Coaching: the secret weapon for better leadership

2005

Business leaders are under constant pressure to innovate, inspire and implement ideas, and to keep their leadership skills sharp and up to date.

While formal education courses equip them for the more technical demands of their role, development of some of the softer skills of leadership respond well to coaching. Yet, vital those these skills are to good leadership, they are often neglected.

The preliminary findings of research to be published by SKAI Associates suggest that in many organisations coaching is offered only when requested.

Individuals at senior management level do not rate their own personal learning and development as a priority

Head of coaching Kate Lidbetter says, "This reflects a general feeling that individuals at senior management level do not rate their own personal learning and development as a priority.

"Many of them don't really understand what coaching is or how it can help them. They often see themselves in the role of leader as the knight on a white charger, rather than as someone who has to manage a whole range of activities."

Leaders are often unaware of the extent of their influence on the workplace, and that ultimately they are role models.

"They are being watched by thousands of pairs of eyes, and their every move is being analysed and emulated," adds Lidbetter.

"This can cause them to be quite deliberate in their actions, and inhibit some of their natural qualities.

"If you are naturally a kind and generous person, and you want that quality to be reflected in the organisation, as a leader you have to visibly demonstrate it, and this is where coaching can help to raise your self awareness and emotional intelligence, and therefore make a significant difference to your influence as a leader."

Improving effectiveness in terms of leadership and decision-making is a key objective of coaching, but equally it is about achieving personal fulfillment and balance for the individual.

Those making the transition from a middle management role to a board level position find themselves facing additional pressures, and coaching can be hugely beneficial in a number of specific areas.

Penny Webb, director of The Change Partnership, part of the Whitehead Mann Group, says: "Younger managers often worry about not being up to the challenge. Coaching gives them a safe place to explore these fears, understand their abilities and past successes, and leverage these strengths to higher level of performance."

Coaching helps them deal with gravitas – the impact and influence - of a board position, adapt their communication and presentation style accordingly, and understand their contribution to the organisation's strategic direction, and the broader dimensions of people management at that level.

"What is key for someone new to the board – and beyond the initial appointment - is feedback," adds Webb.

"A coach can't be there all the time to provide it for them, but a leader can build an infrastructure of support, designating key individuals to provide feedback on specific areas - strategic, emotional, political and technical - of their performance.

"Coaching is an excellent technique for helping people to identify and develop the skills required for effective leadership, but on a personal level, also to understand and build on their own unique strengths."