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Organisations need leaders who can coach

Leaders have been carrying the world on their shoulders. The responsibilities for people’s livelihoods, as well as their health and wellbeing, weighed heavy. New ways of working, transforming business models, difficult workforce decisions – at pace and on an unprecedented scale – tested personal resilience. Whilst we may not have experienced the same ‘great resignation’ as the US, increasingly leaders in the UK are making changes for the sake of their own wellbeing.

Whether for coaching and mentoring or simply as a sounding board, we are seeing increased numbers of leaders seeking out space for themselves to reset and regain some objective clarity for the journey ahead. We appreciate this isn’t an option for everyone, but a strengths-based coaching approach to how we are as a leader can offer some useful insights to relieving some of the inherent pressure.

A good starting point is to ask yourself: how are you showing up? Are you being authentic and true to yourself?

Be clear about where your strengths lie

Feeling overwhelmed can send us into overdrive. As a result, we automatically focus on our gaps and where we think we don’t quite hit the mark. This is where a good coach will tell you to stop and turn the focus on its head. What is it that only you bring to the team? What do you excel at? What do you do that you know helps people? Turn up the volume on these things and do more of them.

Yes, we all have ‘weaknesses’ (often these are over-played strengths). Know what yours are and do enough to stop them tripping you up. Give yourself permission as a leader to say: ‘This isn’t my strength, could you help me with this?’. Authenticity as a leader, being closer to the person you already are, will be the differentiator. The behaviour that you exhibit (whether consciously or otherwise) is infectious and will have an impact. Be clear on the messages that you want to put out there. Be the message.

We are all individuals

The same is true for your teams. You are surrounded by a group of individuals who all have different skills, strengths, and ways of seeing the world. This is an advantage and, when they are complementary and deliberately tapped into, can dramatically increase performance. The same is true of motivation – we are all motivated by different things and have different needs. You won’t automatically know what will work for your people. You must make it your mission, however, to find out. And keep asking them, as things are always in flux.

Coaches work with teams to align work to individual strengths. Not only will this maximise performance, but it will also help drive engagement as, invariably, when people are good at something, they enjoy it; when they’re playing to their strengths, they know they are making a difference. Be alert to the skills and strengths that may sit outside of a person’s usual job role. How can you utilise these? Avoid pigeonholing people and try to think outside of the box (and if this isn’t your strength, find someone for whom it is).

The difficult conversations

I’m sure you have had to have many difficult conversations about ways of working or changes to contracts, hours, job roles… over the last couple of years. It is never easy knowing that you are going to be impacting the life of someone that works for you – nor should it be. As any good coach will tell you, the first thing we can do to help ourselves is to lose that expectation.

It is useful to think about the message that you want the individual to take from the conversation – what do they ultimately need to know? Be clear with your messaging. As Brené Brown says (and I come back to this time and time again): ‘Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.’ There is always a risk attached to the things that we say. However, there is also risk present when we choose not to say something or deliberately avoid an issue. Consider on which side of this fence you want to sit. How can you help create clarity?

Above all, be kind. And be yourself. People will respect you for this. This is something which is always within your control.

Share the load

Get comfortable with the fact that you don’t have to do it all. In fact, you can’t! Coaching is not about giving answers; it is about creating cultures where people learn and develop. Consider how you can help your team to become more autonomous (whist maintaining their connection amongst each other), and to be responsible for their own output. Be prepared to change your expectations around how this output is achieved. Does it matter how as long as it is achieved? Leaders who coach are looking to create an environment that allows people to think for themselves and not rely on them for all the answers. This is when people come into their own and performance shifts up a gear.

The shift in decision-making

During the pandemic, businesses needed to act quickly, and decisively. It meant becoming more agile and taking risks, without perhaps having the level of comfort in data that we are used to. Leaders needed to accept that they couldn’t be involved in every single decision, delegating responsibility to others. We had to learn not to let ‘perfect’ get in the way of good. When increasingly, success belongs to organisations who are agile and quick to respond to change, these are all positive ways of working that should be maintained.

Organisations need leaders who can coach

Good coaches are curious. They ask challenging questions that frame situations in different ways. They create learning, rather than teaching environments, where people are given the tools and the autonomy to think for themselves. They are empathetic, helping people build resilience by learning from their setbacks. They are singularly focused on the people with whom they are working, listening intently to hear the individual that is speaking to them. They are concerned about how people feel as well as what they think. If leaders approach the post-pandemic world with the attitude of a coach, their organisations will be in great shape, as will their own health and wellbeing.

Kate Hardcastle

Kate Hardcastle

Kate is a Chartered MCIPD HR professional and one of our business-improvement gurus. With over 20 years’ experience in consulting and other business-improvement roles, she inspires individuals, leaders, and organisations to perform to their best.

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