“I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”
One of the best places to begin exploring the area of coaching to develop great leaders, particularly if you’re somewhat new to leadership development or even coaching, is to look to your own experience. Where and when in your own life you’ve had those in positions of power—in work or any life activities—lead in ways which inspired you and others to follow them. Who operated in ways which helped those around them grow themselves and empowered them. Because right here’s where you begin your own process of exploring what great leadership looks like, how it impacts on others and what it shows in results.
Certainly some leadership coaches emerge from their own role as leaders, passing on their baton, and others may come to it fresh from one of the many well-known business schools, each with their own particular flavor of leadership and how it can be enacted. While there’s much to be said for having walked the walk yourself and industry specific education, as coaching is the art of helping others to find their own answers, is it important that a great leadership coach has been a great leader or come through a top business school themselves?
The simple answer is: no!
What is important is that one has a) great coaching chops and training (of course!), and b) some degree of direct experience of leaders and leadership styles and how they impact on teams, organizations and others. Whether through teachers, managers, girl guide pack leaders or presidents of global corporations and countries the same principles play out in much the same way and we’ve all experienced some version of these throughout our lives. Certainly educating yourself—courses, books etc.—are also important, yet nothing will replace your own direct experience in the field of life itself.
If this sounds as though I’m saying having experience as a leader is of lesser or no value, I’m not. Yet sadly the world is not stacked with great leaders as we all know and there can be a danger of simply passing on one’s own faults in the field. I’ve worked under many leaders by now, some who’ve trumpeted how they’ve graduated from some of the top business schools in the world or have had years of experience and sometime a whole alphabet of impressive letters following their names, many of whom I would never emulate or recommend to others as role models. That said, I certainly learnt a great deal from them even if that was to go the direct opposite way to their rather toxic styles and behaviors.
Looking at Nadar’s quote above a key quality that leaps out to me is that of humility. That leadership not about centralized command and control—do as I say—but instead requires one to be humble as it also is about inspiring, supporting, listening, collaborating and learning oneself, as it is about giving room for others to fail occasionally, all in order to help others lead, not simply to set oneself up as El Supremo to whom all must bow and obey. With the disastrous impacts of war playing out in Ukraine as I write, we’re all getting to witness a vastly larger force failing at least partly as a result (as we’re being told by Western experts) of that old top down and arrogant leadership strategy against a far more diversified locally-empowered model of leadership with a leader who appears to seamlessly blend qualities of humility, humanity and care with integrity, courage and a willingness to be alongside and listen to those he leads.
Without humility we are unteachable. And if we cannot learn and take feedback, particularly as leaders, we cannot grow, develop greater mastery and respond accurately to real world situations, and eventually the entire system around us equally suffers. Any system that remains closed to feedback is unable to respond appropriately to its environment and is not only unable to grow, it is by it’s nature subject to entropy—to inevitably degrade over time. It loses its integrity!
And how does one develop qualities such as humility, compassion, empathy, emotional intelligence, wisdom, integrity and the many others needed to be a truly great leader? I’ll write more on this shortly as this and other components inform the leadership development program my colleague Charlotte and I are soon to launch but all are innate to us even if untrained and undeveloped. Our approach is fundamentally to help find the seeds that already lie within us all including within those yet-to-be leaders or leaders who want to truly grow.
While there are already models which speak to this “undeveloped seeds” theory such as strengths identification and development, our model turns to the fascinating area of Multiplicity which is gaining significant traction in areas of psychological and therapeutic work. This holds the reality that persona is not some kind of fixed thing but shifts in relationship to context and environment. How one shows up in different roles and scenarios is quite different. Many of the most popular leadership development models use some form of personality assessment as a baseline yet that baseline is formed out of only one version—the one that showed up to the test. Right here’s the reason most personality tests so beloved by HR Departments are simply not fit for purpose with the multifaceted dynamic reality of a human self. We have a far more effective way which helps leaders leverage their dormant or unexposed innate potentials rather than trying to build from the ground up or, even worse, overlook them entirely.
How do I know this leadership model works? A VP of Media Services at a leading Fortune 100 company with whom I’d worked and who implemented the principles wrote me,
“The results … are: team commitment that transcends the work itself and the organization; individuals bringing their whole self fully online every day; a world where all feel free to uncover every rock, think from a world of possibility, test and learn to grow every day…”
If this all sounds a little unspecific they also wrote that while they were forced to cut the team by 40% at the same time they created double digit revenue growth, exponential increase in client campaigns and significant reductions in implementation errors all alongside increases in employees satisfaction and engagement.
The other “next level” work is training in how to skillfully bring implicit intelligence into powerful and effective decision-making. Cognitive science currently tells us that our explicit system (the one we consciously engage to make decisions via rational analysis) while enormously powerful is, in fact, only 5% of the processing power of the human mind. How would it be then if one could integrate the other 95% as a leader and decision-maker? Pretty awesome I’d say, and that is another part of the puzzle which we believe needs to be addressed in order to create truly next level leaders who are able to respond to the increasing demands of our current fragmented yet equally always-on and rapidly changing business environments, markets and world itself.
So how does one become a next level Leadership Coach?
1. Firstly, you must ensure that the leader or leader-to-be you work with is ready, willing and able to engage with the kind of work necessary. Are they open to truly learn? If you don’t have this then little will eventuate.
2. Become a great coach, meaning: get good professional training. While there will undoubtedly be an element of skills building and learning which you’ll help with, great coaching is at the heart of integrating skills as it is in supporting leaders to locate those qualities within and develop them. However these “next level” skills require more than those you acquire in a regular coach training. They are exactly what we offer in our Emergent Coach Training as well as all the regular ones.
3. Learn from your own experience. Yes, take courses, read and so on but make sure to reflect on your own experiences. Learn from them in order that you have direct experience to share and can also support your clients to reflect and learn from theirs.
4. Trust that your client has capacities even if they’re not yet evident or developed. That’s where great coaching is vital. There will naturally be skills to be learned and passed on, and practices needed to develop competency, all of which you can support. Some of these you already have and many you can acquire by training with us or others.
This is all just a beginning and more to come soon on this. Keep posted!