Feature: Keys to leadership coaching success

by 17 Aug 2010

A lot has been said about poor leadership during the global financial crisis. In certain cases, including the high profile Lehman Brothers meltdown, business leaders have effectively been blamed for the downfall of entire organisations.

The saying goes that some people simply shouldn’t be allowed to manage. But in today’s workplace, supervising and delegating fellow staff is part and parcel of most people’s daily responsibilities.

Employers, therefore, need to take steps to ensure that internal leadership is fit for purpose.

Dr Adam Fraser, an expert in the area of improving workplace performance, says that in an ideal world, all people who are in a position of influence should receive some sort of leadership training and assessment.

“The reason for this is that it is incredibly difficult to effectively manage and lead someone. If budgets are tight ideally you would pick your most engaged and open minded leaders and work on them as they will give you your biggest bang for your buck,” he says.

Targeted development

Richard Searle, program director at Mt Eliza Executive Education says there are two big trends in leadership development within smart businesses and organisations at present. One of these trends, he explains, is ensuring not only that professional development is aimed at developing the capacities of individual managers but that it is also addressing the core collective business challenges facing the organisation at present.

“The second trend is that the notion of ‘leadership development’ has become more popular than the notion of ‘management education’. The new practices encompass the traditional sophisticated and technical management training, but they include something which is new and distinctive – it is about developing the capacity of senior managers to bring out the best in their people and to be able to mobilise them to change and to be more innovative about the future. This is the leadership component of the new leadership development."

Michael Wynter, managing partner and co-founder of training company Logical Creativity, says that any employee responsible for the performance of other staff would benefit from leadership coaching. He says that engagement of staff can drop away very quickly, particularly in service-based roles, if a manager or supervisor or project leader is not relating to staff or team members in a productive way.

“Any business with an attrition rate of more than five per cent should look at its leadership. Too often, managers blame staff for poor performance. Remember, the fish rots from the head down.

“Any business interested in growing would be served well by offering leadership training to staff showing initiative. When these people have the right psychological tools to engage and motivate others they can be given bigger projects and more responsibilities, thus freeing up the CEO and any other executive managers for higher profile activities.

“In a way, leadership training serves as part of a succession plan in the business. Without anyone coming up through the ranks with leadership skills, the business relies solely on the executive to grow the business,” says Wynter.

Goal setting

At supervisory and junior management levels, the focus of leadership training should to be on goal setting, performance management and how to effectively run a business project. “The one minute manager [based on Ken Blanchard’s book] has been around for years but contains the key leadership messages for up and coming leaders,” adds Wynter.

“At CEO and executive level, one-on-one coaching with an open agenda is more suitable. At this level of the organisation, specific issues arise around key decisions, resource planning, strategy and an effective executive team to name a few. We call this open agenda coaching and it requires a more experienced coach who can also train key concepts quickly.”

Fraser concurs, saying that the training style changes depending on the level of leader. “Line managers don't need highly complex, strategic focused information; they need more basic training on efficiency and people management. However as you get higher your style has to be more sophisticated and focused on a business case. Also leaders at a lower level can be trained in a group setting, however executive are more suited to a one on one coaching format,” he explains.

High performance culture

Of course, the idea of getting this right is working towards creating a culture of high performance. However, to create a culture of high performance, all levels in the organisation have to be engaged. This is often more about the energy of an organisation than anything else, says Wynter.

“Aligning that energy across the business is a key skill of CEOs and executives. Within the business, both mental and emotional energy need to be taken into consideration. Goals engage the mind and values engage the feelings so having common goals and values defined from the bottom up as well as from the top down are important.”

Fraser concludes that there are two key areas for employers to cover. Of primary concern should be the need for self awareness. He says it is essential for leaders to be more aware and understand their behaviour. “Too often leaders act in a dysfunctional way and do not realise it.”

Secondly, all activity must be tied to business outcomes. “The most common mistake I see people make is focus on activity that does not drive the business forward and achieve a business outcome,” he says.