Friday, 27 March 2009

Leaders need coaching too

While we rightly expect good leaders to coach their staff (and as I have said on numerous occasions, this is a core part of the leadership role), what happens when the boss needs some coaching support? Who do they turn to? Their peers? Their boss? Or an outside expert?

Of course, it could be any of these depending on which source is likely to be best placed to help you find the answers you are looking for. As a leader, to ask for coaching from your peers will often be perceived as displaying a weakness. It might also present some confidentiality issues if the area you need some coaching on relates to one of your staff. The issue of being perceived as displaying a weakness might also apply to being coached by your boss. You might also find your boss is too close to the situation and is tempted to try and present a solution rather than helping you find the answer for yourself. An external expert will often provide the most effective route but it will also come with cost implications. But what value would you place on the solution?

I had a two hour coaching session with a middle manager earlier this week. His starting point was that he felt he was failing as a boss. He had performance and motivation issues within his team and he personally was visibly stressed about the whole situation. All I did was to ask him a series of relevant questions about the situation and his actions so far, listen carefully and then ask him some more questions about possible solutions. By the end of the session he had a clearly defined set of actions and was literally, bounding with enthusiasm to put those actions into practice.

Towards the end of the session he said to me, "It seems so blindingly obvious now, why didn't I think of it before?". He had the answers all along, it's just that nobody had encouraged him to think the problem through in the way I did (and he'd had several sessions with his boss before he met up with me). Now, that 2 hour coaching session has already paid for itself in improved productivity in the three days since I was with him, according to the email he just sent me. And there is a boss and several team members who are all going to have a much better weekend than would otherwise have been the case. I reckon they'll all be looking forward to work on Monday too.

Leaders need to be good coaches for their staff but sometimes, they need to be coached too.

Simon Cooper heads up ELC Training Solutions and is the author of the best selling leadership development book, Brilliant Leader.

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