Leaders Who Coach

by  Teri Aulph  |  Leadership Development

‘Leadership’ has been defined, re-defined and re-re-defined. While there are many ways to demonstrate leadership and as many different situations demanding even more hybrid applications of leadership: in order for people to work in organized and efficient modes toward successful results, leadership is required.

In the context of the fast-paced, ever changing workplace of today, the most successful leaders are those who face new challenges with current and relevant solutions. Those who attempt to solve the issues of today with the solutions of yesterday may find themselves obsolete. That would be like trying to run the newest version of Excel on the 286 microprocessor.

One of the most successful approaches to the current demands is the style, ‘leader as coach’. ‘Leaders who coach’ balance their concern with people performance with the goals of the company. The ‘leader as coach’ models the behavior desired by those around him or her. They serve as mentor and teacher allowing individual talent to flourish. They foster independence and accountability by exercising a high level of engagement. They often surround themselves with people as talented or more talented than they are and continue to develop them. Rather than being threatened by the talent of subordinates, they link arms and treat them as valued colleagues.

This type of leadership fosters a culture where long-term performance is valued over short-term. The hierarchy is blurred with fewer levels of command replaced by a stronger informal network and increased communication between people. This builds a foundation of trust and inclusion. This type of leadership is nimble and agile in responding to change. This culture is prepared for the future to hold the unexpected in both threatening and opportunistic forms.

‘Leaders who coach’ are strong in adaptability and secure in their roles. They equip their people with the knowledge and tools they need to make sustainable decisions on their own. In these environments, performance and flexibility are a passion. These adaptive leaders value differences of opinion and encourage the healthy debate. As a result, employees feel valued and loyalty is the norm.

This type of leadership is certainly a contradiction at first glance. However, what these leaders know and understand is that in ever-changing environments, the best way to maintain control is to give it away. As they empower their employees, a more confident workforce emerges.

As we observe companies failing on a regular basis, organizations that are faced with instability and stress will suffer the same result as all other living things under the same circumstances, they must adapt to what they are faced with or they will become extinct. This elevates the necessity for agility and adaptability as the basis for survival.

Organizations being led by this type of leadership must have some very unique skills. Most employees must have the goal of becoming great problem solvers with well-honed decision-making skills within their areas of responsibility. The more volatile the environment – the less time to get final approval on every decision from the top. This requires that people be able to identify trends, principals and processes and feel confident in making decisions that advance the organization’s objectives.

Organizations focused on the development and performance of all employees will create a common thread of organic knowledge transfer. Succession planning will develop as the natural result of talent management, as opposed to an annual structured event. Customer response time will increase as more ownership is fostered and expected.

No longer is the dictatorial ‘command and control’ leadership model effective in response to the challenges of today’s workplace. Perhaps, we should begin identifying and developing leaders who coach for tomorrow’s success.  There are those who will claim this model will never work, that people must be controlled and told what to do.  I challenge them to find talented people who desire an oppressive workplace.

This is certainly a shift that will take time and planning, as well as culture transformation. However, the investment today may provide ongoing success in the future.

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What People Are Saying

Kevin W. Grossman  |  04 Aug 2010  |  Reply

For me, this isn’t a contradiction; it’s the leadership path of the new millennium. High emotional intelligence is the foundational element from which the leader-coach arises.

Command and control is crashing. And for good reason. Thank you for such an insightful post, Teri!

Teri Aulph  |  04 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Thank you, Kevin, for your kind words. I’m pleased you found value in the post. I agree completely, ‘command & control’ is no longer viable. Unfortunately, it remains alive and well in far too many places.

Jim Morgan  |  04 Aug 2010  |  Reply

This fits nicely with an image proposed in “The Fifth Discipline” about learning organizations: the CEO not as the captain of the ship, but the designer. Research into the diffusion of innovation makes clear that changes from the top will take far longer than top leaders realize to get to the line workers, and will end up distorted at that. Far better to equip those workers with the training, information, and values to make their own decisions in the company’s best interest. You’re right on target, Teri.

Teri Aulph  |  05 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Thank you, Jim, for your comment. It is often a major transformation to make, but well worth the effort in the long term. Once again, having the right people in roles where they thrive is key.

Terri Klass  |  04 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Hi Teri,
I really enjoyed your insightful post about coaching being an important element in successful leadership. I would just add that establishing rapport is another key aspect of the coaching process. Understanding the way a coachee receives and processes information can be most helpful in mentoring.

Terri Klass

Teri Aulph  |  05 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Terri – I couldn’t agree more. Effective communication is key for leaders who coach. In the bigger picture, critical for everyone. Thank you for your comment.

Mark Sturgell CBC  |  04 Aug 2010  |  Reply

I love the contradiction! In fact, you have provided further evidence of how “competency models” of leadership and leadership development are so misguided. Ask successful leaders to list characteristics and qualities of leadership and you very often end up with contradictory competencies on the list, such as having control and creating independence. It’s because different styles of leadership – different profiles of leadership – are not only effective in different contexts, different leadership approaches can be effective in the very same contexts.

On a completely different note, by the way, there are many examples of highly effective “command and control” leaders, particularly in military and public safety organizations. There is nothing inherently wrong with “command and control” in appropriate situations and given those aren’t the only defining qualities of the leader’s style and approach. Teri appropriately qualifies ineffective leadership as “dictatorial command and control”, another style altogether that doesn’t even work in military-style organizations.

As for leaders who coach – right on all the way, Teri. “‘Leaders who coach’ balance their concern with people performance with the goals of the company.” And everyone has the potential to become a leader who coaches. The best way may be to have a coach themselves.

Teri Aulph  |  05 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Great point, Mark. Having a coach can certainly assist in preparing you to be a coach. Thank you.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach  |  05 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Hi Teri,
To me leaders who don’t mentor/coach are falling short of their full responsibilities. That’s not to say that you keep a team member who truly is not producing. So many high driver leaders misinterpret “coaching” to mean “keeping around an incompetent” employee. Not true.

Coaching is that daily communication to tap people’s talents and hone it with your experience. It is one way that the team can learn from each other (including you) and change to meet every changing business needs.

Here’s a post on teamwork w/leadership — I welcome your comments.

Thanks for your great post. I will RT on Twitter.

Teri Aulph  |  05 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Thank you, Kate, for your comments, sharing your article and retweeting mine. I read your article and loved it. The premise of promoting organic growth within the framework of existing teams is, not only sustainable, but inherent to cultivating a culture that fosters individual growth for the benefit of the overall organization. I believe organizations entrenched in continual learning will be best positioned for success over time.

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