Career advice, insights & tips for HR professionals
Are you a game changer? (coaching series, part 3 of 3) 01/10/2012
How can you build a vision and inspire people to take action? Darren Robson, global board director of the Association for Coaching, offers advice on how to embrace change and lead from the front, in part 3 of our coaching series.
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- Sharing a dream, vision or purpose
- Global citizenship
- Helping leaders overcome their challenges
- Intrapreneurial & entrepreneurial capability
- Game changing decisions and moves
- Emotional change and transition
Sharing a dream, vision or purpose
Attract & grow talent: People don’t leave companies, they leave managers and leaders. If someone is working with a leader who develops and grows them, they are very likely to share it within their professional network (often a highly talented one) – employee and employer brand and reputation are critical determinants of success for attracting, retaining, developing and growing people.
A leader who has coaching skills and can help an individual reach their potential is a win for the individual, team, company, client and stakeholders.
Empower individuals: A coaching approach involves setting stretch targets and boundaries with people and encourages people to achieve things that they believe they can’t do. A leader with a coaching philosophy is more likely to challenge and support a person to reach their professional and creative edge. Human beings love this and are more likely to give of themselves as a natural result.
Additionally, empowerment is often seen in a hierarchical manner: “As a leader, I empower you, which is code for I respect you and trust you won’t screw it up.” A leader’s best message to people is that personal responsibility and self-empowerment is totally up to them. Leadership can then be about inspiring instead of controlling and manipulating, which is often the negative by-product of a leader who sees themselves as the source of power as opposed to the individual and team.
Build a sense of community: Coaching helps people to discover their purpose (commonly referenced as legacy) or contribution or making a difference. It’s natural therefore that as a leader who understands their desired legacy or ‘what will I be famous or remembered for’ to help their teams to stop and think about this for themselves individually and collectively. CEOs who are highly recognised are often great storytellers; they are able to share a dream, vision or purpose that inspires people to take aligned action to make a dream a reality. In life we often forget childhood dreams and that is sad, as there is often a great deal to be gained from making these a reality into adult life.
Build trust and loyalty: People follow leaders who walk their talk, remain honest, real and consistent through good and bad times. Leaders with a strong sense of purpose morally, ethically, culturally and socially, achieve an emotional connection with people because they are seen as people you can trust to do the right or best thing. Coaching is not soft and woolly; the truth is the polar opposite.
Coaching relationships should be honest, candid, truthful, challenging and supportive in equal measures. The best coaches are the ones who give tough professional love and make people look at themselves in a way that is sometimes challenging and difficult. Leaders need to play the same role with people in order to help stretch their employees to new ways of thinking, mind-set and ultimately performance.
The coaching journey naturally gets people to consider their values and what is really meaningful in life. It’s important for leaders to think about their company’s wider implication for society and the environment because indicators show that the planet is finite and that companies have the potential to have a highly positive or negative impact upon people and the planet.
Global citizenship is something people are becoming more conscious of and are making discretionary purchases based upon how a company operates. Companies that pollute or cheat the British tax system will soon find that this will impact the organisation’s brand, which will impact their financial returns and the talent they attract. Be good or get caught cheating; social media is a powerful democratisation of information, which spreads very rapidly these days.
Helping leaders overcome their challenges
Leaders have to go through a number of transitions and there are many different types. My colleagues and I work closely with CEOs and executive leaders to help them consider their first 90-120 days in a new role. This is where a coach acts as a mentor and trusted advisor and offers a creative space for a leader to think through their strategy and approach.
Coaches are becoming more sophisticated in not only asking great questions but also bringing insights and ideas that can really help clients move forward. The zealots in the coaching world will challenge this approach, claiming this isn’t coaching. My personal and professional take is that we are there to be of service to the need of the client. Therefore, I will bring whatever tools and support mechanisms I can to help them accelerate and achieve what they need.
Some of the other challenges beyond leading through transition include but not confined to the following:
- Establishing a common vision, purpose and alignment within your team
- Supporting your team through transition
- Establishing your professional brand
- Becoming a more emotionally intelligent or literate leader
- Leading through complexity and change
- Building a high-performance culture and team
- Holding difficult or challenging conversations
- Understanding and developing your individual and team brand
This is just an example of the types of challenges leaders and managers face on a daily basis. Leaders and managers are more like corporate athletes these days, and coaches are a safe environment in which to practice. Unlike the Olympians, corporate athletes are on the track and field every day, so coaches are there to give them a safe harbour to talk through their strategies.
Intrapreneurial & entrepreneurial capability
Developing intrapreneurial or entrepreneurial capability and the ability to take measured risk is a key ingredient for highly successful leaders in today’s global, dynamic and competitive landscape. An organisation’s capability to innovate is an essential way to get ahead. We only have to look at Apple to know this to be a key ingredient of their ability to game-change market spaces or create whole new industries.
Many organisations talk about innovation, but the leader’s need for control and the employee’s fear of losing their job over mistakes means that many great projects never make it to the board for discussion.
In contrast, real entrepreneurs accept failure as part of the learning journey and actively seek to push the envelope to make a game changing move. Coaches play an instrumental role in helping clients to become more innovative and entrepreneurial. You can read stories of entrepreneurs at my social project www.moefoundation.com and read the digital book about purposeful entrepreneurship.
Game changing decisions and moves
Apple is a great example of a culture that takes risks. I’m not advocating the Steve Jobs form of leadership because, like any maverick genius, there are pros and cons. It takes a special kind of person and team to survive and thrive in that type of area. I recently worked with a new leader and CEO of a social organisation, and he took a risk to be authentic, honest and upfront with the company. He had to turn the company around because the organisation was dying. He let go of a number of his top team and set about offering strength-based coaching for the entire company. Nine months later, his company’s engagement scores have doubled, morale is high, and he has a great team on board. There are numerous examples like this where a coach has positively agitated a leader and sought to help them to make game-changing decisions and moves.
Emotional change and transition
Coaching approaches help people gain greater awareness, become responsible and ultimately make their own choices. We aren’t psychologists, but we do understand how the inner voice (what we tell ourselves in our head) has a huge impact on our game. Changing habits on the surface level is easy but neuroscience has also taught us that it takes up to 90 days of sustained effort to make a change last – we only have to look at the difficulty alcoholics, smokers and people with heart conditions have – many fail to change behaviour and ultimately pay the price.
A leader who has coaching skills can send out the right messages, build a community of change agents and support managers in helping people go on both the logical and emotional change and transition journey.
If I’m an uninspired leader who has lost my way, what knock-on effects does this have on the rest of the workforce? What advice would you give me to turn myself around?
Optimism is a critical determinant of leadership success. A leader’s shadow (personality, character, behaviour) can impact a workforce positively or negatively. Who really wants to work for a mean, corrosive or abusive boss? The only reason that people stay to work for people like this is that they’re scared or feel trapped.
Leadership shouldn’t be seen as a role, but as a privilege. People need to trust their leaders and look up to them in terms of mutual trust or respect. Both are powerful, but one is essential. Leaders who have lost their way or are feeling down have often lost their impetus, mojo or energy. Coaches can help leaders address this by making tough choices.
Note: Depression is on the up and often counselling or other psychological supports mechanisms have a role to play if this is what is occurring. Depression is an illness that may have deep-rooted causes and to solve this may not be best served through a coaching relationship.
Darren Robson, global board director, Association for Coaching
Darren Robson is director of strategy, innovation & partnership for the Association for Coaching. He runs DRArete Ltd, a leadership development organisation, and is founder & CEO of Ministry of Entrepreneurship.