How to be a better leader and empower your teams to grow and thrive.
Much ink and many bytes have been accorded to one growing buzzword – coaching – and many organizations boast that they have a coaching culture; how many actually practice it is a different matter. Coaching and its practitioners exist on a wide spectrum, and it may help to shed some light on it and dispel some of the confusion, especially as, I am learning, it has phenomenal power in moving executives and nonprofessionals forward towards goal attainment.
To say that we are at interesting crossroads is an understatement; the world continues to reel from the impact of Covid and its long tail. Meanwhile, the dust has yet to settle on how we live, work, and interact. This has been one big ongoing reset and there is no playbook. So, how will we deal with so much uncertainty? What will the new world look like, feel like, and function and how will we transition into it? How will our personal and professional lives continue to mesh and unfold, and how will we manage the way forward? How will leaders lead and how will they inspire their people to perform and thrive in a new world order? So many questions, and very few answers, if at all. One thing is clear, moving forward requires reflection and awareness, support, and enablement, and this is where coaching comes in.
Coaching – What it is … What it isn’t
In providing a definition in his book “The Process of Highly Effective Coaching” Dr. Robert F. Hicks quotes the French poet, novelist, and critic Remy de Gourmont, who stated that “a definition is a sack of flour compressed into a thimble,” which may explain why there are so many different definitions of coaching. Attempting to avoid adding another thimble, here are some common elements that describe coaching, according to Dr. Hicks:
- A Methodology: it utilizes a person-centered, nondirective, and inquiry-based approach in assisting coachees in transformative learning as a path to goal attainment.
- A Relationship: an egalitarian relationship between coach and coachee.
- A Purpose: its purpose is transformative learning to enhance a coachee’s life experience and goal attainment.
- A Philosophy: it is a philosophy of empowerment that is based on the coachee being an expert in their life and possessing the skills, knowledge, and resources to move forward.
- A Process: one of support and challenge to coachees so they are encouraged to discover, understand, learn, and solve problems independent of the coach.
More succinctly, the ICF (International Coaching Federation) defines coaching as partnering with coachees in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. Coaches honor the coachee as the expert in his or her life and work and believe that every coachee is creative, resourceful, and whole. Standing on this foundation, the coach’s responsibility is to:
- Discover, clarify, and align with what the coachee wants to achieve,
- Encourage coachee self-discovery,
- Elicit coachee-generated solutions and strategies,
- Hold the coachee responsible and accountable.
The above is in contrast to mentoring, which is focused on skill development and knowledge sharing; consulting, which is focused on business problems and provides strategy, structure, and process to solve them; or therapy, which is focused on resolving and healing trauma from the past.
Obviously, there is more to the above definition and contrasts, but for the purposes of today’s article, this definition should help anchor the conversation.
More Relevant Than Ever Before
Why today? There are two layers to the answer:
The first is personal. Leadership, people, and their development are very close to my heart, and after reflecting on my own personal journey earlier this year, I took a deeper interest in the matter, and I started seriously studying it and gaining qualification and experience.
I love what I am learning. I feel as if I traveled back in time to when I joined the advertising industry (1985) and was immediately reminded about focusing on customers, the need to walk a mile in their shoes, to be empathetic (though that term wasn’t regularly used) and to listen, really listen to what the customer has to say. Ultimately, these are foundational principles and sound practices to both marketing and coaching.
The second is global. The past 18 months have wreaked havoc on all aspects of life and have generated more pressure on professionals to deliver results in the face of unprecedented adversity and with fewer resources, resulting in more fragmentation of teams and people, created mental health challenges, isolated people, plus a wide range of issues, challenges, and difficulties.
Today, more than ever, leaders are experiencing the benefits of adopting a coaching leadership style to support, develop, motivate, and enable their teams to move forward, find solutions and grow. I was recently inspired by Microsoft’s “Model, Coach, Care” ethos, and have better understood how under Satya Nadella, who spearheaded a cultural transformation, Microsoft Market Capitalization grew four-fold. This is certainly a testament to strong and visionary leadership as well as coaching’s ability to produce growth in individuals and organizations.
The fundamental prerequisite for coaching to be effective is for the leader to be highly motivated and committed to self-development. While it doesn’t necessarily apply only to leaders, those who are either in transition, at a crossroads or seeking new approaches tend to benefit most. Consider the following as examples:
- Recently promoted leaders as they transition and settle into new roles,
- Those identified for succession into a senior leadership role,
- Established leaders who are seeking new approaches to…
- set and achieve goals,
- manage and motivate staff,
- take a coaching approach to staff development,
- improve peer relationships and interaction with, say, board members or volunteers, or balance workload.
How Leaders Can Benefit
One of the most powerful concepts in coaching is coachee autonomy. There is a lot of depth to this simple thought. Importantly, if a coach were to suggest a solution to a coachee, it will likely not be fully successful or sustainable (very much like giving someone a fish to feed them). On the other hand, if through a process of supporting and challenging, a coach was to enable their coachee to develop awareness and autonomously arrive at a solution, then the ensuing action can go very far towards achieving a goal.
Imagine the potential for organizations. Instead of a leader commanding and driving his people by fiat, they would encourage participation and solution generation from the ground up. Think of all the situations you have personally been through where you have reluctantly followed senior commands that you weren’t sold on vs. those situations where you were encouraged to propose your own strategies and tactics to address a challenge or achieve a goal. Where was your energy, commitment and drive higher? Where did you succeed more and go further?
The power of coaching as a leadership style resides first in the leader respecting and acknowledging that their team members possess the smarts, resources, and efficacy to achieve what they have been hired to achieve. Equally as importantly, it requires the humility and understanding of the leader that every time you give your people a solution, you are robbing yourself and the organization of the potential energy your people have in delivering certain goals.
As leaders, many of us have been hardwired to provide solutions, to speak with authority, and address our people as a parent would their children, or a schoolteacher their students. Little wonder that the response is a self-propagating child-like reaction of either submissiveness or rebelliousness. On the other hand, those leaders who are mature enough, confident enough, able to self-regulate their emotions and park their egos outside their office, and who operate from an adult point of view giving equal status to their teammates, are those who tend to get a bigger following, who build strong cultures and who overshoot targets. If in doubt, just check out Microsoft. It is about culture, and the fuel is coaching.
Independent of the discipline you are in as a leader or the industry sector your business operates in, you can capably apply coaching principles in your leadership style. Coaching has immutable principles whose application has been empirically proven to produce results.
One of the thoughts I have formed during my recently started coaching journey is that coaching is an ebb and flow of reflection and raising awareness. These two go hand in hand. For a leader to embody a coaching mindset, they would need to be mindful of the following:
- Recognize that your coachees are responsible for their own choices,
- Engage in ongoing learning and development as a coach,
- Maintain a reflective attitude and practice that enhances your ability to coach,
- Remain aware and open to the influence of both context and culture on yourself and others,
- Use your self-awareness and intuition to the benefit of your coachees,
- Purpose develop and maintain your ability to regulate your own emotions,
- Seek outside help when needed.
Coaching requires humility, empathy, power equalization between the coach and the coachee (read leader and collaborators), and a commitment to continuous self-development. Armed with these traits and knowledge, the leader can significantly alter and improve the culture of their organization for the better.
Coaching is a relatively young industry that is fast growing. Its force lies in holding up a mirror to the coachee and allowing them to develop awareness, and from there supporting them with the motivation and confidence to take steps towards their goal. This is genuine and evidence-based empowerment and enablement.
Not everyone needs to become a coach, and there are situations where coaching is not the right tool. For all the rest, it is exceptionally potent in creating performance cultures. This is why adding the coaching toolbox to leadership – whether by adopting it as a leadership style or by bringing in capable professional coaches – has the power to transform organizations from plodding away to creating oases of inspiration and achievement.
Marcus Aurelius once said: “You have the power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.” Coaching releases such power and in so doing has the potential to make the world a better place. To achieve that requires micro-steps across organizations, and everywhere enlightened leadership is in charge. There’s never been a better time to harness the power of coaching.