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The Wide Variety of Leadership Coaching Styles

September 7, 2022
By: Patrick Bosworth in the Leadership Development category.

When looking for new and innovative ways to coach your team members, there’s no better place to learn than sports. There are many different ways to coach people, each with its strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes experimentation is needed to determine which coaching style will work best for your employees, and an amalgamation of two or more may be required.

Simply put, different people respond to different coaching styles in different ways. Some may appreciate an autocratic leader’s brash and forceful approach; others may favor a more democratic decision-making process. In the end, results are all that truly matter, but getting there effectively through a specific coaching style is truly a battle all its own. Without further ado…


The 4 Main Coaching Styles


1. Autocratic

Autocracy, or the absolute rule under one person, is a famous governing style in many countries worldwide. In the world of sports, many have written about Nick Saban’s bold and often harsh coaching style. Still, despite its general appearance of iron-fisted rule, autocratic leadership has proved to be the path for so many people, teams, businesses, and countries. Coaches such as Vince Lombardi moved mountains and won championships, creating a successful coaching model (for better or worse) that has been replicated everywhere.

Not everyone is a fan, though.


  • Top-down coaching
  • Demands excellence
  • Little room for error, extremely high expectations


  • No outside input
  • Authoritarian rule


2. Holistic

This style of coaching revolves around coaching the person as a whole. This could mean thinking of the person as… well, a person rather than just another cog in the wheel. This humanitarian-focused approach may be suitable for morale but can lead to acceptance of less-than-stellar performance. We’d argue that this, combined with one of the other coaching styles, would be the best approach as this doesn’t put near enough focus on actual measurable performance increases.


  • A more gentle coaching approach
  • Thinks of players or employees as humans first
  • Can make players comfortable with their flaws


  • Does not demand utmost excellence
  • May not achieve best results due to less focused direction


3. Democratic

The democratic approach to coaching allows everyone to have a voice in decisions. In basketball, Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) was famous for his team-oriented coaching style.

“For culture to really be substantive and sustain, you need to empower people at every level. Everyone is important, has ownership, and has the opportunity to lead.” — Coach K

This coaching style ensures that every team member has a say and guarantees that their opinions and views are heard and respected equally. A thought experiment: Can democracy work when the goal is to win? Whether in sports or business, “too many chefs, not enough cooks” is a real problem. Giving everyone an equal say doesn’t necessarily lead to the best performance. While there are surely lessons to be learned from failure, growth through failure, if not tamed, could lead to disastrous results later on.

Democratic coaching can also lead to mutiny.


  • Everyone’s opinion is valued
  • Truly makes everyone a team player
  • Can generate new ideas


  • Players could turn on the coach
  • “Learning from failure” approach may cause stagnated or lackluster performance


4. Laissez-faire

In many ways, this hands-off coaching style is similar to the holistic coaching method, with one key difference. Where holistic coaching looks at the player or employee as a person first, laissez-faire assumes that players or employees will be self-motivated and take care of their responsibilities automatically.

We suppose this could work in some scenarios. However, without a dedicated leading voice, it’s all too easy for this style to get messy and unproductive.


  • Freedom to do as you please within reason
  • Potentially less stress for a well-motivated team
  • Accountability is up to players or employees


  • Little to no direction
  • It’s possible that players or employees may gravitate away from a coach who does little more than exist



[Honorable Mention] Transformational Coaching

Transformational coaching is a dynamic and powerful approach that emphasizes profound personal and professional growth. This style centers on inspiring leaders to achieve their highest potential by fostering significant changes in behavior, mindset, and performance.

Transformational coaches work with leaders to develop a compelling vision for the future, encouraging them to challenge their existing beliefs and behaviors. By fostering a deep sense of self-awareness and intrinsic motivation, leaders are empowered to drive meaningful change within themselves and their organizations.

This coaching style often involves setting ambitious goals, exploring new possibilities, and embracing innovative solutions. It requires a strong emphasis on emotional intelligence, active listening, and the ability to create a safe and supportive environment for exploration and growth.

Research supports the effectiveness of transformational coaching. Studies have shown that leaders who undergo transformational coaching experience increased job satisfaction, improved performance, and enhanced leadership capabilities (Jones, Woods, & Guillaume, 2016 – pages 249-277). Additionally, this approach can lead to higher levels of employee engagement and organizational commitment (Bass & Riggio, 2006).

Transformational coaching not only helps leaders achieve their goals but also instills a culture of continuous improvement and adaptability, which is crucial for thriving in a constantly changing business environment.



More Insights on Leadership Coaching Methods

FAQ selecting the best leadership style for your organization

Some questions and answers to the most pressing questions about effectively implementing and leveraging diverse leadership coaching methods to enhance your organizations and team’s performance.


1. How can leaders identify which coaching style is most effective for their team?

Identifying the most effective coaching style requires understanding the team’s dynamics, goals, and individual preferences. Leaders should start by assessing their team’s performance, communication patterns, and feedback culture. Conducting surveys or one-on-one discussions can provide insights into team members’ needs and expectations. Additionally, leaders can experiment with different coaching styles, such as directive, non-directive, situational, or collaborative, and observe which approach yields the best engagement and results. Adapting the coaching style based on ongoing feedback and outcomes is the way to tackle figuring out the style that will work best.


2. What are some common challenges faced when implementing these coaching styles, and how can they be overcome?

Common challenges include resistance to change, lack of trust, and misalignment between coaching style and team needs. To overcome resistance, leaders should communicate the benefits of coaching and involve the team in the process. Building trust requires consistent, transparent communication and demonstrating genuine interest in team members’ growth. Misalignment can be addressed by regularly soliciting feedback and being flexible in adjusting the coaching approach. Providing training for leaders on various coaching methods can also enhance their ability to implement these styles effectively.


3. Are there specific industries or situations where certain coaching styles are more beneficial than others?

Yes, certain coaching styles are more suited to specific industries or situations. For example, directive coaching, which involves clear instructions and guidance, is beneficial in high-risk industries like healthcare or manufacturing where precision and adherence to protocols are critical. Non-directive coaching, which focuses on listening and questioning, is effective in creative industries like marketing or design, where innovation and self-expression are key. Situational coaching, which adapts based on the context, is ideal for dynamic environments such as tech startups. Collaborative coaching, emphasizing partnership and co-creation, works well in fields that require teamwork and collective problem-solving, like consulting or project management.



Coaching Conundrum

As you can see, there are many different coaching styles, and this list only scratches the surface. If your company is looking for a quality leadership coaching program to bring out the best in your team, don’t hesitate to contact us.



About the Author:

Patrick Bosworth Leadership Choice

Pat Bosworth

Founder and CEO Patrick effectively coaches leaders at all levels and across a number of industries with a pragmatic, consultative approach. Previously, he was vice president with Right Management and held other senior OD and development positions in manufacturing and the professional services Industries.

He holds an M.S. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Lamar University.

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