Coaching Leaders: Learning To Lead

Organisations regularly fail to set their leaders up for success.

When it comes to development, up and coming managers and leaders themselves are just as responsible and culpable. Coaching provides the opportunity and impetus for growth and change.

CoachStation: Leadership and Management Coaching

Source: Unsplash – Ethan Sykes

The statements above may seem confronting, yet the evidence continues to present itself in organisations throughout the world. Few people I know personally and professionally feel that they are supported and developed consistently well by their leaders. Those who do should feel very lucky. Leaders who have sought development and coaching are significantly more likely to engage their team members. Coaching leaders are also more likely to develop and maintain solid relationships and connections with those they work with. This is important as employee engagement rates continue to fall or at best, remain stagnant.

According to the recent Gallup State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work. The economic consequences of this global “norm” are approximately $7 trillion in lost productivity.

Eighteen percent (of employees globally) are actively disengaged in their work and workplace, while 67% are “not engaged.”

This latter group makes up the majority of the workforce — they are not your worst performers, but they are indifferent to your organization. They give you their time, but not their best effort nor their best ideas. They likely come to work wanting to make a difference — but nobody has ever asked them to use their strengths to make the organization better. (1)

Becoming an effective leader does not happen by accident. Leadership and management coaching support provides the opportunity to grow professionally and personally. Skill and capability development, along with gaining an understanding of how to work with different people are important attributes. That makes sense, however, possessing the right skills is only part of the story.

Other critical factors are just as important. Knowing the right question to ask at the right time. Genuinely listening and delving to get to the nub of the matter. Learning how to influence. Caring about others as much as yourself, are all vital leadership traits. Beyond standard development, how else can you obtain the right skills and behaviours?

By building on the skills listed above you will earn the right to lead others. Deciding that this is your path is a great first step. Too many of us fail to challenge our comfort zones and follow through on what we believe and who we are. This sort of compromise leads to a lack of contribution and fulfilment.

What’s the secret? It’s this: we rose to our leadership positions because we were good at a certain skill not because we were skilled at leading others. We were promoted because we personally created great results. And, now that our job has shifted into a leadership role, we realise that we’re responsible to do the one thing we were never actually trained to do—lead, inspire, and motivate other people to become their best.

I never had training on how to be a leader, and frankly leadership is earned not given so I’m not sure it’s something that can be learned in a classroom,” said Matt Rizzetta, CEO and Founder of N6A, a public relations and social media agency based in New York and Toronto. “I came from an agency background and couldn’t understand why so many failed to see that the lifeblood of a services business is its people.

If people are what makes your business tick, then that needs to be the first place you look to invest and innovate. You need to see the correlation between the service product and the internal culture. The two should be interchangeable.

If you create a unique and rewarding internal culture for employees you’ll likely create a unique service experience for customers, and there will be performance benefits for both. That’s why I started my own company—not because I thought I was a leader, but because I knew that, by creating a better environment for employees we would create a better product for clients, and ultimately everybody would win. (2) Developing effective coaching skills and capability is one way to positively influence the culture and environment.

If you see this type of time and effort as a cost, not an investment, you will never commit fully. And you will truly struggle to influence and lead others.
  1. It is imperative to spend the time upfront to identify and recruit the most appropriate and effective leaders. The time spent getting this right is an investment, not a cost. Get it wrong however, and it will feel like a price you have to pay for far too long.
  2. Dedicating suitable levels of effort in developing leaders internally, prior to the opportunity. This rarely happens in reality, yet is one of the most simple and effective ways to confirm suitability and set up the new leader for success. Success for the leader, team and organisation.

Seek additional understanding and knowledge from whoever and wherever you can. Reinforcement of your existing understanding; exposure to new ideas and thinking; whilst broadening your mindset and skills comes from many sources. Seek them out. Be deliberate.

Being a leader can be challenging. It is also often rewarding, both personally and professionally. However, it takes effort, persistence and time, which it seems many people struggle to understand and apply. There are no short-cuts, but there is opportunity. (3)

The opportunity to improve individual and team leadership is available to most. The chance to make leadership development a priority and expectation within your organisational culture can make a real difference to whether people bother. Leadership is not a negotiable asset. We are all looking for more from our workplaces and our leaders and bosses are the linchpin to make this happen. What does this look like?

Google released two projects over the past few years that provide evidence of where our focus should be. Project Aristotle found that the firm’s best team’s exhibited a range of soft skills. Top ideas often come from so-called B-teams comprising people who were not always the smartest in the room, but excelled in team based environments.

Along with mentoring, leadership and workplace coaching is a great asset to receive and give.

Project Oxygen research in 2013 found that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) expertise was the last of eight traits in the company’s top employees. The seven most important were soft skills:

  1. coaching
  2. communicating
  3. listening
  4. possessing insights into others
  5. being empathetic and supportive
  6. critical thinking and problem-solving
  7. ability to make connections (3)
There is no doubt that the most effective and respected leaders in any role or organisation are those who recognise that they are not in their role because they have all the answers.

They are honest in their own self-assessment and seek the same of others. They are successful because they understand their own strengths and limitations, possessing the self-awareness and desire to surround themselves with a team who have supporting strengths and skill-sets that contribute to the effectiveness of the team.

Effective leaders are accountable to themselves and take on the responsibilities for their role, inputs and outcomes willingly and with purpose. This is not a one way street. Organisations must support their current and future leaders and continue to provide relevant and genuine development and growth opportunities. (5)

As we’ve travelled the globe and spoken to leaders from all different industries we’ve come to find the best leaders are open and honest about one simple thing—that they’re in their position not because they were necessarily skilled or credentialed at leading people, but instead because they sincerely cared about other people. They cared about helping others become the best they could be.

This is the one thing leaders need to understand—that a title doesn’t mean you know more, that years on the job don’t always mean you should be making all decisions, and that cheering for your employee’s success is the number one thing you can do as a leader to inspire greatness.

“The question every leader should ask their people is, ‘How can I help you become your best?’ instead of ‘How can you help me?’” (2)

Coaching your employees encourages self-reflection and accountability: two topics that are commonly raised in my coaching and mentoring discussions. A recent article by Amy Bach consolidates these key points. For anyone in a position that involves leading others, the ultimate decision remains.

Will you choose to focus on being a competent manager, or take up the more complex but also more rewarding challenge of committing to being a truly influential leader?

Leaders achieve through others. They develop, empower and motivate people, shape team culture, display courage and resilience in the face of adversity: and underpin all of this with something that cannot be taught, but can certainly be chosen. Lead with passion, authenticity and a commitment to making a positive impact in the workplace. (3)

A genuine leader and manager will read this and feel a connection with the words. Not simply as a concept, but recognised through action. It is too easy to continue on the path of acceptance or avoidance. You have a choice. It ultimately comes down to your answer to the question: what kind of leader do I want to be?

 

Resources and References:

(1) Dismal Employee Engagement Is a Sign of Global Mismanagement: Gallup.com

(2) The One Truth You Should Know That Most Leaders Keep Quiet: Forbes.com

(3) The Leader Journey is Long and Worthwhile: CoachStation

(4) Forge Magazine: Vol 4, No 1 – 2018; pages 6

(5) Are We Setting Our Leaders Up For Success?: CoachStation

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