Steps to Become a Leadership Coach

Want to become a successful and effective leadership coach? Read on to understand the role of a leadership coach, the qualities you need to succeed, and the steps you can take to kickstart your career with confidence.

Step 1: Inform Yourself

Teacher. Mentor. Motivator. Advisor. Confidante. Counselor. A coach goes by many names. And, ultimately, when you take on the mantle of “leadership coach” for yourself, you’ll craft your own, unique definition. But in the meantime, it will help to have a basic understanding of the profession, its opportunities, and its expectations.

What Is Leadership Coaching?

Leadership coaching is a type of professional coaching that focuses on developing the leadership skills and abilities of individuals with the goal of improving their performance, increasing their effectiveness, and empowering them to achieve their personal and professional goals.

Typically, leadership coaching involves a one-on-one relationship between a coach and a leader, but many coaches also work with groups and teams. In every case, the coach works with a leader or leaders to identify areas of strength and growth opportunities, to set goals addressing specific challenges or issues, and to develop a plan to make measurable progress toward those goals.

Characteristics of an Effective Leadership Coach

Coaches of all stripes share some characteristics in common, such as having subject matter expertise, demonstrating authority and trustworthiness, and, perhaps most important, being able to foster a confidential, safe space. Other valuable qualities for effective leadership coaches include:

  • Empathy: Empathy is the capacity to imagine oneself in the circumstances of another. To have empathy is to have the ability to see and relate to the needs, thoughts, emotions, and experiences of others, imagining, if not fully understanding, a situation from another’s perspective.
  • Strong communication skills: Beyond the need to be articulate and clear when expressing your ideas and providing feedback, an effective leadership coach must be an active listener, an interpreter of nonverbal cues, and a great asker of questions.
  • Knowledge and experience: Coaching is personal. Professional training in team management, crisis leadership, or building development plans is valuable, but just as useful is your knowledge of how both business and life work. Don’t be afraid to share relatable stories from your own experience to serve as illustrations and inspiration.

What to Expect as a Leadership Coach

Now that we’ve defined what leadership coaching is and the qualities necessary to be effective in the field, what does it actually look like to become a leadership coach?

There’s a wealth of variety in the day-to-day life of a leadership coach. You may work with private clients on a one-on-one basis or conduct workshops for whole teams or organizations. You may spend a few hours coaching an executive through a company-specific situation on a short-term contract or meet weekly with a leader over time in person or via Zoom or Skype.

Regardless of the type of client you have, you’ll need to carve out time for prep work, such as plan development, solution brainstorming, and probably some amount of reading or listening, whether that’s to keep up on industry news and trends, tune in to inspiring podcasts, or get your creative juices flowing through your favorite Spotify playlist.

If you run your own leadership coaching service, you’ll also need to plan for the business of doing business. This may include intake, processing, and invoicing paperwork; promotional activities, like maintaining a blog or social media accounts; and networking to build your client base through speaking engagements or special events.

Some coaches plan around client calls and coaching sessions, relegating paperwork to the “downtime” in between. Others assign certain tasks to specific days: Client calls on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, with prep work, writing, and social posts on Tuesdays and Fridays. Whatever system you land on, make sure your days as a leadership coach take the shape that works best for you.

Step 2: Gain Education and Experience

To truly become an effective leadership coach, you need education and experience. Though you can just jump in, that’s a difficult path to take. Gaining a strong understanding of the principles and theory behind leadership and leadership styles, in addition to hands-on practice through supervised coaching sessions, will be invaluable to your success.

Prior Coaching Experience: 

If you already have training and experience as a coach (even if it’s not specific to leadership), you can still break into the field by pursuing Continuing Coach Education that is specific to Leadership Coaching (see step 5).

No Coaching Experience: 

If you don’t have coach training or experience, consider pursuing an education path that is accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) to ensure that you are adequately prepared for the complex discipline of leadership coaching. Read on for more information.


Selecting an ICF-Accredited Leadership Coaching Program

What is the ICF?

The International Coaching Federation, commonly known as ICF, is the leading professional organization for coaches and coaching. Dedicated to advancing the coaching profession, the ICF provides independent certification for practitioners and accredits programs that deliver coaching education.

Why Choose an ICF-Accredited Coach Training Program

ICF-accredited programs go through a rigorous review process to ensure that their curriculum aligns with ICF standards, core competencies, and ethical guidelines. In addition, accredited programs fulfill the ICF’s credentialing requirements.

ICF Coaching Credential

Leadership coaches who pursue an ICF coaching credential must meet stringent education and experience requirements and demonstrate a thorough understanding of the coaching competencies that set the standard in the industry. As such, earning an ICF Coaching Credential lends instant credibility to your leadership coaching practice and signals to your clients and colleagues that you are committed to upholding strong principles of ethical behavior and to growing and developing as a coaching professional. (To learn more, visit the ICF website.)

Whether you opt to pursue an ICF coaching credential or not, learning through an ICF-accredited training program will ensure you receive a high quality and well-rounded coaching education and puts you on the fast track to achieving your goals as a leadership coach.

How to Find ICF-Accredited Coach Education

Because the ICF accredits coaching programs of all types, you’ll want to be sure to select one that specializes in leadership coaching, specifically. Find what you’re looking for with the federation’s Education Search Service (ESS). Use the tool’s filters to select the accreditation-type relevant to your goals and experience. Narrow your search further by selecting “Leadership” in the Coaching Specialty field in order to find a relevant program to equip you to become a leadership coach.


Step 3: Launch Your Leadership Coaching Practice

Once you’ve developed the expertise and experience you need to become an effective leadership coach, you’re ready to start practicing! While previous steps have covered how to become a leadership coach, this step is about actually being one.

The path forward will depend on your individual aspirations & preferences. For instance, you may choose to practice under the umbrella of an existing coaching or consulting firm. This option not only offers the advantage of working within a structured environment but also provides access to a broader network of clients and colleagues, which can be invaluable in the initial stages of your career. On the other hand, you may be inspired by the allure of entrepreneurship and the thrill of crafting your own unique brand. In that case, starting a coaching business may be better suited for you. Whichever path you choose, the essence of this step is to transition from preparation to practice, allowing you to apply your expertise, refine your techniques, and witness the transformative impact of your work.

Step 4: Find Your First Clients

Once you’ve launched your leadership coaching practice, you need to let people know that you’re available to help them learn new skills, tackle challenging work issues, and grow into the leaders they’re meant to be.

Start With Your Inner Circle

Leveraging your close connections is a simple and straightforward method for securing your first clients. Inquire within your immediate network – friends, family, acquaintances – to see if they or someone they know might benefit from your coaching services. After all, no recommendation is as effective as one made by word of mouth. Tapping into these relationships can provide an immediate audience for your leadership coaching services and affords you the opportunity to build your confidence within a familiar setting.

Announce Yourself Online

One of the best ways to spread the word about your new leadership coaching practice is to let your network know that you’re open for business. Build a simple website or blog, update your social profiles with your business information, and post to your social media accounts to let people know that you’re a leadership coach. Share tips and motivation, insight on current events, and stories from your own experience to showcase your expertise and leadership coaching philosophy.

For a deeper dive on client acquisition techniques, check out our blog ‘How to Get Coaching Clients | 6 Winning Strategieswhere we discuss a suite of tried-and-true marketing tactics designed to help new coaches attract clients and establish a successful coaching practice.

Step 5: Grow Your Authority as a Coach

As you establish your practice and build your reputation as a successful and effective leadership coach, your business will naturally grow. Maximize your potential by tapping into your coaching network and offering your clients tools, methods, and perspectives they can only get from you.


As your practice grows, you’ll want to look for ways to help you stand out from other leadership coaches and attract clients who are looking for someone with your particular expertise. Lean into what you know and love. Consider expanding your repertoire to include specific specialties within leadership coaching such as coaching women executives, CEOs, or teams. This will help you connect with potential clients who are seeking a specific type of support. By honing your skills in a particular area, you not only enhance your appeal to a distinct audience but also deepen your understanding and effectiveness as a coach.

Invest in Your Professional Development & Earn Certification

Depending on the coach training path you selected, you may already be considered a “certified” leadership coach.  If not, you can obtain this status through continuing coach education (CCE) – especially helpful for ICF coaches, who are required to complete CCE every three years to maintain their credential.

Regardless of whether you earned an ICF credential or not, continuing coach education is a valuable addition to your initial coach training. CCE is a type of professional development that is designed for coaching professionals to enhance their skills & knowledge. It provides the opportunity to opportunity to and stay current on emerging research, deepen your understanding of coaching competencies, and discover new coaching methodologies or tools, which can significantly benefit your leadership coaching practice. 

Become a Leadership Circle® Certified Coach

Though not all CCE courses come with the added benefit of certification, many do such as those offered through Leadership Circle®. Specifically designed for leadership development coaching, our leadership assessment certifications are ICF-Accredited and equip coaches with a proven framework for developing leadership qualities in clients.

The Leadership Circle Profile™ Certification is our most popular assessment certification and is ICF-Accredited for 29.25 CCE. Through certification, coaches learn to skillfully administer the Leadership Circle Profile™ (LCP) which is the first 360° leadership assessment that not only measures key leadership competencies but also behavior and thinking, allowing coaches to reliably discover the source of clients’ behavior and identify self-limiting beliefs that are an impediment to success. This awareness enriches a coach’s toolkit, empowering them to better support the leadership development of their clients. Become a Leadership Circle® certified coach and learn to leverage this proven assessment tool in your own leadership coaching practice.

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