The Leader as a Coach – Time to stop being advice giving maniacs?

There are many different leadership models that enthusiastically declare how many leadership styles exist, ranging from the pragmatic to the prosaic. From 3 core styles in some theories, to up to 12 in others. Try this: Google ‘Leadership Styles’ and you will get 14.1 million results, so it is fair to say we are not short of advice on this topic!

My 30+ years’ experience of working with leaders has taught me that leadership is primarily a ‘contact sport’, best learnt in the crucible of real life, using experience and reflection as the prime learning vehicles. I have observed that leadership styles vary according to personality, context, prevailing organisational culture, the current situation and ‘in the moment’ energy levels. Recognising the most appropriate style to suit the situation you face is one of the leaders’ greatest challenge and a tough skill to master.

Most theories agree, and my experience concurs, that the most underused leadership style is the ‘coaching’ style. It is worth reflecting on why this is the case, as there is a hidden incentive for all leaders in this style namely; of all the styles that can be deployed, this is the one that requires the leader to do the least work! Maybe this gives us a clue, as most leaders I have worked with are not inherently lazy, they see this as a very negative trait. Their self-image is more likely to be defined using adjectives such as; high energy, enthusiastic, driven, focused, decisive, etc. Such leaders often feel that coaching is a bit too nurturing, and ‘touchy feely’ for their liking.

There are of course other more rational reasons why coaching is not preferred by many leaders. In order for it to work well this style more than any other tolerates failure and this is not accepted in many organisational cultures. As a slogan on one of my favourite T-shirt states ‘If at first you don’t succeed then skydiving is not for you’

Also, as coaching is fundamentally about changing embedded habits the results take time to come through as habits do not change overnight. In today’s hyper-busy world of continued austerity many leaders feel it is an inappropriate style to deploy as they believe they do not have the time. Even if they did have the time then they may not have the inclination, skill or the inner confidence to develop their colleagues in this way.

Finally, I still encounter some organisations and traditional leaders who still consider coaching as a remedial activity, to be deployed when someone is failing to perform. They treat coaching as an entry ticket to the ‘last chance saloon’. This is in such stark contrast to the world of elite sport where having a top class coach is de-rigueur.

The coaching leadership style requires leaders to stay curious longer, rush to action slower and to stop being an advice giving maniacs!

I have developed our new Smart Mirror Coaching service to directly help in this area as it removes the ‘I have not got the time and have not got the money’ excuses from the coaching approach. Be curious and take a look….