Coaching & Leadership

Date: 28/09/2019

Prepared by Majed Abdeen

If we define leadership as influence, it's easy to see how important the role of ethics is in the actions of a leader. That's why I argue that the topic of leadership ethics is central to leadership development. Being ethical is about playing fair: the leader must think about the welfare of the team, and about the consequences of any action. Ethical leadership is about followership. So, those leaders who have the most positive outcomes in influencing their followers, have a very clear picture of what they need to do. They recognise that as influential leaders, their responsibility is to provide their teams with trust, care, stability, and hope. As managers take the issue of ethical responsibility seriously, they immediately become more sensitive to followers’ needs and the problems of those who will be affected, and consequently, they improve their ability to intuitively identify any emerging conflicts. I would argue that good leaders feel morally obligated to their followers: This is not a skill, but knowledge and world perspective. There are several responsibilities and obligations for ethical leaders. I believe the most important responsibility of an ethical leader is to lead by example. There are two highly practical reasons why leading by example makes excellent career and business sense: it's effective, and it makes people want to follow you.


Excellent leadership requires stellar soft skills (Farok & Garcia, 2015, p. 53); teams demand enhanced performance support through coaching, which provides personalized support as needed (Ahrend, et al., 2010, p. 44). Coaching can be defined as a process by which a leader supports an individual to develop themselves personally through the leader asking questions and challenging the individuals’ assumptions in order to assist them in seeking answers to achieving their goal or solving a problem (Bianchi & Steele, 2014, p. xvi).

Building Relationships

Scholars differ on leadership requirements when creating relationships. Respect, Responsibility, honesty, fairness, and interpersonal skills are important (PMI, 2019, p. 2; Farok & Garcia, 2015, p. 53), especially communications skills, and the ability to enhance team members' abilities through coaching (PMI, 2017a, p. 363). Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory identifies that leaders must ensure strong/beneficial interactions with all followers, not only some (Northouse, 2016, p. 142); ethics and fairness are critical. The Hill Model as shown below states that leaders must deliver team effectiveness; coaching can support this through building/strengthening relationships (Northouse, 2016, p. 366).

Figure 1: The Hill Model for Team Leadership (Northouse, 2016, p. 366)

Coaching Potential and Advantages

Coaching supports team members to take responsibility for achieving goals (Cook, 2009, p. 11). Requiring little time investment and applicable to all circumstances, it improves performance (Cook, 2009, p. 13), while other leadership approaches require a significant time investment. It can resolve issues with colleagues/stakeholders, deliver improved stakeholder engagement/satisfaction (Cook, 2009, p. 18) and team empowerment (PMI, 2017a, p. 670); some leadership approaches, such as servant leadership, provide similar benefits, while transactional leadership and others do not. Coaching empowers PMs, through eliciting positive reactions from teams/stakeholders, promoting idea-sharing, and valuing contributions (Bianchi & Steele, 2014, p. 27). Teams benefit from an increased sense of responsibility/work-ownership, and engagement (Bianchi & Steele, 2014, p. 27) while PMs benefit as coaching recipients (PMI, 2017a, p. 49). Coaching increases trust and sense of community (PMI, 2017a, p. 364), whereas charismatic leadership does not. Coaching can be both face-to-face and virtual; the latter benefits from flexibility, with team members accessing it as-needed, it does not require the coach to be present, and the cost is reduced (Ahrend, et al., 2010, pp. 44-46). Other leadership approaches such as transformational/charismatic require in-person presence.

Coaching Disadvantages

Coaching has disadvantages: LMX theory notes that leadership must be inclusive, performed fairly, to avoid inequities (Northouse, 2016, p. 142); the nature of coaching makes it challenging for leaders to ensure they distribute their time equitably. The Hill Model indicates that coaching functions best when used with other methodologies (Northouse, 2016, p. 142). Coaching assumes the team-member has the ability to find resources needed to achieve their goal (Cook, 2009, p. 12), which may not always be the case. Leadership approaches (e.g. servant-leadership) support team members without putting the onus only on them. Virtual coaching can prevent the creation of strong relationships as team members see it as only one of many available resources (Ahrend, et al., 2010, p. 44). While all leadership approaches require specific skills, coaching draws very heavily on personal and soft skills (PMI, 2017a, p. 363), and the benefits, therefore, vary with leader-ability.

Followers and Ethics

Coaching depends on followers working well with their leader; personality compatibility and follower engagement level can reduce its impact (Northouse, 2016, pp. 138,139). Disengaged followers receive less time, information, confidence, and consideration from leaders; engaged followers are more communitive, receiving additional responsibilities as leaders respond positively, giving them additional time/support (Northouse, 2016, pp. 138-144). Unethical leaders distribute time/support unfairly (Northouse, 2016, p. 145), damaging relationships. Leaders must reinforce values, taking responsibility for demonstrating ethical leadership by showing respect, serving others, being just and honest, and building a community feeling (PMI, 2019, p. 2; Northouse, 2016, pp. 337,341).


With the experience of unethical leadership as a follower, despite my high levels of engagement, as a leader, I choose to be ethical, and I prefer using an Agile approach. Using Agile provides benefits to PMs, promoting coaching as one leadership approach; it also values servant-leadership (PMI, 2017b, pp. 150-154,38). While coaching provides several benefits, I firmly believe "one size does not fit all"; PMs must be equipped for, and capable of, using a multitude of leadership approaches, coaching among them, to deliver success. Throughout this, PMs must always demonstrate ethical leadership to their followers, building relationships and empowering those around them.


Ahrend, G., Diamond, F. & Webber, P. G., 2010. Virtual coaching: using technology to boost performance. Chief Learning Officer, 9(7), pp. 44-47.

Bianchi, C. & Steele, M., 2014. Coaching for innovation: tools and techniques for encouraging new ideas in the workplace. 1st ed. Palgrave Macmillan USA: Basingstoke.

Cook, S., 2009. Coaching for High Performance: How to develop exceptional results through coaching. 1st ed. Cambridge: IT Governance Publishing.

Farok, G. & Garcia, J. A., 2015. Developing group leadership and communication skills for monitoring EVM in project management. Journal of Mechanical Engineering, 45(1), pp. 53-60.

Northouse, P., 2016. Leadership: theory and practice. 7th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

PMI, 2017a. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. 6th ed. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.

PMI, 2017b. Agile Practice Guide. 1st ed. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.

PMI, 2019. Code of Ethics & Professional Conduct, US: Project Management Institute, Inc.