When the leader becomes the coach: A new style of management for a new world.

“Between now and the 21st century, millions of ordinary, psychologically normal people will face an abrupt collision with the future,”
– Alvin Toffler, Future Shock

The future is not arriving lineally as we might have expected. It is being announced in numerous ways through ideological clashes, political conflict, economic turmoil, environmental degradation, and technological revolution. The impact on our world is both devastating and renewing.

And, organisations are waking up, desperately needing talented people who innovate, who shift the needle and who push the boundaries.

In the face of complex and constant disruption, the tried and trusted modus operandi of global corporate leadership being challenged.

Many corporates, still influenced by the industrial and modern age leadership styles, operate within an authority-driven, command and control paradigm. It is a paradigm which was formalised by Frederick Taylor who used scientific methods to analyze the most efficient production process in order to increase productivity. Known as Taylorism, this model perpetuates a human obsession with predictability, order and control. Despite being over 100-years-old, it is still alive and well today and, in today’s environment, it suffocates the leadership potential that exists in talented people.

So how could managers and leaders inspire and motivate their followers to be the best version of themselves and ultimately serve the organisation to the best of their abilities?

It is no longer, if it ever was, through command and control. Employees are quite clearly, demanding a far more compassionate style of leadership. A style that can derive much value from understanding the process of coaching.

Herminia Ibarra and Anne Scoular, in a 2019 HBR article, titled, The Leader as a Coach, discuss how the role of the manager is shifting. They write about a management model in which ‘managers give support and guidance rather than instructions, and employees learn how to adapt to constantly changing environments in ways that unleash fresh energy, innovation, and commitment.’

Coaching entails a way of asking questions so as to spark insights in the other person. As Sir John Whitmore, a leading figure in the field, defined skilled coaching as “unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance.”
The article goes on to discuss the resistance to this leadership style:

“For leaders who are accustomed to tackling performance problems by telling people what to do, a coaching approach often feels too “soft.” What’s more, it can make them psychologically uncomfortable, because it deprives them of their most familiar management tool: asserting their authority. So they resist coaching—and left to their own devices, they may not even give it a try. “I’m too busy,” they’ll say, or “This isn’t the best use of my time,” or “The people I’m saddled with aren’t coachable.”
In Daniel Goleman’s classic study of leadership styles, leaders ranked coaching as their least-favourite style, saying they simply didn’t have time for the slow and tedious work of teaching people and helping them grow.
Even if many managers are unenthusiastic about coaching, most think they’re pretty good at it. But a lot of them are not … Here’s roughly how these conversations unfold. The executives begin with an open-ended question, such as “How do you think things are going?” This invariably elicits an answer very different from what they expected. So they reformulate the question, but this, too, fails to evoke the desired response. With some frustration, they start asking leading questions, such as “Don’t you think your personal style would be a better fit in a different role?” This makes the direct report defensive, and he becomes even less likely to give the hoped-for answer. Eventually, feeling that the conversation is going nowhere, the executives switch into “tell” mode to get their conclusion across. At the end of the exercise, no one has learned anything about the situation or themselves.”

Does this sound familiar? A coaching leadership style can be incredibly effective, if it is implemented properly. It requires the right tools and support, a sound method and lots of practice and feedback.

Lead with Humanity Associate, James Tooley, offers some guiding questions when having a ‘coaching conversation’:

  • What is happening now?
  • What do you think is driving this?
  • What impact does this have on you / others?
  • What feelings does it provoke in you?
  • What do you think is blocking you?
  • How would you describe this looking down from a high mountain?
  • What would you like to see happening?
  • What would be different?
  • What would your energy levels be like?
  • If you had no restraints what then?
  • What would have shifted in your view of the world?
  • What would this mean to you and the organisation?
  • What action is required to make that happen?
  • What else do you need to find out?
  • Which three actions will catapult you forward?
  • What else do you want to do?
  • What time lines are you thinking of?

Read the full HBR articles for some great tools and methods to follow. https://hbr.org/2019/11/the-leader-as-coach#

Insecurity, doubt, grief, fatigue and general overwhelm is all around us, in our teams, families and community. If you are feeling challenged and unsure of how to build energy, inspire creativity and seek out the talent and innovation the world needs right now, this is a leadership style worth exploring. Learn to lose control, and lead as a coach.