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Can You Effectively Lead Without Coaching?

Business leader coaching one of his employees

Posted By: Asha Bianca
Updated: November 13, 2018

I recently attended a global leadership event where Marcus Buckingham made this bold statement: “If you don’t want to be a coach, don’t be a leader.”

You Can't Lead Without Coaching

His words resonated deep into the core of what I have found to be the key component to building great teams. Conversely, coaching is also the missing ingredient in leaders who don’t make an impact. Great leaders know how and when to roll up their sleeves and work right next to their teammates. Coaching alongside during the practices, injuries, and personal and professional trials is what binds trust between the coach, player, and team. 

Being a coach differs in a monumental way from just being the boss. It is the inherent investment that is implied. A coach is invested in the player and knows what each player needs to do to make the team the best team it can be. A coach knows the strengths and weaknesses of each individual on the team. A coach handles this information with extreme care, which I would argue is critical for building trust.

There are definitely times when disciplinary action is necessary, but I would challenge that the large majority of situations could start with good-intentioned coaching, where an employee feels invested in. When an employee feel invested in, everyone wins. The company wins because the employee is engaged and contributing at a high value. The boss wins because the relationship with the employee isn’t strained; it is honest, collaborative, and based on working through issues instead of avoiding them. The employee wins because she knows where she is at as far as performance is concerned; she has had the chance to make mistakes, learn from them, and move forward as a team.

Three Takeaways About Leading and Coaching

Following are some key coaching takeaways:

  1. Don’t be a leader if you’re not willing to coach. Coaching takes time, energy, effort, learning, and purposeful practice. If you aren’t going to commit to coaching, don’t be a leader.
  2. Sweat currency—spend time doing the hard work. The last way to earn the respect of your team is by taking the easy work. Instead, take on one of the more challenging projects and work it with them as a team. This shows that you are willing to put in the effort just like you are asking the team to. This resembles when a coach runs alongside the team or does push-ups with them. Show them you can still put in the sweat currency. 
  3. Learn from the team. The beauty of the coach–team relationship is that the learning goes both ways. Team members can help teach a coach the way to get their best work. Watch for these moments when your employees show you how to lead them through various coaching methods.


Some leaders are born with coaching instincts; others are made. Learn more about how to develop leaders who coach here. And, if you'd like more of Asha Bianca's unique perspectives on leadership, check out her other articles: Continuous Improvement: From the Farm to the Conference RoomThe Critical Business Leadership Trait Nobody Talks About, and How the Most Effective Leaders Master the Art of Followership.