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Coaching Skills Aren't Just for Coaches: Coaching As Leadership

By Kim Cofino
Coaching Skills Aren't Just for Coaches: Coaching As Leadership

In my new book, Finding Your Path as a Woman in School Leadership: A Guide for Educators, Allies, and Advocates, I asked the successful women leaders I interviewed about the essential skills for growing and aspiring leaders. Interestingly, many of those skills were aligned with the skills needed to be successful as instructional coaches. This prompted a big “aha” moment for me. Even though instructional coaching is not a positional leadership position, coaches are.

Our Women Who Lead participants shared 10 leadership skills that you are already developing and growing every single day in your coaching practice. In a previous article, Making the Move to Leadership, I discussed four things to consider when moving from instructional coaching to formal leadership. These skills will serve you in any role you decide to pursue, including a leadership role. 

As you read, I invite you to take this as an opportunity to reflect on your practice, to think about which of these skills you are focused on growing this year. Which of these skills are areas of strength? Which of these areas are you working on? And which of these areas are opportunities for you to keep developing?

10 Leadership Skills You’re Already Building as a Coach

  1.  Building Trust

We all know that the foundation of being successful as an instructional coach is relationships. This is the same with positional leadership. Both instructional coaches and leaders need to demonstrate trustworthiness and reliability. Trust builds relationships. Strong relationships enable colleagues to take risks and show vulnerability, and ultimately creates psychological safety and a sense of belonging within the community. When we are creating this kind of environment, we empower others to grow. Trusting relationships are the foundation of coaching and the foundation of leadership.

  1.  Vision

School leaders must have a vision for the school they’re leading - so do instructional coaches. Instructional coaches need to understand the potential for growth in their students, teachers, and all of the colleagues they work with. As an instructional coach, you are the “boots on the ground,” in classrooms making this happen, and you’re working with school leaders on developing the strategy and processes that will support the vision. Both instructional coaches and leaders need to be inclusive in engaging others in ownership of this vision.

  1. Emotional Intelligence

As instructional coaches, we must be adaptable to what others need. We can’t always coach the same way with every person that we work with. We need to be able to read the room and have an awareness of not only how the group feels, but how individuals feel when we’re working with them. That concept of adaptability and emotional intelligence is what enables us to build relationships and to help the school move forward, even without the authority of positional leadership.

Interestingly that’s also something positional leaders have to do to build their leadership. It isn’t just about the job title or description, it’s about the actions you take and the way you make people feel. The skill of emotional intelligence is essential for both leaders and instructional coaches.

  1. Systems Thinking

Senior leaders need a systems view to see the big picture, to understand how to scale small scale projects up to a whole school, or take a school wide vision and break it down into the classroom level. Because instructional coaches often work with teachers in many different subject areas and grade levels, they also need to understand how to manage and navigate change - in individual classrooms, across grade levels or departments, across divisions, and even across a whole school. 

Instructional coaches are often responsible for leading large-scale change, like implementing a new literacy program or facilitating data-based decision making at the team level. Being able to implement, support, and build ownership around big school-wide goals is essential to being successful in the role of instructional coach. Being able to switch between the micro and macro view to help an entire community move forward is exactly what leaders do and is an essential skill.

  1. Project Management

Understanding project management is another key leadership skill that instructional coaches often learn “on the job.” Instructional coaches usually don’t have a specific set schedule the way teachers do; instead we have a variety of coaching cycles, projects, and other responsibilities. This means managing our own schedule, prioritizing tasks, advocating for our role, and defining how the whole package comes together into a single position in a school community. Being self-directed, managing multiple projects, and defining scope and time for the work is also what's expected of school leaders. 

  1. Working With All Stakeholders

As instructional coaches, we are one of the few positions in the school that works with all stakeholders at every grade level, from K to 12 students, parents, teachers, board members, leaders, all levels of the school. We work with every department and every grade level. We support students in all different areas of the school, including areas that we ourselves have never actually taught. As coaches, being able to understand how to support all of those different stakeholders, to be inclusive to their needs, to be responsive to them is part of being a leader, as a coach.

  1. Data Literacy

Being data literate, in the broadest sense of the word, is key for instructional coaches and school leaders - in particular, using data to refine your professional practice. For example, using multiple models of feedback, constantly reflecting and adjusting based on what you hear, and not being afraid of the feedback you receive about your work or your role. Feedback is critical for instructional coaches to be able to better support the learners that we work with. Excellent leaders also solicit and act on feedback consistently to be able to better support their entire school community.

  1. Balanced Presentation

It is essential for leaders to be balanced in the presentation of content, concepts, or ideas. Both instructional coaches and leaders need to be able to present an unbiased view of school goals or initiatives while keeping their opinions private. When instructional coaches are presenting new ideas and new initiatives, and regardless of how we feel about them, we still need to be enthusiastic and passionate and ready to share that with our colleagues. This practice allows instructional coaches to learn how to balance their peer relationship with an emerging relational and informal leadership relationship. This skill is essential in all leadership roles.

  1. Inspirational and Motivational

Great leaders recognize the potential for growth within their staff – and so do great coaches. Both have a constant enthusiasm and energy for learning and for our learners. We passionately believe that everyone has this potential to grow. When we demonstrate that growth mindset, we are demonstrating for our educators that we work with, that they can be growth minded too. And the best leaders are leaders who grow other leaders. As instructional coaches, we’re learning that skill right along with our job.

  1.  Listen First

Leaders need the ability to genuinely listen with the intention of understanding and while silencing the inner monologue in our head or planning what we’ll say next. This is a skill you might apply as a leader in having an accountable conversation, or in a conversation to help a teacher along their professional growth journey. This idea of being able to listen first and put your own thoughts aside serves you in many different ways as a coach and as a leader. Listening first allows us to have these great conversations that provide deep reflection. It gives us the opportunity to ask excellent questions, to seek, to understand, and to help the person we’re talking to have that kind of deep reflective conversation that they deserve. Instructional coaches are experts in this skill, and it is one that is equally powerful in a leadership role.

Coaching is Leadership

All of these skills together demonstrate what makes a great leader. This means that as an instructional coach, you’re already developing your leadership skills! The skills and habits you develop in your instructional coaching role will serve you well in any future position, including formal leadership roles. 



Cofino, K & Botbyl, C . (2024). Finding Your Path as a Woman in School Leadership: A Guide for Educators, Allies, and Advocates. Routledge.

Cofino, K. (2023, Mar 15). Making the Move to Leadership. The International Educator (TIE Online). 


Kim Cofino has been an educator in international schools since August 2000. Having lived and worked in Germany, Malaysia, Thailand, and Japan, Kim has had a variety of roles in international schools, including (her favorite) instructional coach. Now based in Bangkok, Thailand, Kim is the Founder and CEO of Eduro Learning, author of Finding Your Path as a Woman in School Leadership (Routledge), host of the #coachbetter podcast, and the creator of the Eduro Learning The Coach, Women Who Lead, and COETAIL certificate programs. Find out more about Kim and Eduro at:  

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