There was a time not so very long ago where those in leadership positions were expected by others, and in honesty expected of themselves, that they should hold all of the answers and solve every conceivable problem that arose. Not anymore thankfully. Now before we go any further and at the risk of causing offence, here is a health warning for you. If you are in a leadership position and you still hold that view, that you are fully capable of solving each and every difficulty that your company or organisation faces then you will end up as extinct as the dinosaurs. Why? Because you have not evolved and accepted the fact that it is no longer possible. Companies and organisations today are becoming more complex than ever before regardless of what sector or market they are operating in. With globalisation the rate of change is accelerating and means that new challenges emerge at local, regional, national and international levels on a daily basis. The good news for you is that if you currently have a dinosaur mindset unlike our reptilian friends, it is not too late for you!
A coaching approach to leadership is one where the leader doesn’t automatically provide answers when an employee that reports to them is confronted with an obstacle. Instead, the leader attempts to raise the self-awareness of the individual, assisting them in identifying a clear objective or goal, considering the options available to them and then supporting them in selecting appropriate actions in order to achieve those goals. The key principals behind such an approach is the belief in the employee in terms of their own abilities, a commitment to supporting the individual and for the coach to maintain a non-judgemental mindset. Not easy I hear you say but remember that the process is one of facilitation, cooperation and enquiry.
It does involve developing a different type of relationship with employees as a coaching relationship has to be built upon trust and understanding so that the individual feels able to find their own solutions. In a trusting more open relationship, the employee feels valued and is enabled to think clearly in a new supportive enabling environment.
This coaching approach to leadership is a goal orientated activity. It is one where the employee with the support of their manager identifies a clear objective and takes responsibility for pursuing same. Where all coaching techniques have a focus upon goal setting some approaches place a greater emphasis on it than others. Before any employee can find the best possible options for future behaviours, they should fully understand the situation as it is at present. The relationship between the external environment and the employees internal interpretation of it cannot be underestimated. This involves exploring the person’s view of their current reality which may involve self-reflection and possibly gathering quantitative data from them in terms of performance. Oftentimes, a employee may be responding to external circumstances inappropriately due to habitual patterns of thinking and behaviour. For example, long standing beliefs that senior figures shouldn’t be questioned. Through the raising of awareness, the employee may become fully aware regain greater control of their autopilot. A Duke University Study found that ‘at least 45% of our waking behaviour is habitual’ (Bungay Stainer, 2016, p.18). This brings into sharp focus the need for both employee and manager to understand each of our interpretations of what is happening ‘now’ and what our individual and collective responses to such stimuli are.
Whilst the discussion to this point has focussed upon the awareness of the employee, of equal importance is the self-awareness of the manager themselves. Similarly, the habitual patterns of behaviour such as the tendency to immediately offer solutions or provide advice should be acknowledged and examined. Motivations for such behaviours are likely to be both intrinsic such as the fact that it makes us feel valued and appreciated. Externally motivated aspects may also be involved. For example, through offering solutions in the past it has resulted in a successful career to date so why change? The answer is that it is unsustainable and doesn’t achieve optimum results. By gaining such a level of awareness, it allows the exploration of new approaches in supporting others. This coaching approach is one that should appeal to forward thinking leaders.
This coaching approach to leadership is a fundamental shift from the outdated control and command approach. It adopts instead an approach where the coach believes that the employee is capable and whole, that they are capable of finding answers and learning from experience. At times it may seem to the manager or leader that the answer to a scenario is simple but by allowing the space to explore creatively in a non-judgemental way, better solutions may be unearthed. Bungay- Stanier believes that the first answer is rarely the best and he recommends using what he refers to as the ‘awe’ question which is ‘and what else’? (Bungay Stanier, 2016). It is his contention that this is conducive to achieving better outcomes. For those of you that remain sceptical, here are some figures. In 2009 a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) of almost 600 organisations found that more than 90% used coaching approaches delivered by managers or internal coaches where over 60% used external coaches (Sandler, 2011, p. 14). In a more recent study of the use of coaching by managers within the sales industry, it was found that ‘by using coaching, managers brought about a higher role performance by helping their subordinates increase their own job performance’ (Pousa & Mathieu, 2014). Now, do you want to remain a dinosaur or are you brave enough to try something new? The choice ultimately lies with you.
Bungay Stainer, M. (2016) ‘The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More and Change the Way you Lead Forever’, Toronto, Box of Crayons.
Pousa, C. & Mathieu, A. (2014) ‘The Influence on Employee Performance: Results from two International Quantitative Studies’. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 27 (3) pp. 75 -92.
Sandler, C. (2011) ‘Executive Coaching: A Psychodynamic Approach’, New York, Mac Graw Hill.