Coaching Behaviors of Transformational Leaders

Matt M. Starcevich, Ph. D.
(For individual use only not to be reproduced or distributed without permission)

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Transformational leaders make a difference in organization and individual performance; a higher level of commitment from followers, innovation, loyalty and productivity. [1][2]

The literature suggested that Transformational Leaders exhibited these characteristics:

  • Sharing the vision
  • Building a learning environment
  • Being a positive role model
  • Recognizing individual abilities/values
  • Reinforcing self-confidence/independence
  • Supporting their employees
  • Driving out fear
  • Encouraging participation/self-expression
  • Fostering continuous improvement
  • Fostering initiative and responsibility
  • Encouraging persistence
  • Emphasizing intrinsic outcomes
  • Advocating shared leadership

Transformational Leaders as coaches:

How would these transformational leadership characteristic play out during coaching discussions between the leaders and their employees? Do transformational leaders behave differently during coaching discussions with their employees from those non transformational leaders? These are critical questions given the ever increasing importance of coaching others in the overall leadership role.

Coaching Research Design

A sample of High, Medium and Low scoring Transformational Leaders from a group of 77 first through middle level leaders in two organizations was selected.[3]

We gave them the same two coaching cases. These cases were dealing with discussion with another person aimed at helping them become more empowered and personally responsible for their growth and changes. We trained two people to play the role of the employee in these cases. The leaders were told that they would be videotaped during their discussion and that they were to use their natural style and approach. Over two days, we conducted 24 role play coaching discussions. Before each discussion, we asked the leader to describe their strategy and after each discussion, we asked for their evaluation of the results. We also had the employees provide feedback immediately after the role play and in comparison form at the end of the two days.

Coaching Research Results

  • Content analysis confirmed that the transformational leaders utilized the Eight Step Coaching Model in these positive, empowering coaching discussions.[4]
  • Only those who scored as “high” transformational leaders saw their role as helper, facilitator, partner, or ally. The “lows” saw their role as a boss.
  • The employees said the conversations with the “highs” were enjoyable and productive while they saw the “lows” as jerks that didn’t really care about them as individuals.
  • The “high” transformational leaders utilized engaging interpersonal communication skills.

The following two charts illustrate the difference in some fundamental communication skills, asking questions versus making statements, and sharing the conversation versus dominating the conversation, between those scoring high on the Transformational Leadership (TL), medium and low.


QUESTIONS  7%  24%  40%
STATEMENTS  93%  76%  60%

Employee versus Leader Lines

EMPLOYEE LINES 15% 26% 40%
LEADERS LINES 85% 74% 60%

For the High Transformational Leader the coaching interchanges were a discussion for the Low more of a monologue. Inquiry/exploration versus telling, dictating and commanding. This is reinforced when examining the number of lines of text from the employee versus the leader.

Along with the use of more questions the High Transformation Leaders were more willing to share the conversation load versus the Low who dominated the air time.


The Transformational Leaders clearly utilize more engaging interpersonal communication skills during their coaching discussion which we believe contributes to the positive organization and individual performance factors outlined at the beginning of this article. Since we did not define the coaching training received by these leaders we can only assume that this is part of their natural, intuitive style of interacting with others.

Is there hope for the other non-transformational leaders? Our experience in training thousands of leaders is that the coaching and interpersonal skills that the Transformational Leaders find as natural can be developed.  Maybe not at the high level possessed by the Transformational Leaders but at a higher more effective level than what they would do without the training.

Coaching is a skill that can be learned and we would argue needs to be learned to increase organizational and individual performance.

[1] Bass, B. M. (1999) Two decades of research and development in transformational leadership. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 8 (1), 9-32.

[2] Otto, Carol, A. The Relationship Between Transformational Leadership and Employee Loyalty, Employee commitment, and Employee Perceptions of Organizational Justice. A dissertation submitted to Michigan State University, Department of Educational Administration. 1993.

[3] Otto, 1993

[4] Starcevich, Matt M. The Coach: Creating Partnerships For A Competitive Edge, revised edition. The Center for Coaching and Mentoring, 2008.