The old top-down, command-and-control style of leadership seldom works in today’s organizations, where the goal is often to promote cooperation in the midst of rapid change.
To succeed as a leader you must know how to communicate a vision, build a network of relationships, and foster group learning and decision-making. This is true whether you’re the big boss or are just learning how to guide a team.
Leadership coaching has become a key tool for facilitating change in individuals, teams and systems. And in places where the traditional hierarchical model of management no longer works, leaders who know how to act like coaches are building cultures that allow collaboration and innovation to thrive.
Working with a coach is one way to broaden your leadership skills and deepen your understanding of modern workplace dynamics. But even if that’s not an option, these strategies from the field of coaching can help you grow:
1. Know yourself. Research shows that self-awareness is a vital characteristic of successful leaders. The more you understand about your own internal dialogue, the better you are at engaging with other people. And the more you notice about the impact of your behavior on others, the better are your choices for next steps. Coaches use open-ended questions to help clients notice their inner voices and daily decisions. Another way to promote self-exploration is to keep a journal or regularly engage in some other form of expressive writing. Write answers to questions like, “what would I do here if I knew I couldn’t fail?”
2. Listen more actively. When people turn to you for guidance or assistance, there are many times when you have no idea how to help. But offering expertise is not the only way to give support. Humans have an innate need to be heard and acknowledged. And by listening deeply to another person, you can let them know they do matter and at the same time provide a way for them to come to terms with some of their issues.
3. Try peer coaching. Consider finding a partner or small group with whom you can trade coaching time. Create a structure in which each person has a designated to time to talk about current activities and challenges. When you play the role of the “coach” it’s your job to ask questions and listen compassionately to the answers. Then when you are the “client” you can talk about what’s been happening lately and how you feel about it.
4. Try some training. An enjoyable and effective way to become more adept at conversations with your colleagues can be to take an introductory coaching course. You’ll build your “listening muscle” and have opportunities to practice asking questions that lead others to new insights. For a training option that would work for you, visit the International Coach Federation website.
Coaching comes in many forms, but the broad theme is always to help you be the best version of yourself as a professional, a leader and a whole person. By learning a bit about how coaching works, you can build your self-knowledge and at the same time become better at assisting others to fully engage in their work.
Read about what coaching can do
If you want an insider’s view of what coaching actually looks like, I can recommend a new book: “Being Coached – Group And Team Coaching From The Inside.”
“Being Coached” is written by two accomplished coaches – Holly Williams, my pal from the Georgetown Leadership Coaching community, and her colleague, Ann Deaton. The authors don’t offer a how-to guide or academic discussion, but instead tell us a tale from the perspective of individual managers who are going through a group coaching exercise just as their company is faced with the need for a drastic change in strategy.
While the plot involves group coaching, the real story is about what coaching is like for each of the participants. For example, there is Ellen, the Chief People Officer, who faces the fact that she can’t manage all the company’s human resources by herself. During coaching she learns how to ask for help, and challenges her colleagues to either “work together or fall apart.”
Another new book touching upon the impact of coaching is “A Whole New Engineer,” by David E. Goldberg and Mark Somerville. If you are interested in the cutting edge of higher education, you’ll find this book particularly interesting.
The authors — two highly accomplished academic leaders whose field happens to be engineering — describe how each grew beyond the traditional university path to lead in the creation of science/engineering programs that also foster self-awareness and empathy. The book is an intriguing and readable mixture of anecdotes and current thought about how growth and learning happen. As a leadership coach, I am particularly interested in the suggestion that a more conscious element of coaching can enrich the classroom experience.