I want to write about one of the most important aspects of leadership — developing others. By developing others, I don’t mean simply making sure everyone has the technical competency required to do their job. I’m more interested in what we as leaders do to help peers and employees develop as leaders in their own right as well as help them to grow as human beings.
In short, how are you as a coach? And what is coaching? And why would we take time and make the effort to be a coach for our colleagues and employees? Let’s take these questions one at a time.
There is more evidence every day, anecdotal as well as science-based, that Daniel Pink is correct that to have fully engaged knowledge workers, the culture of our company has to provide for Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose. Within this framework, Pink assumes you are paying salaries that are at least competitive so that the “money issue” is off the table. The mastery part of this equation matches closely with the need to provide for continued technical competency. I believe that technical competency is getting more difficult in that there are so many new tools (software and hardware both) that we and our employees must master in order to achieve continuous improvement in processes and productivity.
When it comes to purpose, our task as leaders is to be sure that the culture of the organization has clarity around vision, mission and values. Without that clarity we dare not let people make decisions without our approval so that we can make sure things are on track with the culture. That in turn means we will not be able to scale our business since we will, by definition, be a bottleneck. Get clear on the vision, mission and values — the purpose — of our organization and be sure others are clear as well.
The autonomy part of this equation is what I believe is more closely related to the coaching dimension of leadership. Given that technical competency and clarity are in place, then we can begin to create true leaders by coaching them to hold themselves accountable for taking initiative and reaching organizational/personal goals.
There are many definitions of coaching and there is much discussion around the topic since the explosion of demand for professional coaches. While I certainly believe that there is a real and growing need for executive coaching, every person in a leadership position has to have at least some skill at coaching others. So what does it mean to be a coach?
Let’s start with what coaching is not: it is not therapy and it is not consulting. The old model of having a coach was that there was some sort of behavioral problem that needed to be fixed. Often the issue was around anger management, or huge mood swings, or inability to relate to others in a productive way. Unless you also have a degree in psychology and are licensed to practice psychotherapy, an employee or colleague with significant mental challenges should be referred to a professional — your HR department should be able to begin the discovery process. Any trained executive coach knows the line between coaching and therapy and stays strictly on the coaching side of things.
Coaching isn’t consulting. A professional consultant is paid to have answers. They may go through a very thorough questioning process to understand all the nuances of the issue at hand, but in the end, you are paying a consultant to recommend action and obtain results. Within your own organization, if you are only providing answers then you are not developing people into the leaders you need to scale your business. Instead, you are developing co-dependent followers. You are creating a bottleneck that will slow down your business in just about every aspect.
Coaching is a way of helping people find their own answers, develop their own strengths and push on their own growing edges. Even if a coach believes s/he knows what must be done, they do not provide the answer. The reason is pretty simple actually, few people will make changes to their habits or beliefs because someone else “tells” them to do so. But they will, given powerful enough incentives, make the changes for their own reasons. The coach’s job is to make the invisible visible. To have the coachee (Coachee: a person who receives training from a coach, especially in business or office practice) recognize that a new way of being is required for them to be successful at reaching their own goals. Most important is that a coach must have the coachee’s best interest at heart, not just the coach’s or the organizations interests alone.
I think the answer to this question is clear by now. We cannot scale our business unless we develop leaders in the organization, not followers. In order to develop leaders we have to have confidence that the people have technical competence as well as clarity around the vision, mission and values of the organization. We then must not provide answers; but instead help people to find their own answers. That’s what it means to lead — to use our strengths to find creative ways of applying past experience to new and different circumstances. In today’s world we need every member of our organization (business or not) to be leading, to be part of a high functioning team. As a leader ourselves, one of our main jobs is to develop other leaders and that requires a good deal of coaching.