by Keith Merron (USA)

To answer the question as to whether leadership coaching is different than other forms of coaching, one would need to believe that leadership coaching is a ‘form’. In my view, it is not. It is a focus on coaching. When coaching leaders, the form is the same, but the content may be different.

When I work with leaders who want to be better leaders, then that becomes the goal, or should I say, the direction or aim. It is not quite a goal for it is not precise. It does, however, give me a starting point to what the client wants. Inevitably, the leader will say, ‘I want to be a better leader,’ to which I reply, ‘What do you mean by leader? What is a leader to you?’ Later, I will ask ‘What does better mean to you; better in what way?’ But for now, we begin by being sure we are on the same page as to what we mean by ‘leader’.

Interestingly, often the client is not sure what a leader is to him or her. Through the conversation, we almost always find our way to exploring the classic distinction between management and leadership. Management, as is often understood, is about getting stuff done. It is about directing, controlling, measuring, monitoring and evaluating, which are often, depending on a person’s role, important parts of what they do. Yet, management is not same as leadership. You can be a good manager and get stuff done, but still be a poor leader, and vice versa. Leadership is more about inspiration than direct task management. Leaders inspire others to do the right thing or to do the thing well, while managers get it done. Often, people, when inspired, do the thing they are inspired to do well, or work hard to do things better and that is what many leaders want from others.

While leadership is about inspiration, this is often not enough to set the goal of our work. Although directionally useful, it is still vague. It defines the territory of our exploration, but still not the goal. At this point, I often ask, ‘What does it mean to be a great leader?’ Almost always, the client says that a leader gets stuff done through other people and therefore a great leader is someone who inspires others to get stuff done faster or better than they otherwise might not. While I might agree, I don’t think we are yet in the realm of leadership that will define a powerful journey of transformation. You can get others to do things faster and better, but can they sustain it? Crack the whip more and they will work harder, but this is hardly sustainable, or if it were, is it desirable? In my value system, it is not. If it is in their value system, then I am not the right coach.

My sense of what great leadership is about has less to do with what a leader does directly to or at people. It has more to do with how the leader shows up and the context he or she creates. In my view, great leadership is about being and doing things that create conditions where others want to raise their game to new heights.

Source: iCN Issue 34  (Leadership Coaching); pages 12-15

About Dr. Keith Merron

Keith Merron is the Managing Partner of Leadership Pathways, a consulting firm dedicated to helping organisations with bold visions achieve sustainable high performance and industry leadership. As an organisation’s effectiveness and an executive development consultant, he has more than 35 years of experience assisting executives and managers in business, government, and education.

In the context of his consulting, he works with the C-suite as a transformational coach. In addition, Keith has designed and led over 100 seminars and workshops for leaders. He has helped create some of the most innovative leadership training programs in the country. Through his consulting firm, he regularly offers a workshop for coaches called: The Art of Transformational Coaching. See his website: for more information.

Keith received his Doctorate from Harvard University in 1985, where his studies spanned the fields of human and organisation development. He is the author of five books on human and organisational change and is putting the finishing touches on a new book, tentatively titled: The Art of Transformational Coaching.