I am an executive coach. I do what I do with executives and business people as an external service provider coming in to help them improve their game in all sorts of ways. But coaching is not something that is strictly for a professional coach to do with an executive or a client. Coaching is a tool of leadership – a sorely underutilized tool.
One of the competencies consistently scored the lowest on 360° leadership assessments across the board for managers and executives in the U.S. is “Developing Direct Reports”. Everyone is always talking about developing your people. It sounds so good; and indeed, it is a critical skill. But who ever talks about how you do that? What are the tools? What are the techniques? What does it look like?
It looks like coaching. It is about building and integrating a formal coaching relationship into how you manage your people. So let’s talk about coaching as a leadership competency. That is because coaching is a key component of true leadership.
We’ll start by discussing Leadership.
What is it? The conversation about leaders has been going on for a very long time. Countless books have been written about it. Similarly endless are the various and usually complex definitions of a leader. But in fact, it’s a simple answer:
A leader is someone who has followers.
That may seem ridiculously obvious you at first glance, but it implies an entire framework of thinking and activities – a paradigm. There are volumes of information conveyed in that statement. If I don’t have people voluntarily, choosing of their own accord to follow me, I am not a leader. Period.
Leadership by Attraction
Most of the models of leadership or management are based upon efforts to change you and what you do. Whether it’s management by objective, Carrot and a Stick, or Persuasion – all of those things are aimed at changing other people. The paradox is: the most powerful way to bring about change in people, lies in not trying to change them. The fact of the matter is, if I am going to spend time and energy on something, I want it to be productive. Why would I devote my time and energy to something I have the least influence over, rather than something I have the most influence over?
And what over do I have the maximum influence? Myself. I call the model of leadership derived from this fact “Leadership by Attraction™.”
If, as a manager, I use good enough tools or intense enough threats or rich enough rewards, I can temporarily get you to move in the direction or act the way I want, as long as the stimuli is being applied. What happens as soon as I turn around and go do something else (like lead)? You go back to doing what you want to do anyway. Actually, who is really leading who in a situation like that? A manager faces backward at his/her people in order to continually apply stimuli.
There is nothing wrong with managing; it’s not a bad thing. Management is necessary and valuable on lots of levels, but a leader needs to be facing forward looking to the future, looking at ways to improve the process, pulling in resources necessary to support its success, surfacing other possibilities, building relationships – that’s what a leader gets paid the premium to do.
So, if I am not going to try to change you and I really want to have an impact, I have only myself to change. And how does changing me accomplish anything with you? You have probably heard the famous dictum from the Mahatma Gandhi, “Be that change that you would have happen in the world,” aka, “be that change that you would have happen in others”. We can look at that as merely idealistic talk; and it sounds like it on the surface, but when I look more carefully at it, there is a lot of practical power in that statement.
I can’t change you, but I can change me.
In order to have you help me of your own volition to accomplish something I value, one of the most powerful tools I have is how I show up to you. How do I hold myself? How do I live? How do I do my work? What do I believe in? Do I take a stand for it? Am I willing to risk myself for what I think is right for my people? Am I willing to take risk? Am I willing to make mistakes? Am I willing to be seen, working, growing, and developing in those areas where I stumbled?
All of these things inculcate not just trust, but respect and admiration. Think of somebody that you really, really admire and look up to. When you see them and feel that sense of admiration, what do you want to do? Be like them. It’s natural to emulate; there is inspiration that happens. To inspire requires showing up in a way that stands out, gets attention and makes people want aspire to something better.
Treat others as if they already were that way
And it doesn’t stop there. The other part about me that I can change is the way I treat you. The second axiom of Leadership by Attraction is: “Treat others as if they already were that way”. Regardless of how they are really acting, treat them as if they were the way you would like to see them be.
What happens is usually something like this: they will likely think, “He or she thinks I am really like that? I’ll feel pretty rotten and foolish if I don’t live up to it”. There is a healthy pride that comes, a sense of self-respect and a desire to go above and beyond. Even though their capabilities may not be there yet, they are going to move close the gap. As a rule, most people will tend to respond toward the way that they are being perceived and treated – for better or for worse.
All that said, there is a technology to this Leadership by Attraction – to implementing its two primary principles. (Yes, technology applies to the world of people and the soft stuff, too: Technology is simply a methodology of doing things a certain way to produce certain results.). One of the core processes of this technology is coaching and it is very powerful force for change.
A leader as a coach is somebody who is trying to bring people up, attract and empower them to act in a certain way. (And although it is the gold standard of leadership; at the end of the day, don’t forget that you are still primarily a boss, not a coach).
Coaching is the technology of success
A good place for us to venture next in discussing coaching might be to define it. “Coaching is the technology of success.” It is about learning and studying, developing and understanding the principles and concepts that are behind people succeeding or not. And coaching involves competency with a set of tools that put these ideas into action to achieve the desired results. It is a very complex and rich multi-disciplinary field.
- What gets in the way of success?
- How do I block my success?
- What is the thinking behind creating success?
- How do I determine what success is for me verses what it’s not?
- Is it an authentic goal of my own or is it something I have borrowed or got from someone else?
- How do I tell the difference?
- What’s more important?
- What’s less important?
- It is part of a coach’s job is to help someone get at that kind of awareness and understanding?
The other part is to challenge them to shift into gear and create the success they seek – hence the technology of success.
As a leader/coach, your job is to help your reports define what they think success is – what they really care about, what’s going to make them excited to come to work every day – and then align that with what success means to you in your area of responsibility. Once you have done that, you have set the stage to attract them into a process of self motivated, self serving activity – a process in which they align themselves with what you want them to be up to.
So you see, we are back to Leadership by Attraction. This is how coaching and Leadership by Attraction fit; this is the “why” of it. In part 2 of this blog, coming soon, we will dig into the “how” of coaching as tool of leadership.