The Role of Leadership Coaching in Culture Building

today2022.01.19. 128


More and more organizations are discovering the power and tremendous benefits of coaching, implementing it in their leadership development programs, and making it available for different levels inside the organizations. We can see the deploying of coaching across the board, even from a peer-to-peer perspective, so basically, anyone can have a coach. Anyone can learn this competency or capability, and it becomes a superpower that is essential in culture building.

What Are Some of the Trends Now on How Coaching is Being Applied?

As someone who has her finger on the pulse of coaching,Magda has seen and experienced some significant changes in how coaching has been applied throughout the years. What we saw early on was coaching applicable primarily to individuals, and in the organizational setting it was reserved for C-Suite. In other words, if there was a problem, you would get a coach. Right now the tenor has changed very significantly. Coaching is almost a badge of honor, a sign that an organization believes in an individual or a team and is funding coaching because they want to see them reach their highest potential. 

There has been another shift from individual to team. It was maybe a little bit naive to think that one individual within the organization has the superpower to change the entire organization by her or himself. On the other hand, if a team has a shared purpose which defines the team and is working with a coach to accomplish that, then it becomes more of an approach, rather than a specific application.

Coaching nowadays is recognized as a great support for any change initiatives. So, it is becoming part of a portfolio of different kinds of activities that can be taken by the organization in order to see a shift. 

The move from individual contribution to more of a community approach is something also visible in coaching through building coaching cultures in organizations, training individuals in applying coaching skills, building internal coaching practices, and again bringing in team coaching.

And it is important to mention the application of coaching in the social progress arena both by for-profit organizations, through their corporate social responsibility programs, and by not-for-profit organizations, through  engaging coaching as an amplifying force to accomplish social progress.

How Do Leaders at the C-Suite Level Think About Coaching and Deploying Coaching in Their Organizations?

Sanyin pointed out that the democratization of access to coaching is actually a recognition that we all have blind spots, especially in the world where the context is constantly changing. Because we don’t see ourselves clearly, it’s important to be able to have insight from another person into these blind spots. 

During her advisory work, Sanyin observed that executives at the highest level are recognizing just that for the entire organization. There has been more and more receptivity and embrace of deploying coaching, whether it’s through an entire cadre of coaches coming in or the fusion of technology with coaching at scale type of organizations. 

Those in leadership positions operate more like captains of a team. The captain, who runs the team, deploys the organization strategy. But now, they actually have to operate like a coach because there is no leadership playbook anymore. Many assumptions we have previously embraced need to be rethought. 

Sanyin siang

The enterprise programs at the C-Suite level are better coaches for their direct reports and enabling that communication, which is the idea of what Alan Mulally calls “working together.” The next level is questioning how it cascades all the way down throughout the organization. It’s now an imperative that everyone learns how to be a coach to their team.

Coaching empowers in two contexts. First, it empowers the person receiving the coaching, and then if we allow it to, it also empowers the person who is coaching and learning how to coach. It is one of the most untapped personal leadership development opportunities. And in today’s world, when there’s so much happening and we are pressed for time, what better way for leadership development to happen than helping people learn how to coach and mentor their teams?

How Does Individual Executive Coaching Change With the Increase of Digital Coaching Platforms and Coaching Broker Agencies?

Sanyin sees digital platforms as a way of coaching at scale and democratizing access to coaching. She says she hasn’t seen it much at the senior level since they can make that investment and bring in individual coaches to be able to work with that C-Suite or team. 

Magda added that the coaching platforms are becoming effective at scale, but also are offering coaches at a high level. As we know in coaching, a lot depends on the fit between the coach and the individual, and that choice is still available to individuals at any level of the organization.

Digital platforms are a great way to deploy coaching more broadly across the manager level, supervisor level to warm them up to coaching, or individual levek to help ready their bench strength for larger assignments, all while continuing to have executive coaching work with the leaders above.

What Can HR Business Partners Do About Coaching?

The environment around us is changing and HR professionals need to evolve along with those changes. The approach to leadership is the approach to community, rather than individual. Magda advised learning about how building a coaching culture within an organization can benefit and pointed out research by ICF about why coaching is such a powerful methodology. Coaching does empower, and it comes to building that different attitude where in return, as Sanyin said, individuals become captains of the teams and feel responsible for the success of the team, which comes down to the success of each and every person.


Sanyin then turned to the talent management professionals:

“HR stands for “heroes to the rescue.” HR professionals, talent management professionals out there – you are all heroes. People are the most powerful assets in our organization. We know that it’s not the technology, it’s people who create the technologies. It’s not the financial spreadsheet, those are powered by people, so people are the most powerful assets in our organization. And you in your work are cultivating, fostering that. But people are complex, we’re not always dealing with the tangibles, we’re sometimes dealing with the intangibles, and so you are heroes. Please stop and recognize that, because I know you work so hard, that sometimes I just want to pause and say own your awesomeness, let’s just celebrate you.”

He continued, “We are in an environment that has so much uncertainty and so many unknowns – therefore, we rethink the type of talent or the traditional categories of talent and how do we think beyond that, how do we see beyond that?”

“When a new person comes into our team or a person who has been there for 20 years, how do we see the things that they are able to do or that they may not even realize they’re able to do, that are actually critical for the success of our organization? Our narrative up to now has been, when we have a person coming in the usual narrative, you have to prove yourself and prove your worth, well what if we flip that and we are going to assume you have tremendous value, I’m going to assume you have worth, let’s discover what that value is and how you deploy it. So by assuming it exists you will be better able to see it, but if you assume they have to prove it you’re going to narrowly combine them to the traditional categories.”

Sanyin concluded, “Value and worth exists, assume talent exists otherwise you wouldn’t have hired them in the first place. So don’t make them try to prove themselves, if they’re high achievers, they’re going to be doing that for themselves anyways, they’re going to try to prove themselves. Our job is to unlock and unleash by assuming there’s worth, let’s just discover what it is, discover that awesomeness.”

Coaching, Especially if Externally Supported, Can Have a Big Influence on Driving a Company’s Culture. Have You Ever Seen It Used to Drive Cultural Change? How Do We Know that the Coaches Drive Towards the Change that is Needed?

Coaching is often used for shifting the culture within the organization. Magda emphasized that an important part of a coaching process is the discovery, to agree on what is the purpose of coaching and the desired outcome. Any effective coach will tell you that taking the first word of the client may not get you to the bottom of it.

And then there is also being able to determine what is the desired return. I would not say the return on investment but the return on expectation. Many times, especially when we’re talking about culture, the return is not necessarily or not immediately monetary. Eventually it is, but the immediate return is on the expectation of a shift –  an expectation of what we want to see, what this future looks like. Being able to have that picture in an early stage of a coaching engagement, may support the ability to measure, if the coaching was useful.

Sanyin added that in order to make those shifts and set those expectations, understand and discover what those expectations are and what you’re collectively  working towards. It’s never a solo endeavor since we don’t see ourselves clearly, so even our coaches are not going to see themselves clearly.

Sanyin suggests getting multiple data points, not only at the beginning of the process, but throughout, so when working with a CEO, you can regularly touch base with also the chair of the board or someone on the board. Because the CEO reports to the board, the board is a stakeholder and also the CHRO or the Chief People Officer.

Because we are getting multiple data points we might have to make a shift in the middle because how many times we say,  “Oh here’s the thesis – we’re going to operate based on this thesis,”  and then halfway new data comes in and we realize the thesis is a little bit off and that we have to pivot. That pivot can’t happen with just your client – it has to be through communications and again back to the team. Bring in different team members and their data points throughout while working with an individual because then you will be able to constantly understand and make those shifts and pivots at the moment.

There were many more valuable insights throughout the discussion, so watch the video below :

Written by: Mihaly Nagy

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