You may not see yourself as a natural born leader, but a specialist leadership coach can make you think again…
By Margaret Nicholls
In today’s fast-changing world of work, the idea of what makes a great leader or manager is shifting, too. Many now believe that there is no such thing as a natural born leader. And that we can all benefit from learning leadership skills as part of our personal development, at work and at home.
How leadership is changing
The old models of leadership, with their traditional, directive, autocratic styles, are increasingly being replaced, according to Sue Powell, leadership coach and Managing Director of Eluminas. ‘People need to have a leadership range now,’ she says. ‘They need to be agile, flexible and nimble.’
One of the roles of leadership is to grow and develop other leaders. ‘Often that doesn’t come naturally,’ Sue says. ‘But we can do that by paying particular attention to how people see themselves, and how they see themselves in relation to other people.
‘Having a leadership coach focuses intently on what is needed in your organisation or team, so it can be the best it can be.’
More and more organisations want leaders who are emotionally intelligent. Leaders who concentrate on bringing out the best in their colleagues, rather than dominating them and issuing instructions.
Sue explains: ‘Increasingly, we’re working in organisations where people are co-leading projects. The focus is on: How do I bring out the best in you and how do you bring out the best in me?, rather than a fight for domination.
‘Emotionally intelligent leaders are able to work with the emotions of people around them, especially their direct reports, their peers and their colleagues.’
Why might you need a leadership coach?
Frequently, people are promoted up through the ranks. That may mean you are at the top of your game technically, but the knowledge and experience you have gathered don’t necessarily equip you for leadership.
‘Usually this means learning to adapt and to make way for the people you are now leading,’ Sue explains.
Many leaders feel they could do with more confidence, more gravitas, when they are promoted. Sue says: ‘We can help them find more confidence to communicate in a more visionary way.’
If you are taking a new position, you might experience ‘imposter syndrome’, the feeling that somehow you are going to be ‘found out’.
‘We can sabotage ourselves with inner voices, which can be terribly limiting,’ Sue explains. ‘We help people recognise when these voices are running the show and to minimise them and find a more powerful sense of themselves.’
The more senior you are, the less opportunity there is to have direct conversations with your staff and to get honest feedback.
‘A coach can act as a sounding board, because the higher you go, especially in hierarchical organisations, the more wary people are of speaking their mind,’ says Sue.
Fundamentally, a good coach and a good leader have lots of similarities.
Sue explains: ‘It’s about listening to the other and about being really curious about the other’s perspective, the other’s situation. So that we think more deeply and differently about what they’re doing, the impact it’s having and what they might want to change or keep.’
What is the role of a leadership coach?
A good leadership coach doesn’t try to change who someone is. According to Sue Powell: ‘They let them be the best version of themselves, appropriate to delivering results and their specific circumstances.’
However, a good leadership coach will challenge you and the way you think.
‘We challenge the status quo and the perspectives that the leader holds when they’re not serving them,’ Sue explains. ‘And we do that fundamentally by asking lots of questions.
‘Most people benefit from having somebody who can be a critical friend. Somebody who balances challenge and support to help them to see themselves differently, to look at the impact of their behaviours when they’re working on auto-pilot rather than intentionally.’
However, a coach will not be there for ever. So an important goal is for people to be able to coach themselves eventually.
‘We’re not a crutch,’ says Sue. ‘Typically we go in for six to 12 months, after which we pull back. It’s a bit like helping a plane to take off. You’re equipped and ready to go.
‘One of the legacies of good coaching is a certain capacity to self-coach; by thinking: What would my coach be asking me now?
‘People often report that their communication improves, they’re able to think more empathically about how their team might receive information, or they might have much more productive relationships with people they work with. And of course at home, because we’re whole people.
‘It’s not just about being a leader in work, it’s about being a leader in life.’
5 Dimensions of Leadership
Sue Powell is trained in the CTI Co-Active approach to coaching and leadership. The Co-Active model is based on five dimensions of leadership:
- Living with self-authority, modelling acceptance and integrity.
- Pointing the way and inviting and inspiring, not compelling others to follow.
- Serving others, supporting them and growing their leadership capacity.
- Fully partnering with other members of your team, without egos and agendas, a dance in which both partners lead.
- Slowing down long enough to capture the insights and wisdom available beyond our rational mind.