A Coaching Model By Nicole Paul, Leadership Coach, UNITED STATES
LEAD: A Guide to Become a Strong Leader
Strong leadership is critical for a company’s success. Its presence, or absence, is felt at the individual level, and team level, and impacts the larger organization. Despite this, many people feel unprepared when first undertaking a leadership role. There is often insufficient training and mentorship, and people struggle, unnecessarily. Prior to becoming a leadership coach, I worked as a therapist and then led teams, programs, and projects in human services organizations. I was lucky to have strong leaders that helped guide me to become a strong leader. I discovered that I am at my most passionate, engaged, and energized when helping develop and reach their goals. All of this informed my coaching niche of working with new and/or struggling leaders.
The coaching model that resonates with me is a blended approach of coach-consultant and coach-trainer. Whether working with individuals or in a group coaching context, I’ve developed an acronym that guides my leadership coaching: LEAD.
The LEAD Coaching Model
There are so many values or characteristics that comprise strong leadership, but these four qualities encapsulate, to me, what makes a leader from good to great. They also are maybe not the buzziest and may not top lists of ‘top leadership attributes’ like visionary, strategic, inspirational, or problem-solving. However, harnessing these traits enables leaders to connect with their direct reports and successfully overcome a whole host of challenges because of the established relationship. And let’s face it, no one got excited about following a leader because they were a whiz at Excel or felt connected to their leader’s vision because of their ability to bring a project in within budget.
The strength of this model lies in its relevancy on multiple levels. At the first level coaching guides the client in how to cultivate and use these attributes as a leader. Second, there is a parallel process in the coach-client relationship where these qualities will be present and play out in the work. Finally, as they demonstrate these qualities as a leader, they’re modeling for their team members and setting expectations through their behavior of a healthy, high-functioning work environment.
Let’s start with L…Learner. In coaching, people learn about themselves and they learn new skills. Having a learner or growth mindset as a leader is powerful. It communicates that everyone can be a high achiever, questions are encouraged, and intelligence and ability are constantly developing in all of us. Holding this value in oneself and as a leader creates a space of psychological safety that leads to creativity and innovation. Being a learner means you are constantly keeping informed of new developments and research in your field as well as staying curious about yourself, how you work, where you get stuck, and how to persist.
The second piece of the model is Empathy. The Power Tool I developed was Empathy vs. Detachment and in that paper, I discuss the importance of empathy in leadership. There’s a reason why employee engagement surveys ask so many questions about an employee’s relationship with their co-workers and manager – we’re relational and more apt to be engaged and content at work if we feel we’re seen, heard, and understood. A new leader’s job is to figure out how to dial in empathy at the right level for their workplace culture and team.
Theodore Roosevelt once said,
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
This sentiment perfectly sums up why empathy is important. Through coaching, a leader can understand empathy in the workplace and fine-tune what it looks like for them in their role.
Authenticity comes next. Adaptability, accountability, and agile are all words I debated as they are all really core leadership components. However, I landed on authenticity because I believe one of the first and most important things a leader must learn is who they are as a leader. What is their leadership style and how do they want others to experience working with them? Until this crystallizes a leader will struggle to be consistently authentic and employees will feel confused about direction and what to expect on a day-to-day basis. Authenticity is showing up as the best, most real version of yourself. The healthiest work cultures I’ve been part of encourage inclusivity and diversity. Powerful questions explored during coaching help a new leader clarify their leadership intention and how to consistently communicate that authentic self.
Finally, Discernment. The Institute for Digital Transformation (2023) views discernment as a critical leadership skill involving the ability to analyze and understand situations using critical thinking and pairing that with intuition. Discernment requires pause and reflection. It takes confidence to slow things down to make the right and best decision the first time. It also takes confidence in one’s understanding and intuition. On any given day there are many moving parts potential pitfalls and opposing needs that require a leader to observe, listen, and lean into their expertise to discern the best path forward. This communicates intentionality and a willingness to learn. The coach and client can use the current challenges the new leader is encountering to pause, reflect, and build the skills needed for discernment. The leader can then, in turn, coach their employees in a similar way to help them develop this attribute.
You’ll notice that the LEAD model is set up in an upward diagonal path, like a staircase. This does not mean that it is linear or that one must start with learning. All are important and interdependent. The different connectors – the arrow, dotted line, and stairsteps – indicate that the path is different. There is no one way to build these traits. The stairsteps, for instance, are uneven. This is the case in leadership. Some steps are very steep and we need more time and assistance to get us to the next step. Others are long and we stay on that step for more time.
Transformation doesn’t come easily. It comes through hard work and honest exploration with a willingness to try, fail, and try again until we reach the level of success we’re seeking. For coaching to be truly effective, the same is true. The LEAD model serves as a framework for their growth as a leader, to be used in practice in the coaching relationship, and to be modeled and coached in their direct reports.
Learn How to Create Your Own Coaching Model
Your Coaching Model reflects your values,
philosophies, and beliefs and must communicate who you will coach
and the problems you will solve. Read more about creating your coaching model