Ahead of the Great Leadership Reset conference on 24 November 2022, Karen Smart, head of consultancy with the Academy of Executive Coaching (AoEC) looks at why leadership needs a new playbook and argues why coaching is transforming it for the better.
When an organisation like Gallup reports that 62 per cent of workers globally are emotionally detached from work and 18 per cent are downright miserable, we must ask just where are employers and leaders going wrong?
Leadership reinvention – command-and-control is a “postcard from the edge”
We have moved to an age beyond VUCA. “Unprecedented” does not begin to cover it. The shift is tectonic, so there is an imperative for leaders to change and grow – to “be” more to “do” less and to hear their stakeholders more deeply, to make work engaging and dare I say it even fun. All this at a time of collective grief.
To be a great leader you don’t have to be perfect. There is no one-size leadership that fits all. But we do need to accept that bosses who model tough and overbearing behaviours are often at the root of disengagement, low morale and poor productivity.
Traditional hierarchical structures and that approach to leadership and leadership development are no longer adequate. The command-and-control style is a “postcard from the edge” with businesses run in this manner facing a slow decline.
What organisations need now are individuals who are committed to unlocking the brilliance of their people and enabling them shine. That means identifying and developing the capabilities of individuals to lead others effectively. And crucially, being able to create organisational cultures that promote autonomy and empowerment.
The qualities, competencies and behaviours that are becoming ever more pivotal in business agility, are the same as those which define a coaching style of leading or managing others. And as the attributes of coaching and leadership move ever closer to one another, we are seeing organisations transitioning towards a new set of leadership goals.
This offers a low stakes strategy in a high stakes business climate.
The relationship between leaders and employees is evolving for the better
Leaders need to get better at enabling their people to be the best version of themselves and all in addition to managing the competing demands of purpose, profit and planet.
First up, do you hear the voice of your employees? Do they have a say in decision-making? Do they have a sense of ownership within the organisation?
Start committing the time and resources to hearing what your people think and want. Invite them into the conversation. Good leadership is a personal relationship between you and the people you work with. Think of the organisation as more of a democratic citizen assembly. A communityship even. Where all stakeholders have an equal voice and valuable contributions to make whether they be shareholders, customers, employees or suppliers.
Executive education may major on the technical facets of leading, but true leadership also requires strong social skills development in the aspects that are relational and emotional. Being kind, compassionate and caring don’t cost you anything, but they earn you a huge amount of trust, loyalty and buy-in.
One of the most commanding skills a good leader has is listening. The power of being in the moment where you are able to listen to where people are at and even hear the things not being said are characteristics that define great leadership for me.
As Jon Clifton, CEO of Gallup highlights in his excellent new book Blind Spot: “The best managers are coaches. Coaches focus on workers’ strengths and development, help them get more opportunities to do what they do best and help them build strong emotional connections with their colleagues. But most all of, they listen. Great managers have frequent conversations with their team members (at least once per week); the worst managers ignore their workers. In fact, ignoring workers puts them in a worse state of mind that giving them negative feedback.”
Leaders who adopt a coaching style are also better able to balance the short-term pain with longer-term gain so they can thrive beyond initial recovery in times of change and turmoil. The have emotionally invested in themselves so they have better focus and reflection and can problem solve quicker. They are also better placed to take their people with them because their communication skills are fine-tuned and they have made the effort to build trust with their employees.
High-return practices for the new world of work
The demands and pressures on leaders are manifold, but the emphasis needed to move forward, must be on enabling leaders to distribute responsibilities and accountability for the overall good of the organisation.
Leaders now and in the future, have to be able to deliver adaptive strategies for both high-performance and lasting prosperity. That is achievable by organising work around a collective effort, where employees share the workload and have ownership over their own needs when it comes to their learning, development and work.
In the so-called new world of work, one of the priorities will be to design employment opportunities around skills, not jobs and this can be achieved within a coaching culture where development and capacity building is put first.
A coaching style also aligns organisational design with culture because it is intrinsically linked to the concept of quality work. If organisations want to continue being successful, they need to build cultures founded on ongoing learning and championing internal mobility where skills are developed in line with the employee and the organisation’s needs and wants.
If we are to build resilient and successful organisations, the challenge is for our leaders to adopt and model behaviours which inspire and engage their people.
A final thought. Think about how you would like to be led if you were in your employee’s shoes. If you aren’t modelling any of these behaviours, then what can you do to change?
Find out more about how coaching is not just reinventing leadership, it is transforming it for the better at the Great Leadership Reset conference.