I have worked for a number of organisations coaching their managers and leaders either individually or as a team. Almost all of them have a wide range of alternative ways to develop and grow the performance of their senior staff. What are the triggers that lead them to consider coaching as an option? And what are the factors that make it the right choice?
Research into leadership over the years, including asking people to reflect on the kind of development that made a real difference to them, shows clearly that there is a personal route from theory to practice. Young leaders and managers need frameworks, tools and targeted challenges. The most powerful development is usually a combination of role models and timely tools.
In fact, the sage advice of hindsight is that it is as important to choose your first bosses and organisation culture wisely as it is to choose a specific role. Young leaders are like sponges. Often, if they struggle, it is because they are looking for examples of what ‘good’ looks like and feel adrift. Coaching for young leaders is often about supporting them as they experiment with converting theory into practice.
But what happens as you grow past the stage of leadership as good theory and practice and towards shaping the kind of leader you need or want to be? This ground is less about external drivers and much more a process of ‘pick and mix’ as theory and practice survive the daily contact of organisational life.
Research suggests that two things help leaders grow and sharpen in this space; the demands of a new role forcing their growth and a process that enables them to shape and drive their own evolution. Both are experiential and ‘real’ beyond theory. Both represent the kind of big shifts that define significant change when leaders look back at their careers. Both are a messy challenging blend of the needs of the individual and the organisation.
Businesses rarely use coaching as a remedial tool for a ‘problem child’, although some try before realising that more honest and active performance management is necessary. Some look at high-impact leadership development programmes as a way of shaking a status quo or redefining a leadership culture. Both can work well in setting a target, but leave a space marked ‘What do I do with that now?’.
Coaching can support leadership development by enabling a translation space or a transition process from old to new, and many organisations use coaching as a supporting tool of organisational change when a different business needs different leadership. However, most commonly, businesses look for coaching when they want leaders to take responsibility for their own evolution as well as ‘walking the talk’ of helping others to grow,
Effective coaching creates a momentum within the individual, an attitudinal change that is long-lasting and broad. Coaching is less about developing leaders and more about creating the conditions for growth and change in already capable individuals, teams and organisations.