Dene Stuart is a leadership practitioner and founder of the Exceptional Leader Academy. He writes for TRVST on how leaders can affect change, both at home and work, and for social impact. He's previously written about How To Win Trust as a Leader, what we can learn from Jeff Bezos's Leadership Style, and the 7 Leadership Qualities To Drive Change. As someone who has coached and been coached, here Dene explores How To Develop A Coaching Style of Leadership.
I’m a baby boomer, which means I was born between 1946 and 1964.
But it was only when I had my own kids that I realised there are consequences to the period in which you are born.
Most notably that knowledge expands at a geometric rate.
As such, generations that come later benefit exponentially from the experience of the generations that preceded them.
The paradox is that although we have created a world with many problems and our desire to explore and expand our knowledge means that we have also created the means to resolve many of those problems.
But that is human experience.
However, it really means that the younger minds of Generation Y and Z have longer to apply and benefit from the knowledge and learning that becomes available.
Of course, that learning is equally available to the older generation. but they have less time to adapt to the learning and maybe also become a little less willing to adopt the new ways.
Command and Control
What’s this got to do with leadership and coaching?
I landed my first corporate job in 1979. The culture encouraged learning from your boss, with little formal training available for managers, in the subtleties of leadership.
If you had a good boss who knew what they were doing and had your best interests at heart, that was great.
But in my experience, the people I worked for had their own interests at heart and didn’t really know what they were doing especially when it came to leading their teams.
It was still a time when business leaders ruled by fear (nothing much has really changed there) and the method was command and control.
This leadership approach rooted in the rules of corporate governance said that the directors’ prime responsibility was to return profits to the shareholders.
And as the directors held this responsibility and the consequences of any breaches of that responsibility, what they said had to be obeyed.
As an employee, companies paid you to implement the commands of the senior managers, mostly without question.
A style which became known as command and control or more colloquially as mushroom management.
Derived from the method in which mushrooms are cultivated…
… kept in the dark, and every so often has sh*t shovelled over.
Relentless Drives Towards Shareholder Value
This form of leadership could only work because of two factors.
Employment law favoured the employer with little or no recourse for employees who suffered at the hands of their bully bosses.
And life was a lot simpler.
We had less choice.
To start a new business you had to overcome high barriers to entry. Which meant that big organisations offered most of the employment opportunities.
In short, no incentive existed for organisation leaders to develop their leadership skills.
No one cared as long as the profits rolled in.
Through the 1900s employee rights became enshrined in law, which increased the costs of employment. And, as work became more complex and it became harder to find well qualified and capable people. Slowly but surely the idea of an employee as an asset rather than just an easily replaceable commodity started to evolve.
The Beginnings of Coaching to Lead
In parallel to these social developments, research in the fields of psychology, economics and sociology revealed the complex nature of human motivations. And the idea of human potential began to emerge. This became a big influence in sparking the idea of coaching as not only a viable approach to developing people but also as a valuable method.
In the last 25 years, the biggest influence towards coaching as a leadership style has emerged.
Firstly, the internet and personal computer.
This has impacted the way in which organisations need their people to “show up” at work.
No longer can you show up and do exactly what it says on your job description.
Because it is now impossible to capture all the subtleties and nuances of a job in black and white.
Organisation's now required their people to use their initiative to solve a myriad of small problems that stop the customer from experiencing the outcome they want.
Be it a customer, a client, a patient, a donor, a benefactor or an employee. People now have expectations that are in keeping with what they believe is right and in keeping with the possibilities afforded by a 24 hours a day 7 days a week always-connected society.
And they can and do vote with their feet and their spending money when they are less than satisfied.
It has also become much easier to start a new business. This, in turn, has shifted the balance of power between the employer and the employee.
Secondly, there has been a boom in property prices since the mid-eighties. This, along with the problems associated with our booming global population, has caused the members of Generation Y and Z to have different priorities to their parents. They are not willing to be treated by their bosses the way they saw their parents being treated by theirs.
These evolutions and revolutions have demanded an equal shift in leadership style.
No longer does the command and control approach prove the best way to lead.
Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose
In his book, Why We Do What We Do, published in 1995, the psychologist Edward Deci proposed that we perform at our best when we have control over the things we do and the decisions we make. He called it autonomy.
His work was expanded by Daniel Pink who developed Deci’s theories of motivation in his book Drive, by adding the aspects of mastery and purpose. Where mastery comes from developing our skills and finding purpose such that our work has meaning beyond our need to earn money.
Deci and Pink revealed that command and control leadership destroys autonomy, undermines mastery and dilutes any sense of purpose.
In short command and control leadership does not create the environment to realise the full potential of employees, so they feel empowered to use their initiative to solve problems.
Coaching Sporting Leaders
However, the psychologists were not the only ones looking at the problem of getting the best out of people.
In 1978, Timothy Gallwey, published his book The Inner Game of Tennis.
This was one of the first works to separate the mental aspect of performance from the functional side. It quickly became hugely influential in the development of the role of coaches within sport.
Coaching in sports had a history based on the need for athletes to have great technique in order to produce great results.
Every sport had expert functional coaches to help the stars deliver their best performance. But on its own, it wasn’t enough.
The stars discovered they had to develop their mental game to deliver their best performance just when they needed it.
And as the athletes who called on this broader aspect of coaching started to enjoy more success, so the approach drew the attention of the business world.
Evolving Leadership Styles
Ten years before Tim Gallwey wrote The Inner Game of Tennis, Paul Hersey, a behavioural scientist, and Ken Blanchard a PhD in Education and Leadership from Cornell University, developed The Life Cycle Theory of Leadership.
The underlying principle was that different circumstances demanded different styles of leadership.
The four styles they identified were
- Telling: when team members are willing but lack the specific skills to be effective.
- Selling: when skills are up to the task, but motivation is lacking.
- Participating: when skill and experience is up to the task, but confidence is missing.
- Delegating: when skill, experience and confidence are up to the task and the individual is willing to take responsibility for results.
In the late 70’s Blanchard and Hersey went their separate ways and Blanchard developed the model further, renaming it Situational Leadership.
- Telling became Directing.
- Selling became Coaching
- Participating became Supporting
- Delegating didn’t change
And the idea of coaching as a legitimate leadership style was born.
Evolving Conditions Towards Coaching as a Leadership Style
However, its adoption by business leaders did not explode out of the starting blocks.
It would take the coming together of legislation and the technological revolution for the conditions to become ripe for the principles of coaching identified by the likes of Gallwey, Hersey and Blanchard, and many others, to be adopted by the business leaders responsible for delivering the profits.
Nowadays the evidence is overwhelming.
The Institute of Coaching claims the following benefits of coaching.
- It empowers employees and encourages them to take responsibility
- It increases engagement
- It improves individual and organisational performance
- It helps identify and develop high potential employees
- It helps identify strengths and weaknesses which can then developed or mitigated
- It helps to motivate and empower people to perform at their best
- It demonstrates a commitment to people development and not just people exploitation
These claims have some research validation.
In this paper published in The Journal of Positive Psychology:
“The results show that coaching has significant positive effects”
How to Become a Coaching Driven Leader.
The overriding requirement for becoming a coach is that of believing in the potential of the coachee.
For this reason, it demands a lot more investment of time, and potentially money for training, than the old traditional approach to leadership.
As a coaching leader you must be able to derive fulfilment from adding value to others.
Your ability to get things done must shift to your ability to influence rather than use of your power position. No more commanding.
As a coach, you should also have a coach. It is important that you experience the challenges of being coached so that you experience the same emotions as your coachees.
Qualities of a Coaching Style of Leadership
You must believe in the value of relationships and the development of mutual trust.
You must have the ability to create rapport and maintain a sense of humour when difficulties come up.
You must authentically care about your coachee
You must have genuine curiosity about the challenges of your coachee.
You must develop the ability to ask questions that enable your coachee to find their own answers.
The most difficult element for people in leadership roles who want to be coaches; you must avoid judgment and giving advice.
The most important of all skills for the coach is active listening with the willingness to be respectful and present at all times.
You cannot jump to conclusions and must remain impartial.
One of the big difficulties for leaders is the need to ask permission of the coachee in certain situations…
… to start the coaching relationship
… before offering feedback
Results Apparent in Developing a Coaching Style of Leadership
Ultimately the coach/coachee relationship is about transformation and achieving results.
Therefore, Goals and Action Plans must be agreed, and the coachee must own these and be willing to be held accountable for their achievement.
When it comes to becoming a coaching leader the challenge for busy executives is finding the time and keeping the commitment.
But, as most things, doing the right thing is rarely the same as doing the easy thing.
Coaching requires time, emotional intelligence, commitment and discipline, and the rewards are most definitely worth it.