Coaching for leadership - how to make it work

Coaching employee
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What are the building blocks for confident, focussed and trusted leadership?

This series, 'Building great leadership' covers everything you need to know, from identifying and developing leaders, to giving effective feedback and measuring success.

When does the leadership journey start? Is there some sort of magic mirror that we pass through on our way from employee to leader? Or is there something more to leadership than a new title on the business card and a slightly more comfy chair in the office?

As visitors to this site you already know the answer; but it is one which can surprisingly become lost even in the most well-meaning of organisations as the challenge of ‘business as usual’ gets in the way of leadership development.

And whilst organisations may just about have got away with mañana and piecemeal development efforts in the past, in today’s environment businesses no longer have the luxury of leaving leadership development until the last minute.

For a start, the millennial generation are being followed into the workplace by Generation Z and they are looking for businesses to deliver meaning and autonomy and a new way of working.

‘Do as I say’ is being replaced by ‘take responsibility’ and to be successful that requires a holistic view of the organisation allied to strong thinking, reasoning and influencing skills.

Add in the changing needs of customers, the drive to develop innovative solutions, new collaborative ways of working and so on and it is easy to see why individuals need to develop leadership traits at a far earlier stage of their career than before.

Effective coaching gets to the heart of keeping it real.

That’s why in our ‘leaders are learners’ article within this series we talked about leadership being a journey, one in which the greatest leaders are those who are open to a continuous pathway of self-development. But where does that journey start?

It’s never too soon to start being a leader

If you want great leaders then the true answer is that it is never too soon to start developing the skills, behaviours and attitudes which will stand you in good stead as you move through your leadership journey. In other words, if you want the habit of leadership then the sooner that habit is established the better.

That’s not to say that those who come late to the leadership arena can’t develop their own leadership style.

The more people assimilate reason and understanding into their mindset, the less likely they are to relapse.

You’re never too old to learn runs the saying and recent advances in brain imaging techniques have revealed that the brain’s ability to rewrite its pathways (neuroplasticity) stays with us throughout life.

Having said that, research also suggests that it can take between two and eight months for new habits to become embedded in daily behaviour, time which many businesses cannot afford when they are looking to develop leadership potential.

So the more that you can do in order to prevent poor techniques forming; the easier it will be for people to absorb and integrate good leadership style into their mindset.

Add on the fact that the earlier people adopt leadership outlooks, the greater the potential for their leadership journey and it is easy to see why early leadership coaching, backed up by ongoing coaching throughout the journey can be so effective.

What are the key factors which lead to effective coaching for leadership?

Number one, and something which should be displayed prominently in every training department, is ‘keep it real, keep it relevant.’

Yes, theory does have its place, but only when that theory can be backed up and applied to real life situations. In other words, the coach has to help people to:

  • know and understand why it is important for them to build their level of knowledge or to change their approach
  • learn experientially - to translate that knowledge into action and to accurately reflect on the outcome and consequences of that action
  • approach learning and build their abilities through solving real problems

Keeping it real, keeping it relevant

Effective coaching gets to the heart of keeping it real, keeping it relevant whilst at the same time providing a pathway and outlook to individual change.

For a start, working with a designated leadership coach not only enables leaders and prospective leaders to talk about where they are personally on the change/development journey, it also provides a safe platform for ‘un-discussable’  topics.

This is the chance for subjects to be raised and options explored in confidence with a view to strengthening leadership behaviour.

As a consequence of this, effective leadership coaching both challenges and supports individuals, helping them to overcome a protective mindset which could result in them keeping the change ‘at arms’ length’ rather than embedding it in their daily lives.

As coaches, our experience is that people frequently relapse when it comes to behaviour change, particularly when business as usual comes calling.

But as coaches we also understand that the more people assimilate reason and understanding into their mindset, the less likely they are to relapse.

An expert coach who helps people to have the conversations required to process learning into actions will therefore also help people to develop a measure of resilience, finding the necessary motivational fuel to reverse any setbacks.

Coaches can also help to provide a measure of emotional support and a check/feedback structure which will help leaders not to drift back to old ways of working when the going gets tough.

Your people are the future of your organisation.

By coaching them, by helping them to move along the leadership pathway, to build skills and knowledge and approach you aren’t simply just building leaders of the future, you are also building the future for your business, its customers and its investors.

Catch up on the rest of the 'Building great leadership' series.

Helen Green
Leadership Collaborator
Quest Leadership Development
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7th Dec 2016 11:21

Great article, I aspire to lead but have never had any formal coaching in how to be a good leader

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