19 Aug 2022

The impact of coaching: How leaders learn, develop and grow

We interviewed Natalia Fey, researcher and Ph.D. candidate at Hanken School of Economics on the impact of coaching and how leaders learn and grow. Natalia has done a lot of research in the field and she has published papers on How peer coaching fosters employee proactivity and well-being and how global leaders learn from international experience.

Interview summary

How do global leaders develop and learn? 

It took me some time to understand, that there are different theoretical perspectives on how global leaders develop. There is a perspective of social capital that, by expanding our social capital, we develop. The more our social capital and our network are, the more we develop. There is a current trend in political capital. So, the more power we have, the more we develop. There is also a cognitive perspective: the more competence, cognitive skills, or complexity we have, the more we develop. And after reviewing all this, I took the perspective of learning.

In my opinion, global leadership development happens through learning. So, if leaders are able to learn, then we could say they develop. And for them to learn - actually, it's not that easy, because very often leaders are already mature people, with a lot of experience, with high self-confidence, motivation, and efficiency. So, for them to learn, they need to first unlearn. This is very difficult to do on your own. So, sometimes a coach, who you trust and who is your sparring partner, can help you unlearn. And sometimes leaders don't know what they need to unlearn. So coaching is a process where a coach can help to mark these areas which could be helpful to unlearn and areas where to learn.

"A coach can challenge and push the person a little bit to the discomfort zone."

Would you say that a coaching session is a space for reflection, especially with leaders?

It's absolutely that. Sometimes one of the arguments why leaders don't want to use coaching, is that they believe that they can reflect on their own. But what is interesting and what would be good to understand is that there are different ways of reflection. There is reflection, and there is critical reflection. Critical reflection is different because to critically reflect, you should not agree with what you just did, but you need to critically evaluate it and probably change and adjust and a coach can support this.

Customised coaching approach

In terms of flexibility, we know that leaders, especially the high-level ones, really need a customised approach, because they are already mature, formed personalities. Coaching provides a unique opportunity for you. When a coach works with a leader, a coach understands who you are, what is your learning style, what your motivation is, and what you would like to achieve. So, the coaching programme is really adjusted for you. This is why coaching is a flexible method. Because leaders are very busy, coaching sessions could take part during work or later in the evening. These sessions could take place every two weeks or once a month and they can take place in person or virtually.

Coaching as a part of an executive programme or an MBA

The current research shows that the combination of a training programme with coaching is more effective and provides a better impact than just a training programme. Training programmes provide experience and coaching helps to enhance this experience and transform it into learning. Because the experience we have in a programme doesn't always transform into learning. Coaching is a tool, which helps managers to really internalise what they learn into their daily business practice. When a leader is already open to learning, then learning occurs pretty quickly. Some leaders come to coaching not yet ready to learn and coaching only helps them to start this process. 

Interested to learn more about the benefits of coaching? Read more

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Emilia Sainisalo
Growth Area Director, Career Lifecycle Solutions
+358 45 677 8557 emilia.sainisalo(a)
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