It’s Time to Talk About Coaching-Based Leadership as a Strategic Imperative

If you’re not talking with your senior business leaders about the strategic imperative of coaching-based leadership, I personally think it’s time to get started. Here’s why:

The Increasing Complexity of Change Has Completely Re-Wired What We Need from Leaders

Back in the day when change happened in a more or less orderly fashion, the main role of leaders was to control their resources and ensure compliance with the directives that came from above, usually in brown envelopes that were delivered to the leaders’ desks a couple of times a day. In those simpler times, people believed there were “right answers,” which managers distributed, as needed, but only if needed. Workers were given clear instructions that they followed. It all seems rather idealistic in the rearview mirror.

Now that change is a sometimes disruptive, often unpredictable constant that encompasses large swaths of our organizations, and even seeps out into the community at large, we need our leaders to do very different things. Things like:

  • Juggling competing priorities that often contradict each other while maintaining a reassuring sense of calm
  • Engaging colleagues from completely different areas in meaningful conversations to establish how they will work together to address overlapping challenges
  • Developing people “in the moment” to address urgent, often complex, issues that suddenly block the path forward
  • Build networks where different perspectives can be heard and innovatively connected to push the edge on what’s possible in the face of previously unheard of challenges.
  • And much more…

We Still Train Leaders to Contract and Control in the Face of Change

We may not like to admit it, but the old style of Command and Control leadership is still very much alive, although it’s not doing that well. If you look and listen carefully, you’ll notice that the foundational assumptions and beliefs of Command and Control leadership still guide the choices leaders make on a day-to-day basis. Assumptions and beliefs such as:

  • There are right answers and leaders are expected to have them
  • It’s the leaders’ job to tell others what to do
  • Leaders should defend their turf against the influence of others to maintain control, because other leaders, and areas, may be viewed as competitors
  • Mistakes are unacceptable and may be punishable offenses
  • Employees who have their own ideas or work in different ways may be viewed as threatening and need to be brought back into line

These assumptions and beliefs about leadership are expressed in day-to-day interactions as subtle warnings not to fail, confusing instructions that can’t be challenged, avoidance of the conversations needed to resolve differences, and the like. As a result, people contract back into the “safe” space of waiting to be told what to do, avoiding risks, defending rather than inquiring, and often disengaging after reaching a state of overwhelming confusion and inertia. That’s the last thing you want to have happen in the face of complex change.

Coaching-Based Leadership Gives People the Tools to Create Together 

Interestingly, coaching and complex change grew up together. They were both ‘born’ in the 90’s and have evolved quickly, in ways that few people ever expected. Personally, I think they were made for each other, because taking a coaching approach to leadership is what turns complex change into a gold mine of opportunity. That’s because coaching-based leadership—the integration of coaching approaches into any conversation with anyone at any time—is founded on principles that embrace change as a way of life, including:

  • Viewing people, and situations, as being capable of change, versus rigid or fixed
  • Appreciating how other people view situations in order to create connections that are meaningful for both parties
  • Believing it’s everyone’s job to ignite insight for others in ways that foster engagement and invite learning
  • Having compassion for people who are frightened by change, and using coaching approaches to help them move through their fears successfully
  • Addressing sticky issues “in the moment” rather than letting them fester into emotionally charged disagreements

Your Company Is In A Race of Strategic Importance, But May Not Know It

The first organizations in your industry to make coaching-based leadership a way of life will be able to drive change faster. And they will pick up speed—merging faster, innovating faster and seeing opportunities faster—as they get better at it. If your organization isn’t even thinking about making coaching the leadership style of choice, you’re in danger of being left in the dust of other organizations that have made that connection. And more importantly, are actively embedding coaching-based leadership into the fabric of their organizations right now.

As the pace of change quickens it seems plausible that the only enduring competitive advantage over time will be the ability to embrace increasingly complex change as an opportunity to push the edge on what’s possible. Establishing coaching-based leadership as a way of life is the foundation that this new world is built upon.

If the senior leaders in your organization still believe that “Coaching is nice, but not necessary” or “We’re too busy to bother with coaching right now” (because our change initiatives are going so badly), then it’s time for you to engage your leaders in coaching conversations about the strategic importance of coaching-based leadership. Don’t wait. This is one race that tortoises aren’t likely to win.

Dianna Anderson, MCC
CEO, Cylient

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