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Leaders Coaching Leaders: One Secret to Sustainable Leadership Development

by | May 2, 2022 | By Karin Hurt and David Dye |

As organizations flatten and people continue to work remotely, it will take more than an executive sponsor to ensure your leadership development sticks. You need leaders at every level engaged with your training as leader coaches to facilitate application and learning.

The Power of Leaders as Coaches

If your Sales SVP thinks your leadership development program is a distraction, your sales managers will show up late and multi-task.

But what if that same sales SVP showed up as an active coach in the process? Imagine they were to kick off the training with a powerful story, then stay and engage with the team? After the training, what if they check for understanding to ensure their team understands the new techniques and why they matter? What if they celebrate when they see the behaviors in action?

We bet you’d give that leadership development program a high probability of igniting real culture change.

Now, imagine if you had leaders at every level doing that with their teams.

How to Create a More Sustainable Leadership Development Program

When you involve leaders as coaches, your leaders have a structured way to go back and role model what they’ve learned. And, they have an easy way to cultivate those competencies in their teams. Leaders coach, and reinforce, the skills they’re learning. They facilitate practical conversations about how the team can take performance to the next level.

Wait, What? Who Has Time for That?

You might be thinking, “It’s hard enough to get my managers to attend a leadership development program. Now you want them to be leadership coaches too? That all seems a bit much.”

We get it. No one has time for meetings that don’t impact learning outcomes and business results. And, we’ve seen busy leaders embrace their role as coaches because they are high-ROI engagements that achieve multiple business outcomes.

First, managers practice skills that directly apply to their daily leadership: asking great questions; drawing reluctant team members into the conversation; listening without bias; reflecting on what they’ve heard; running a great meeting.

Second, these leadership coaching conversations focus on real business priorities and outcomes. They’re practical. They make work smoother, improve team dynamics, and increase productivity.

Your leadership development ROI compounds significantly as managers coach what they learn. If you have ten managers attend a leadership program supplemented by a leader coaching program, you trained them and everyone on their teams.

Your training for ten just turned into impact for one hundred.

Two Approaches to Help Leaders Engage as Coaches

Here are two leaders-as-coaches models you can use to create sustainability in your leadership development programs.

Challenger Groups: Senior Leaders as Cross-Functional Leader Coaches

challenger groups create sustained culture changeWe love to incorporate leaders as coaches in our long-term leadership development and culture change programs through what we call challenger groups.

Challenger groups leverage senior-level leaders to mentor and support participants, helping them apply what they’ve learned.

One or two senior managers who have taken (or are taking) the course lead a challenger group of 7-10 participants to discuss what everyone is learning and applying from the formal, instructor-led training.

Conversations focus on applications to their day-to-day work. Ideally, these participants come from different regions, departments, or areas of the business.

We support the challenger group leader coaches through mastermind sessions and an easy-to-follow facilitation guide. These informal sessions help create psychological safety for the team and build your leaders’ confidence in facilitating these sessions.

Challenger groups create sustained culture change in four ways.

  • First, there’s no better way to reinforce a skill than to teach it.
  • Second, challenger-group participants learn from one another about how the leadership techniques work in different contexts.
  • Third, participants see senior leaders modeling tools and using what they learned.
  • Finally, everyone develops a network of trusted strategic peer relationships.

Get a glimpse of some of the outcomes here:


leadership development programs sustain culture change in challenger groups

Team Accelerator Programs: Video-Based Guided Learning for Managers to Accelerate Culture

leadership development in team accelerator programsIn this team accelerator model, managers actively guide their teams through a co-learning and application process.

In this model, the managers take an hour each month with their team to watch a short video, learn a new concept or skill, then use a provided discussion guide to help their team apply the concept to their work.

The team ends each meeting by creating a mutual behavioral commitment based on the topic. By the end of the program, they have a robust, co-created team agreement.

Between sessions, the manager and team members watch for opportunities to celebrate when they follow through on their commitments and call each other back to their agreement when they don’t fulfill it.

For example, some of our clients use a 7-10 month team accelerator program to supplement our instructor-led leadership development program.

Topics include aligning on key priorities and behaviors, holding accountability conversations, taking appropriate risks, developing deeper connections, and helping the team share their ideas.

As leaders facilitate conversations on these topics with their teams, everyone develops the skills (not just the manager).

As in the challenger group model, your managers continue to hone their own leadership and facilitation skills while they work as leadership coaches.

And, your teams learn practical skills to become more productive team members and prepare them for continued responsibility and leadership. Your teams work on practical, tactical ways to improve their performance, while managers become more accountable for the leadership skills they learned.

Learn more about bringing a Team Accelerator Program to Your Team.

Leadership Development in the Team Accelerator Program

Join us at ATD in Orlando to Learn More About Leadership Development Programs that Stick

If you want to ensure your leadership development program creates real culture change, help leaders become culture accelerators. If you’re interested in learning more, or have best practices of your own to share, we hope you will join us at ATD in Orlando on May 18th at 10:30 EST where we’ll be leading a highly interactive program and sharing a high-ROI case study.

Related Articles:

Virtual Leadership Training: 10 Questions to Ask Before Launching a Leadership Development Program

9 Questions to Help Your Team Solve Problems on Their Own

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Karin Hurt and David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results. As CEO and President of Let’s Grow Leaders, they are known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. Karin and David are the award-winning authors of five books including, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive and elected official. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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