Companies are increasingly looking for managers with coaching skills amid a changing workforce and the emergence of new leadership approaches. 

The definition of leadership on a corporate level has always been in a state of flux. Just until recently, typical managers at the top of their game had to be able to manage projects, solve problems, and drive results. Today, as investing in developing and empowering employees gains in importance, company leaders also need to have coaching skills in their ever-expanding arsenal.

The demand for coaching skills has increased significantly in recent years. In 2013, Google conducted an internal review called Project Oxygen. It aimed at establishing the most important qualities of Google’s top managers and the results were quite surprising: among the eight most important qualities, STEM expertise comes in dead last. Being a good coach came at top of the list.

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The invigorating effect of coaching on the organisational climate has been underscored by several industry research papers such as those published by the International Coach Federation. Findings show that coaching boosts performance on many organisational levels, increases commitment and motivation, and encourages new ideas, among other benefits. But the demand for coaching skills in today’s corporate world has to do more with necessity than the desire to improve the overall performance of a company. 

Why do leaders need coaching skills?

One of the reasons for the increased demand for business coaches is the highly dynamic state of business nowadays. Frequent job shifts and limited in-house training results in professionals of all levels struggling to deal with changes. Consequently, companies desperately need leaders who are able to show employees the way forward.  

Another important factor is the millennial generation, which has become a major segment of the labour force. As of 2017, 56 million millennials (then aged 21 to 36) were working or looking for work in the United States, according to Pew Research Center data. This compares with 53 million Generation Xers, and 41 million Baby Boomers. These generational changes within the labour force offer new challenges to business organisations. Workplace futurists Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd wrote in a piece for Harvard Business Review that millennials: “…want a road map to success, and they expect their companies to provide it.

The influx of millennials into the labour force is partly responsible for the rise of new leadership approaches that place a premium on coaching skills. Leaders are now advised to overcome the desire to just give instructions to their subordinates and then expect them to deliver results. Detractors of this dated approach argue that employees should not be deprived of the option to think for themselves, otherwise many of them will feel smothered. Professor Julia Milner, academic director of the Global MBA at EDHEC Business School (France), stated in a piece for the Economist that: “The manager’s skillset must allow people to experiment, to find their own answers and to learn from their mistakes. A traditional ’command and control’ approach in which people are told what to do and are micromanaged won’t work. Managers might miss out on great ideas because they are telling their staff what to do.”

How are business schools addressing the problem?

A 2017 Financial Times survey showed that among the skills employers are looking for in MBA graduates, coaching is one of the most difficult to recruit. With such skills in short supply, it is evident that business schools need to address how leaders become good coaches, as many of them do.

Rotterdam School of Management (Netherlands) has integrated coaching into the curriculum of its MBA programme. In addition, the school offers a two-day Essentials of Coaching programme based on “learning through reflection and doing” to give participants precise coaching tools that will help them get the best out of others. Harvard (US) also offers a two-day programme for managers who want to develop a coaching approach to leadership, as well as HR professionals who want to coach leaders within their organisation or who are responsible for hiring external coaches. The course is built on case studies and experiential exercises -- including ones that place participants in the shoes of someone receiving coaching. INSEAD (France) offers an 11-day course designed to build or improve the coaching effectiveness of business professionals, enabling them to coach individuals or groups. Participants in the full-time MBA programme of SDA Bocconi (Italy) have the opportunity to participate in a coaching programme based on a series of one-on-one meetings with a certified coach from the SDA Coaching Team.

Learn more about MBA programmes at SDA Bocconi by taking a look at this handy school profile.

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Professor Milner from EDHEC points out that organisations should not expect to employ natural coaches. They should be proactive in offering managers training in coaching. At the same time, business schools need to do more to equip their alumni with these skills. It is the only way forward in today’s working world.