Most executives agree that in order to meet performance objectives, it’s not enough to have an organization filled with hardworking people. Organizational change is constant, which means staying on top of that continual change and moving forward accordingly. Think of it as “hardworking meets creative and curious.” People who can step aside from their daily distractions to see beyond their myopic vision of the company are the employees who make the difference. Where does this type of organizational change begin? Leadership coaching is a good place to start.
Leadership coaching represents a true partnership. The coach and leader must combine their efforts in order to achieve results. A coach brings a trained yet natural curiosity to the leader’s daily work situation and proceeds to navigate through that world in search of key moments when the leader seems to be most open to learning. From there, the coach assists the leader in transferring this experiential learning into productive personal and organizational change. Why leadership coaching? The question should be “why not?” Where else might leaders find partners who will help them instigate positive change and then leave them to profit accordingly? Leadership coaches see the beauty of this method in its realism. For most people, thinking is where every decision begins. Therefore, regardless of the situation, if people can change the way they think, they can change the way they feel. If they can change the way they feel, they can change the actions they take. By changing their actions, life changes can follow. This philosophy is at the core of leadership coaching.
There are five topics coaches and leaders explore to learn about the leader’s ability and willingness to attain desired outcomes:
- Value system and the resulting desire to grow and develop in new ways. It’s up to the leader to define the individual change desired. Most of this change is based on the leader’s existing value system.
- Awareness of language, body and emotions. This includes looking at the way communication is intended versus how it’s perceived.
- Willingness to stop or change behaviors that interfere with the leader’s progress. There are a lot of stubborn leaders out there. This behavior adjustment isn’t an easy part of the process, but it is mandatory.
- Approach to organizing thinking, planning and expectations. Once a leader’s desired outcomes are identified, that doesn’t mean the leader knows the first thing about putting the change into motion.
- Behavior during challenging situations and strategies for resolution. Highly reactive leadership behavior is very telling. It speaks volumes about the capacity of leaders to manage their uneasiness in tough situations.
How the Partnership Plays Out
The leadership exploration provides a wealth of valuable information to the coaching process. With this insight, the coach can move quickly to help the leader achieve the desired results. Goal setting is an important technique used by coaches. Many leaders become, in a sense, paralyzed when it comes to setting goals. Whether it’s because they’re being lazy, lack knowledge, lack precedent, or all of the above, doesn’t really matter. Without clear goals, action slows and efforts become misdirected. This is why it’s wise to begin the coaching engagement here. There are two types of goals leaders need to set:
- Business goals (for external results).
- Personal goals (to define what must be changed personally in order to achieve the business goals).
Great value comes from the leadership coach’s perspective as he guides leaders to see, understand or appreciate something differently. Yet the real learning and possibility for change take place when leaders engage in observing current practices. The objective of a self-observation exercise might be to help leaders become more aware of their thoughts and judgments, and how their clarity and actions are affected accordingly. For this self-observation, leaders record their responses to the following questions each day for a week:
- What judgments were made of others?
- What was the basis for those judgments?
- What was learned from the observations?
- What will be done about it?
Leadership coaches can incite powerful questioning techniques to help leaders remove the lens from their points-of-view and open up enough to investigate new ideas and perspectives. The same use of stimulating questions helps leaders discover new approaches to thinking, speaking, listening and reflecting.
Furthermore, when a leader identifies the need to do something new or different, it’s often accompanied by uncertainty in terms of actually making the change. One effective technique to overcome this self-doubt is for a coach to assign a leader a set of instructions for practicing a new skill or behavior, requesting that she record observations and learning that results accordingly. Together the coach and leader work out a way to make the new or different action occur daily. Examples of practices that would offer leaders more free time include:
- Schedule a maximum amount of time to work each week.
- Deal with breakdowns by canceling activities instead of adding hours to stay within the maximum time allotment.
- Decide what portion of your time should be devoted to planning, administrative activities, appointments and meetings, and addressing breakdowns.
- Analyze your time each week and keep correcting the schedule until it is divided effectively.
Enable the Leader
All answers can be found within leaders—they just need help uncovering them. With that in mind, a successful leadership coaching engagement is one that enables the leader to be his own coach—to become more self-aware, self-learning and ultimately self-correcting. This can only transpire when a strong connection and true partnership is established between leader and coach. There is power in leadership coaching and those tapping in on it are prospering from the change it creates.
Kathryn M. Johnson is an executive coach and the executive director of the Leadership & Management Division at Management Concepts (www.managementconcepts.com), a global provider of training, consulting and publications on leadership and management development, project leadership, organizational change and performance management. E-mail Kathryn at firstname.lastname@example.org.