The coach approach to leadership


A few years back, motivational speaker and YouTube sensation Simon Sinek did a TED Talk entitled Why good leaders make you feel safe. In this talk, he makes the analogy that being a great leader is like being a parent.

Right then, he had my attention.

He said that, as parents, we want to give our children opportunities and education. We want to discipline and re-direct them when necessary so they can grow up to achieve more than we could for ourselves. We know that building their self-confidence is fundamental to being able to achieve that. But confidence doesn’t come from being told something, it comes from doing, from trying and failing and trying again — from practice.

I think of shoes. Bear with me, here. As a parent, I can tell you that Velcro shoes make my life easier. Or that tying my kids’ shoes in the morning is much quicker – and less frustrating – than waiting for them to do it. You want to do it for them because you know it will get done right, your way, and that they won’t come undone before they get to school.

On the other hand, if you’re like me, you’re likely grateful that, with patience and practice, your parents taught you how to tie your own laces. It wasn’t easy (for anyone) but eventually you got it, gained self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment.

Here’s the thing with kids — they will tell you to stop. That they can do it themselves now. Your employees likely will not.

As a leader, you have to recognize when it is time to shift focus from a conventional ‘boss’ approach, where you are directing behaviours and creating dependencies, to managing with a ‘coach’ approach, where you support self-development and create self-reliance.

It can be a challenge to let go of that control. After all, leaders become leaders by demonstrating our expertise. But the potential benefits of this approach are enormous.

“Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” – ­John Whitmore, Coaching for Performance

Benefits in the workplace

Building self-confidence obviously doesn’t stop at childhood. We continue to develop competences throughout our lives, and taking risks and making mistakes is part of the learning journey.

In the context of an organization you want this continuous learning to contribute to the individual and collective development. Our role as leaders is to support, ask, listen, engage in dialogue, celebrate learning, model accountability and fundamentally understand that others can succeed by doing it their way.

Empowered employees feel a greater sense of responsibility and ownership, are more productive and willing to embrace change. This is important in itself, plus it helps you build greater employee engagement and loyalty, and in turn helps you achieve mutual success.

Benefits for relationship building

A coaching approach aligns well with how we approach building strong relationships with our clients.

We are experts in marketing communications, but not necessarily in your business or sector. At least, not at first! We always work collaboratively with our clients, engaging with them throughout our process so we can work together with a cohesive vision and plan on how to achieve their goals.

In a very real way, we are coaching each other.

A key attribute to a coaching leadership style is the ability to ask powerful questions that focus attention and evoke clarity. Our process always starts by fully understanding your business, your context and your audiences and setting objectives to identify how we define success. We probe for a deeper understanding of your priorities, your pain points, and your ideal outcomes.

By coaching and challenging each other, we create a climate of trust where honest conversations can be had which allows for a stronger working relationship and a deeper understanding to emerge. These open conversations are not only invaluable in informing our work, they invite our clients to be part of the process and ensure that they are invested and feel ownership over the end product.

This can all be more complicated than learning to tie your shoes, but the same principles apply. Clear communication, plenty of support or a gentle push when needed, and a focus on mutual success.

If you value these things like we do and are looking for a creative and strategic partner, please feel free to reach out.

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