The Value of Coaching in Leadership Development

A perspective from coachee (Amy Milford-Wood) from the LECPC Programme and coach (Heather Simpson)

The opportunity to participate in a 1:1 coaching relationship with an accredited coach, is an integral part of our Leadership for Empowered Communities and Personalised Care Programme.

For some individuals who join the programme, this is their first connection with coaching and the first questions people often ask are what is coaching and how will it benefit me?

There are many definitions of coaching aiming to encapsulate the unique space coaching offers, however, there are a couple that stand out for me. John Whitmore describes how Timothy Gallwey, author of The Inner Game series of books, put his finger on the essence of coaching, by describing it as… Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them. (Whitmore, 2002, p. 8)

Secondly, The International Coaching Federation (ICF) definition of coaching as:...partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.

Amy’s reflection

As part of the Leadership for Personalised Care and Empowered Communities cohort 9, I was lucky enough to be allocated a coach to support my professional development. Having never had a coach before, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I can honestly say it has been so beneficial to me. With a coaching agreement and clear boundaries in place, I have had the space to reflect on situations and my own values and behaviours and to generate my own solutions and action plans. I have been able to talk to Heather about challenges in the workplace and identify that asking for help from my colleagues and line manager would not open me up to criticism, but demonstrate my commitment to achieving a positive outcome and willingness to work collaboratively.

Heather also supported me to prepare for a second interview for a role I was both qualified for and intimidated by. I was worried that I was not worthy of a promotion to that level and that whilst I was passionate about the work, I did not have enough NHS experience to convince the panel to appoint me. Heather’s gentle probing and reflecting back of my own words enabled me to see that I was focusing on the wrong things – rather than fretting about the job title or pay grade and whether I was worthy of that. I was able to acknowledge that actually, I met the person specification really well and that whilst I did not have several years of NHS experience, my time in other fields was just as valuable. This boosted my confidence and enabled me to present myself well in the interview – and I started my role in early January!

I wholeheartedly recommend coaching and encourage everyone to explore it as an option.

Heather’s reflection

In my experience as a coach and of being coached, partnering to explore what matters most from the inside out, venturing on a journey of personal growth and realisation of potential, I recognise the power in the coaching space. The power of speaking out loud thoughts that had been muted, the power of being listened to and heard, the power of sitting with a question that cuts through the noise and creates movement to a space of knowing from unknowing.

The value and benefits of coaching in the context of leadership development has been identified by many. DeRue and Myers, 2014, consider coaching as one of the key elements in leadership development programmes and Frankovelgia and Riddle, 2010, propose it amplifies other programme elements leadership when provided alongside.

This supports the perspective of the benefits of coaching in the context of leadership development that flows from the work of Kolb (1976), who defines learning as a process by which knowledge is created by ‘transforming learning into meaning’. The process is labelled as experiential learning, occurring over four phases pictured in the image below.

Coaching strongly mirrors the process of experiential learning:

  • Concrete Experience – The leader experiences or feels a shift in awareness, which highlights a desire to change what they are doing and how. This can come through reflection on past actions, or from 360 feedback which provides a new perspective enabling the leader to see their behaviour in a new way.
  • Reflective Observation – Leaders use their own experience in coaching as a basis for action, reflection, and growth. The coach uses language and questions to help the leader to observe their actions in ways which can help to unlock new possibilities.
  • Abstract Conceptualisation – During coaching, leaders find their own solutions, rather than being told what to do. The coach works with the leader to consider current and future challenges and partners in exploring alternative possible solutions that might lead to a breakthrough in thinking and a new way forward.
  • Active Experimentation – The leader puts strategies developed in partnership with the coach into action and reflects on the impact and outcome.

An individual coaching space facilitates a psychologically safe and bespoke space for personal reflection and development to align other elements of a leadership development programme to self. A space to digest the wider learning, reflect and accommodate it to the learning of self as a leader and a space to explore the individual challenges that may arise within this, transferring learning into meaning.

As a coach, I find it a space of absolute privilege as I partner in participants individual journeys of self-discovery and growth.


DeRue, D. S., & Myers, C. G. (2014). Leadership development: a review and agenda for future research. The Oxford Handbook of Leadership and Organizations. Oxford University Press

Frankovelgia, C., & Riddle, D. (2010). Leadership coaching In. E. Van Velsor, C. McCauley, & M. Ruderman, (Eds.), The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development (3rd ed., pp. 125-146), John Wiley & Sons

Kolb, D. A. (1976). The Learning Style Inventory: Technical Manual. Boston, MA: McBer


Learning Disability and Autism Programme Manager, Adult Secure Care


Head of Leadership for Personalised Care