Reading: Directive vs. Coaching Leader

When I was a kid I thought there was only one type of leader.

My dad (leader of the family and his company) and almost all other authorities around me (my teachers and later university professors) would fit the directive or authoritative type of leader. That’s how my young mind came to the conclusion that if you’re a leader, you have the right…

  • to give orders
  • not to allow your orders or opinions to be doubted
  • to be always right
  • to communicate one direction
  • to avoid feedback

This was my perception as a child and it doesn’t mean that all directive leaders abuse of their authority. The first time I encountered a different type of leader was when I came to Spain. At the university and later at work I got to know supporting and coaching leaders. It was a fresh and nice change. But of course, experience taught me that once again I can’t divide them into black and white, good and bad. I prefer coaching leaders but sometimes feel lost with them, without direction and a clear message. And I know many people that work better with directive leaders and can get very frustrated with leaders trying to coach them.

So both of the leadership styles I’ll be talking about (there are actually many more) are good and bad, depending on the context. The art of leading people lies in the ability to acquire any style and use it with the person and situation that is most appropriate. 

Let’s have a look at the styles and four factors that determine their effectiveness.

A. Depending on the character of the employee

Some people prefer direction, others prefer flexibility. Some like to know how things are done, others like to find out themselves. When a manager asks questions, some people see it as “she makes me look stupid”, others think “she encourages my learning”. Therefore the first distinction I see is the character of the employee. The managers should know their workers and chose the style accordingly.


B. Depending on the expertise and experience of the employee

The second factor is the expertise and the experience of the employee. It seems that the coaching style works best when the employee has a knowledge base established and further development of skills is needed. The manager “coach” could encourage the employee to use the knowledge and skills acquired to find new ways to do things and become a more autonomous worker.

The directive style goes well with employees who have no experience or no expertise at all and need direction and clarity to know what to do. The manager as coach would probably confuse the newbie too much.

C. Depending on the willingness of the employee

This is an interesting factor. Studies have shown that employees who are passive/reactive or have a low willingness to work perform better with directiveleaders. Workers who are active/proactive and wiling to do a good job and improve perform better with coaching leaders.

D. Depending on the character of the job or workplace situation

And finally, it also depends on the job itself, the workplace situation and wider context. Leaders as “directors” of the scene are necessary in situations of crisis. This leadership style is also best for jobs with a low tolerance to errors or misinterpretations. On the other hand, “coaches” work best in contexts that have a higher tolerance to errors and encourage learning and creativity. 



I am sure you could identify with one or the other leadership style better. And as leaders, we tend to be either more directive or more coaching. The important takeaway is that both are good and bad depending on many factors.

A good leader is a good coach and knows how to be directive.

A good leader is a brilliant observer of his own people.

A good leader has many leading styles and choses according to the situation and his peoplenot according to his own preference

Last modified: Friday, July 7, 2023, 10:28 AM