconstrued amidst the fads that have emerged around it, it is important that managers and employees are clear about what coaching is, what it is not, and the value that it will bring to them as individuals and as an organization.
Next, it is important to use coaching as a tool to drive specific activities in the organization. For example, a coaching program that is supporting a new cultural paradigm in the organization, a coaching program to bolster productivity amongst employees, or a coaching program to support a specific change or strategic initiative in the organization, like the launch of a new product, This is important because one of the most common arguments against the effectiveness of workplace coaching programs is the concern that people have about measuring the return on investment (ROI) (Grant 2014). By focusing the coaching program on a specific activity, it is easier to measure its impact.
Thirdly, we propose that managers be given coaches as well. The best way to learn coaching is not just to attend a workshop on coaching skills; it is to be a beneficiary of coaching yourself. As you work with a coach yourself, you will be able to practice the skills of listening, questioning, exploring, action planning, and giving feedback in a non-prescriptive and non-judgmental manner that are at the heart of effective coaching.
Finally, but not exhaustively, organizations must create a means of measuring and evaluating the impact of coaching. Some organizations use 360-degree evaluations and support them with a coaching competency self-assessment that helps the coaches reflect on their own capabilities. Others set quality standards for the program that are evaluated by participants, and some measure the ROI, as mentioned earlier, or the Return on Expectations (ROE) of the program. Coaching is a performance improvement intervention like training and mentoring; it should be subjected to a rigorous process of monitoring and evaluation.
Overall, having a culture of transformational leadership has a significant impact on organizational performance (Wang et al. 2011), and one of the practices that can help fuel that culture is workplace coaching. Organizations can get the most out of their coaching programs by teaching their employees how to coach, giving their managers coaches, focusing coaching on specific initiatives and projects, and setting up a way to measure and evaluate the impact of their coaching programs.