Coaching Leadership

In a previous blog, I made the case for why executive coaches need to understand business.  In the next several blogs, I will offer specific areas of business that executive coaches need to be skilled in.  Coaches also need to understand enough about these areas to ask appropriate questions that will guide executives toward action, and change when needed. I will start with leadership. 

Leadership involves the capacity for vision, team development, group dynamics, delegation, and the ability to develop, mentor, and motivate individuals and teams.  Executive coaches must have strong leadership skills because their primary job is to develop these skills in their coachees.  The following case will illustrate this point.

Leadership Case:  An Introvert Learns to Lead

Joe was the general manager of a large distribution division of a publicly held corporation.  He was not the stereotypical leader—bold, assertive, and decisive.  Instead, Joe was an introvert, quiet and slow at making decisions. He had many strengths, including strategic thinking, expert knowledge of distribution, trustworthiness, and responsibility.  Joe inherited a politically charged executive team when he arrived at his division.  His predecessor regularly played executives against each other and made separate deals with each of them.  Joe knew he needed to take action, but his leadership liabilities soon became apparent. He was not sure which way to turn. 

Much of Joe’s coaching was focused on identifying and managing his assets and liabilities. Once his balance sheet was established, Joe decided to rebuild his team with people who, first, were competent in their area of responsibility and, secondly, complemented his liabilities with their own strengths. For example, Joe’s HR director was so aligned with the previous GM that no one else on the executive team found him credible. Furthermore, the HR director was not doing the job Joe wanted him to do.

Because Joe had a hard time firing people, his coach helped him to set up a performance feedback program to use in addressing the deficiencies of his HR director.  This program clearly identified deliverables and deadlines. Anticipating that the HR director may not meet his performance goals, Joe’s coach helped him to craft a response by asking questions that dug deeper into the reasons for poor performance.  Joe asked his HR director, “What is keeping you from meeting your objectives?”  After several missed deadlines the director resigned, stating he felt unable to perform as expected. One by one, with the help of his coach, Joe built his own team, each time upgrading its skill level and strengths. Joe was able to use the balance sheet approach in evaluating his team members and coached them on how to leverage their own strengths while managing their liabilities. 

In this case, Joe was able to overcome his reluctance to fire a team member by benchmarking deliverables and setting a timetable for completion.  Not being able to meet these expectations, team members chose to resign rather than be fired.  Joe learned to ask good questions that made clear what constituted success and failure for his team members.  He was able to replace his dysfunctional team with highly functioning executives.

Joe’s division had tremendous success, much of it attributable to the skill he demonstrated in building his team. The team members turned out to be his disciples, cascading organizational goals down to the workers on the floor.  Joe learned that he could lead with a supportive team that complemented his leadership style. As a result of Joe’s success in his division, he was promoted to run worldwide distribution for his company at their home office. 

Every leader has a balance sheet of assets and liabilities.  The secret to effective leadership is not a stereotypical formula of leadership attributes but the ability to leverage assets while managing liabilities in pursuit of organizational goals.  Being an introvert does not disqualify a leader; it merely changes the way he or she leads. If coaches are to help executives to master the leadership process, they must first understand how the leadership process works.






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