Why you need to teach your business school students to lead like a coach, not a boss

To build business leaders instead of bosses, the College of Business at Western Governors University offers undergraduate and graduate management and leadership programs with a “leader as coach” focus.
V. Aluise, J. Castaños, A. Dugger and J. Sanders
V. Aluise, J. Castaños, A. Dugger and J. Sandershttps://www.wgu.edu/about/governance/business-college.html
Victor Aluise, Joseline Castaños and Ashley Dugger are administrators in the College of Business at Western Governors University. Jennie Sanders is vice president of faculty experience and academic services at Western Governors University.

The business landscape is rapidly changing. Teams are transforming and are more commonly hybrid. New technologies are being developed and adopted. New skills are expected. The old way of doing business is becoming obsolete, including out-of-date management styles.

Old-style managers who see themselves as “the boss” often issue orders and demands to their direct reports without input. But bad news for bosses: Those who frequently consider communication one-way down the chain of command are less likely to succeed in the brave new world of business. This command-and-control approach can lead to high turnover rates, low team morale and slower productivity. Agile, adaptable and introspective managers can reduce turnover rates, boost team morale and keep productivity steady.

This can be seen when managers let go of “being the boss” and instead become leaders who view themselves as coaches to their team members. In this approach, a leader as a coach helps train, prepare, guide, and support their team members to advance their work and careers.

To build business leaders instead of bosses, the College of Business at Western Governors University offers undergraduate and graduate management and leadership programs with a “leader as coach” focus.

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WGU is a competency-based university that requires students to prove mastery of each course’s competencies, which were identified and developed by industry experts and aligned with standards and guidelines for organizations like the Society for Human Resource Management and HR Certification Institute. Here are some ways the WGU College of Business incorporates a coaching leadership style into its curriculum:

  • In the area of Strategic Training and Development, the curriculum helps students discover the differences in mentoring and coaching as part of a talent management and leadership development approach.
  • A new master’s degree program in human resources management takes a deeper dive into coaching as part of a full-scale talent acquisition and development strategy and focuses on coaching as part of performance feedback, creating a culture of coaching and utilizing coaching for personal and professional goals.
  • Undergraduate students enrolled in a values-based leadership course learn through scenarios and reflection and practice how to influence others and achieve organizational goals.
  • In Becoming an Effective Leader, students identify toxic and antiquated leadership styles that can derail performance and effective organizational structures.

Communication and mentorship

More broadly, a key to leadership through coaching is communication, and communication is the No. 1 sought-after skill by employers. In WGU’s Management Communication course, students prepare themselves to face communication challenges in an organization by developing skills and strategies for communication, persuasion, conflict management and ethics.

Beyond curriculum, unique in-house coaching programs at higher education institutions are making an impact. The Rice University Doerr Institute for New Leaders offers an International Coaching Federation (ICF) certified program, CoachRICE, one of the first of its kind. WGU developed an in-house ICF Level-1 accredited coaching certificate program for its employees, which initially focused on program mentors and executive leaders.

Access to coaching in the United States is often limited to the most privileged. Programs like WGU Coach can help break down equity barriers. For example, offering employees a coaching certificate program at no cost breaks down a financial barrier that may have kept them from obtaining the certification on their own. Independently obtaining such a certification can cost thousands of dollars and therefore can be out of reach to many.

One WGU College of Business program mentor reported, “WGU Coach created this new shift in my mentoring role that I never knew I needed. Conversations with students went from advising to empowering dialogue. … Watching their transformations unfold has been such a joy. My students are showing increased pacing and satisfaction, and I feel more empowered than ever as a mentor at WGU.”

Program mentors certified in coaching are more equipped to help students navigate life changes, such as having a baby, switching jobs or experiencing loss, in a way specific to a particular student’s needs and goals.

In addition to the benefit WGU Coach provides employees, it also positively impacts students. Certified program mentors have more skills to step away from formulaic approaches and provide meaningful, personalized care to each student they support. This enhances the student experience based on a particular student’s needs and goals and supports WGU’s “One by One” Cultural Belief, which states, “We solve for the individual student and advance outcomes one student at a time.”


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