Leadership Effectiveness – a Mandate for all Leaders

Whatever organisation you lead, whatever community you serve, leaders all have the same key mandates in common. They are expected to be exceptional people who set an inspiring vision and lead others to follow that path. We know that RTOs thrive under great leadership. However maintaining leadership effectiveness in the ever changing world of vocational education is becoming increasingly more complex and challenging. Indeed, leadership can be like a balancing act that we perform on a daily basis as we strive to be effective and achieve our goals. We have to apply our skills to a set of complex tasks while managing people, focusing on the end goal, watching expenses and leading and inspiring others to follow. The way you manage this balancing act may be different to all those who have gone before you. So attending a leadership program or reading a book may not be helpful if you have not taken the time to reflect on your preferred approach or mode of operation.

Coaching is the universal language of learning

Through years of consulting to RTOs and creating professional development programs we have observed that coaching is one of the best ways to develop great leaders. Done well it is extremely effective and we would like to share a little of our coaching knowledge with you in this blogpost.

Before we outline why we think coaching is so effective for developing and supporting leaders we will define what we mean by coaching. We will also define mentoring as you may think that coaching and mentoring are one and the same thing! We would like to distinguish clearly between them as they are both valuable tools that have a place in leadership development.

What is coaching?

Coaching is a goal oriented, solution focused process in which a coach facilitates workplace or personal growth in an individual. Coaching is about moving people through change. It is different to mentoring, but may be a process that a mentor uses. Coaching is more about asking the right questions not telling the person what to do. This method assumes that the coachee is able to determine their own specific and personalised learning path. But of course, they do not do this alone, they have a guide at their side i.e. the coach.

What does a Coach do?

  • Guides the coachee towards establishing goals for the future
  • Helps the coachee to make sure that their goals are Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and include a Timeframe.
  • Guides and supports another individual to achieve their goals
  • Encourages learning
  • Affirms achievements and progress
  • Provides feedback and suggestions
  • Provides direction, resources and support where appropriate, and
  • Builds a positive environment.

Why is coaching an effective tool for leaders?

Over recent years there has been an increasing trend for individuals in organisations to take responsibility for their own development. In a rapidly changing environment, coaching is a flexible and responsive development approach. It can be centred in the workplace and is relevant and immediately applicable to the day to day challenges faced by the individual. Coaching can be used as a standalone approach to development or it can be used to augment or add value to a more traditional training and development activity such as a leadership workshop.

What is Mentoring?

A mentoring relationship is a complex one in which two individuals of differing levels of experience and expertise are paired together for the purpose of growth, support and development. A mentor is usually a person of a more senior level who agrees to act as a guide, leader or role model for a person of lesser experience or expertise. A mentor’s role will be to demonstrate, explain, model, share and facilitate while the protégés observe, question and explore (Phillips & Stromei, 2001). Mentoring is a methodology that can be used to help a coachee achieve their goals!

Still not sure if coaching and mentoring would work for you? Why not consider the Case Study below that tells the story of an RTO owner and how he benefited from coaching support as he established his RTO.

A Case Study

Joe is an RTO owner. His previous career in retail taught him a lot about people and although he remains passionate about providing a good customer experience, he feels that it is time to move from the frontline and contribute to the sector overall by training the next generation of retail professionals. Joe has seen his fair share of retail professionals who have been poorly trained and he believes that he can make a difference in the sector.


When we met Joe the first time, he was very honest about his lack of knowledge about Registered Training Organisations. He was qualified to teach in an RTO but had no experience in leading people in the education context, nor did he have any knowledge of the compliance requirements. Joe was still working in retail, attempting to complete a related qualification and attempting to set up an RTO. He knew that he needed to employ a small team of people to help establish the RTO but felt vulnerable and ill equipped to lead this team, given his own lack of knowledge.


How would you help Joe?

It is easy to jump to solutions in such a situation and offer advice about courses to attend, the type of staff to hire etc. There is no doubt that such advice could be helpful if the person is ready to hear it. But what we often find is that people who are new to the VET sector reach ‘information overload’ very quickly and cannot process all the tasks that they must complete to become a successful RTO. If we continue to ‘tell’ the future RTO owner what they must do, it is very difficult for them to take control and own the responsibility.

Another approach to such a situation is to take a coaching approach and walk alongside the person while they determine for themselves what they need by working through a process to help them set and achieve their goals.

This is exactly what we did with Joe.

We provided some basic guidance on the process to set up an RTO, steered him in the direction of the regulator and asked him to determine what support he needed. Joe asked us to help him set some goals about what he needed to do to set up an RTO and asked if we were willing to guide his path towards achieving the goals.

This is what came out of this request.

Joe, was able to:

  1. Set some goals related to:
    – VET legislation, terminology, the key role of the leader in an RTO etc.
    – Recruitment of a team for the RTO
    – Development of documentation required for the RTO.
  2. Set a 6-month time frame for a coaching relationship. We met on a monthly basis over the 6 months. Each meeting was for 2 hours.
  3. Read all relevant legislation, attend regulator briefings and participate in webinars provided by various providers, including The Learning Community.
  4. Identified that he needed a mentor to assist him process and apply the knowledge he was developing. Joe identified a leader from an unrelated RTO who he admired and was able to establish a mentoring relationship with this person. Joe spent several days shadowing this RTO owner to learn more about the leadership challenges, and the day to day operations of the RTO.
  5. Work with us to build a vision for his RTO, develop a business plan and develop the many supporting documents and processes required to establish the business.

And this was the result

Joe was successful in establishing his RTO and is still driven by his original passion to provide quality retail training. His passion influences the way he builds both internal and external relationships. He has continued the coaching approach to build capability within the RTO and encourages his staff to set their own development goals, in alignment with those of the RTO.

We hope we have demonstrated through this case study that coaching can be used successfully with other development methods such as mentoring, shadowing, reading and training.

Do you, or does someone in your team, have a development need that could be supported through coaching?

Here are some of the benefits for you to consider.

  • Can be used in conjunction with other development methods such as mentoring
  • Is a form of individualised support that allows the person to arrive at their own solution
  • Is flexible in terms of time frames for completion i.e. short term and focussed on specific issues
  • Can easily be linked to workplace issues or projects
  • Does not require excessive time out of the workplace

If you have any questions relating to leadership coaching or would like a guiding hand to help you build a successful RTO please contact us on info@thelearningcommunity.com.au or you can read more about our Leadership Coaching services here. 

Please feel free to share your stories about coaching by commenting below.


Phillips,J.J & Stromei,L.K (2001) Creating Mentoring and Coaching Programs. USA: ASTD








Gillian                                                      Karen


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