Building the perfect leader

by Iain Hopkins31 Oct 2011
Executive coaching

Tooth believes all development approaches are relevant and necessary. However, she believes that in developing leaders, businesses have given primacy to the propositional or formal knowledge gained through qualifications and training at the expense of the knowledge gained from professional work and life experience. 

“As people move up through organisations, there are few formal qualifications and courses that they have not completed,” she says. “For example, in my PhD research, a senior partner suggested that he had completed his MBA and every training program available to him and was now in a position of being ‘too senior’ for training. Even so, he was looking for development and support, particularly in understanding his own style and how he was perceived and also in leading others. For this executive, the process of coaching enabled him to meet these needs.”

For HR professionals, Tooth says that looking critically at the traditional approaches to leadership development is fundamental for the future relevance and success of the profession. She adds that she is a fan of Amanda Sinclair’s book Leadership for the Disillusioned. Sinclair emphasises the important role that reflection plays as the basis for learning about leadership and the important role that learning from experience plays in leader development.

“In my own PhD research, I discovered that executives valued executive coaching as a form of experiential learning and for providing the space to ‘pause and reflect’ in their busy executive lives. I would like HR professionals to consider that in our desire to meets the needs of the business, we too often assume a ‘one-size-fits’ all approach to leader development. 

A HR professional Tooth interviewed referred to her organisation’s typical approach to leadership programs as ‘spray and pray’. In taking such an approach, employers often overlook the very individual, tailored and personal development that leaders also need. Methods such as coaching and mentoring and experiential learning enable leader development to be individually relevant, real and practical (and therefore ultimately useful).

The IEC has been conducting research into coaching effectiveness since 2005 with the Coaching Effectiveness Survey (CES). Overall, the biggest message to come through is that coaching is valuable in assisting people build self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the perception/belief people have about their capacity to achieve in relation to actions and goals. In particular, coaching improves peoples’ perception of their own strengths and challenges, and their ability to communicate assertively and confidently with their colleagues and staff. 

Coaching also provides a prime opportunity for HR. In Tooth’s research a range of businesses lamented the loss of the HR function as a ‘confidante’ and as individuals that they could open up and share their development needs and problems with. “To me, a large part of this is about trust and building effective relationships with people in the business, something that I see as a real opportunity for HR. At the IEC, we believe the key to building relationships is the development of shared understanding through dialogue, so for HR professionals to possess skills that enable them to have real, honest and effective conversations with people in the business is a must.”

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