Coaching is widespread, and has become a part of the mainstream development offer of many organisations.
With coaching, a leader doesn’t have to journey through the process of change alone. At the same time, they are able to voice their strongest desires for their own future, do that in a warm and supportive context, and be stretched and challenged as they do.
I’ve been reflecting on the wide variety of coaching experiences I had last year, both as an external coach, as well as helping leaders to be better coaches to their teams.
My learning has been informed by a recent article from the Leadership Quarterly that provides a deep frame for thinking about how leadership coaching works. These lessons are as applicable to the work of external coaches like myself, as they are to leaders and internal coaches.
Insights and most relevant lessons from these experiences below.
More impact. Less effort.
So you want to be coached…..
Great idea, because SELF MOTIVATION is at the heart of lasting change.
What I love about coaching is that coaching conversations focus on your whole self, on who you are and how you bring the best of yourself and who you want to be to your work. Coaching conversations focus on your IDEAL self. As so much of your work is about the future, coaching is an opportunity to step out of constraints and to imagine your ideal self.
This ignites your dreams, aspirations, hope and imagination.
Coaches should enable your self-discovery. As part of what they do, they need to help you answer these questions:
- Who do I want to be?
- What do I really want to do?
- What is my legacy?
- Who is my best role model?
- How do I want to make a difference?
- What is it about me now that is central to who I want to be in the future?
How are you nurturing both your best current self, and the leader you aspire to be?
When you’re coached, you don’t need to journey through change alone.
The support of coaching helped Felicity make some fundamental change. She had been receiving the same feedback for some time. She was ready for the next step up. She had the right combination of IQ, EQ and experience to operate at the next level up.
She’d hesitated……and then hesitated some more. She was working a 4 day week, and liked her balanced life. She didn’t want to sacrifice that (nor should she need to).
Plus a significant part of her resistance was that she didn’t want to be like the 2-up bosses. She’d avoided opportunities. It was taking the easy way out. And she knew it. More through peer support than anything else she decided to get a coach. (How wonderful for her to have peers who support and challenge her so well!)
In coaching, we focused on her readiness and her willpower to consider who she was as a leader and what good she could do. We explored her ideal sense of identity.
She wanted things to be different. She thought that a different kind of leadership was not just possible, but desirable.
I asked her: WHAT’S STOPPING YOU FROM DOING IT YOUR WAY? She had the power to be her kind of leader.
Shortly after that conversation her boss went on leave. She stepped up into his role. At our next coaching session we had such a great conversation. On reflection, she just couldn’t figure out what her fuss had been all about. She’d stepped in fully, had great conversations with the 2-up boss, felt really effective, hadn’t needed to work long hours. In fact, in some ways it seemed like there was less pressure than in her previous role. She was able to delegate effectively. That meant her time was spent supporting her team to do their best work. She loved it!
Trusting relationships help to make developmental change easier. Continued support and help increase the chance of sustained change. Coupled with a sense of discovery about her own agency and identity, Felicity was able to breakthrough her own limitations.
Sometimes it takes an external coach to do this, and I absolutely love this work. Leaders and internal coaches can do this same work, and at scale. Do you have that kind of scale in your organisation? What would it take to create it?
How to motivate leaders to make lasting change
The article I referred to above by Taylor, Passarelli and Van Oosten ‘Leadership coach effectiveness as fostering self-determined, sustained change’, is based on intentional change theory. It suggests that leaders sustain change when the coach satisfies three important human needs: autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
Autonomy means we make our own choices and act of our own accord. While the coach might be a guide in identifying, suggesting and critiquing actions the leader might take, it’s when the leader’s true self is engaged and expressed that choices become deeply meaningful. Purpose comes through self-direction, fully expressed.
Relatedness, or belonging, is fundamental: feeling cared for is expressed through coaching by unconditional regard, empathy and a genuine concern for the leader as a person.
Feeling competent has great importance to leaders seeking to grow their skills and advance their careers. I have always been a fan of Chris Argyris’ proposition that teaching smart people how to learn is harder than you might think. To temporarily give up feeling competence in order to be more competent, at the heart of development, can be a challenge. So while the job of coach is provide enough challenge so that the leader steps right up to their learning edge, it can’t be at the expense of their sense of self-efficacy. That must be maintained, while there’s enough discomfort to spark change.
Coaching is a fine balance between challenge (which I do mainly through asking questions and presenting different ways to see things) and support (acknowledging effort, appreciating insights and sometimes slowing the pace).
Self discovery is key to making lasting change. Coaching must have this at its heart to provide the right motivational context in which lasting change can flourish.