Why leaders who coach strengthen transformations

23rd January by Mark Powell

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When an organisation sets out on a transformation, what are they ultimately aiming for? And how is this different to the old restructure?

The restructures of yesterday were largely about cost reduction, efficiency, and sometimes productivity gains. Workflows were altered to reduce the waste of time and effort. 

However, transformations are about building a sustainable future with built-in suppleness to be able to adapt to the unforeseen.

This means:

  • Not less jobs, but some very different roles connected in different organisational structures.
  • Not just more efficient ways of reaching customers, but rather, changing the whole customer experience. 
  • Much faster decision making and accepting less certainty.
  • Changing the “contract” that employees or staff have with the organisation to consider that much of life happens at work.

And perhaps most importantly, it also means building businesses that are adaptive to future change, that are malleable, and perhaps even self-directed to meet the complexities of tomorrow. We don't know enough about tomorrow, but we know change is accelerating.

As the enablers of transformation, the leadership themselves need to change. To fully support transformational change, leadership will have to create processes that are both self-evaluating and responsive to changes in “context”. Decision making will need to be more distributed. Sensing into change as it happens, will become important and will require systems based “interoception.” Old top down, take charge leadership can’t do this.

What is needed is a leadership approach that is influential, yet adaptive. With enough distributed power and authority to be able to respond to customers at the interface as customers are themselves more volatile, yet with greater expectations of what they are getting. Leadership also needs to embrace operational flexibility and more extensive collaborations across their ecosystems so that quicker adjustments can be made to various unforeseen challenges. Including, but not limited to, supply chain disruption.

Enter the “leader as coach”

We propose that the real systemic impact of “the work of coaching” is in providing a new leadership alternative. Leaders that embrace a coaching style are well placed to support transformations.

A coaching style will help in a number of critical areas:

  • It facilitates change and adaptiveness. This comes out of a combination of heightened inquiry and deep listening.
  • It focuses on Learning how to learn as a fundamental skill to remaining resilient and adaptive. Great coaches will focus on developing the meta skill of learning rather than the immediate solution to a problem.
  • A leader who adopts a coaching style can empower and liberate the decision making of many. This comes through shifting not just responsibility, but also by building self-authorship.
  • Change is easier when both self and systemic awareness is heightened, and new perspectives are revealed. Bringing new systemic perspectives is core to a coaching style.
  • Transformations will not succeed without enough commitment across all levels of the organisation. Coaching enhances self-motivation rather than forces alignment on others.
  • Small groups or teams are able to produce astonishing outcomes when they are set up for success, and not constrained by fear and internal politics. Creating trust and psychological safety in diverse teams is core to quality coaching.

A coaching style certainly supports authentic leadership and servant leadership and adaptive leadership, and it goes further. It embraces all of these, and in addition it builds the capacity to keep evolving and changing. By embracing some core coaching capabilities, leaders can set up a transformation, and the organisation for sustainable success.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash