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The Mindset of Leader as Coach

There is enough evidence around now to testify that using a coaching framework for conversations really contributes to business.    Using a coaching framework is especially good for situations requiring increased clarity, generating ideas, challenging a mindset, increased accountability and buy-in as well as increased self-efficacy.  Coaching is therefore becoming a mindset that we can live our lives by, rather than just a tool.  The benefits are there whether you are a leader, a coachee, a full-time coach or all of these.

Gavin Dagley in his article ‘Exceptional Executive Coaching’ 2009, lists the qualities of exceptional coaches.  In a broader sense, these qualities encapsulate humanity at its very finest.  Dagley lists qualities like credibility, empathy and respect, holding the professional self, diagnostic skill and insight, flexibility and range in approach, understanding and working to the particular business context, having a philosophy of “personal responsibility” as well as skillful challenging.  Underpinning these qualities are more fundamental attributes such as self-honesty coupled with accurate self-awareness as well as the habit of self-reflection.  These same qualities are both useful [as well as noble] whether you are a leader, a coachee, a full-time coach or all of these.

Easier said than done of course.  Recently Altris was facilitating a workshop encouraging leaders to rate themselves on their readiness to use a coaching mindset as a leader.  The ratings revolved around some of the qualities that Dagley had identified, as mentioned above.  Several leaders looked at the qualities and said ‘I could never be like that.’  Although we can applaud them for their self-honesty, it may be that further self-reflection would proffer them.  When indeed we explored their responses further, they reasoned that ‘they were paid to get results and they could not let their direct reports go it alone because the risk of failure was too high.  Also they were paid to act.’  The latter response is an absolute gold mine for a coach.  One of the many questions is whether some leader’s styles are more coach-like than others and whether there is any hope for those whose styles are quite the opposite.  An answer is that the facilitative leadership style is closer to the Coaching mindset than a more directive leadership style.

However, no one leadership style is perfect in its purest form.  If we are to become more flexible and use a range of leadership styles/approaches, Altris believes that each of us need to regularly self-reflect where we are on those finest human qualities.  We can really really want to be fine and noble, but if we are unclear about the way we think about the world and our place in it, we have wasted a lot of effort for zero behaviour change.  As vague as it reads, it is a very useful thing to self-reflect on the way we think about the world and our place in it.  A powerful thinking tool can hugely assist with this self-reflection.  Attempting to be role models for the finest of human qualities, self-reflection is a habit that we at Altris are deeply committed to.

Very different mindsets can equally be effective leader-as-coaches.  With or without a coach, it does mean that there is a need for the leader to regularly self-reflect, have self-honesty as well as accurate self-awareness.  When coaching our clients, Altris coaches appreciate the uniqueness of each leader we work with.  By way of example, our coaching approach to helping leaders set up their conditions to be a fine and noble leader-as-coach will be pretty different if the client’s view of people is cautious and sceptical than if it is eternally optimistic.  Let’s take it further.  If we are coaching a leader who wants to be more strategic and yet is naturally extremely action-oriented, we will work with him to understand his mindset and what it will take for him to let others act autonomously.  Our powerful thinking tool shows that frequently action-oriented people need to be satisfied first that others do in fact have a plan of action, that it is in motion, and the date by which it will be effected.  With these conditions met, the leader is far more likely to sustain an optimistic view of people in relation to others getting things done.  It is up to the leader to ensure that their conditions for success are met and to make this necessary contingency known to others.   For example to have conversations with others like ‘if this happens by that time…then I’ll leave you to it.  If I don’t see the results by that date and time, then I’ll be on your back.’

By way of contrast, the Altris coaching approach will be different with a client who bears an eternally optimistic view of others in their capacity to get things done.  Although an eternally optimistic view may be a personally rewarding head space to be in, if she the client, overdoes this mindset, then this leader’s personal brand may suffer as a non-deliverer, let down by other overly optimistic direct reports.  When working with this leader’s mindset, our coaching approach may be that in order for her to enjoy continuing as the natural leader as coach that she is, it could benefit her to make the link between her personal brand as a developer of talent, and her direct reports honouring their promises to her.  In fact to honour their promises to her means that there is evidence that they are growing as business people.  This mindset link she creates for herself will be helpful in giving her huge motivation to nail the ‘what, how and when’ of direct reports’ promises.  As a result, her personal brand would be enhanced to become a leader-as-coach who grows her people and who is reliable.  And what a stunning personal brand to create.

These two examples serve to illustrate that very different mindsets can be equally effective leader-as-coaches.  With or without a coach, it does mean that we as leaders need to regularly self-reflect, be honest with ourselves all of which is underpinned by an accurate self-awareness.  If the latter qualities are not present, then a conversation with a qualified and reputable coach can be very useful to dig and go a little deeper.

The above approach assumes a systemic view of success that acknowledges the uniqueness of the leader with its mixed bag of humanity’s foibles and finest attributes, all within a particular context.  It is a view which coaches can use with their coachees, and also importantly, one we can coaches our own selves on i.e. self coach.

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