The goal of leadership development coaching at work is to propel your team forwards, carving the path towards future success.
Over the past 20+ years I have led growth activities in start-up and change environments, both in-house and as an external consultant. I have identified key factors that have influenced my coaching development of individual leaders — and I have found that best practice covers a variety of core themes. I will explore some of these in this article.
How broad should Leadership Skills be?
Leadership is about moving forwards, but there are many areas in which forward-movement can happen. Often, the conversation is too narrow, missing vital opportunities for discussion, debate and, ultimately, for personal and business change.
We must be mindful of all angles of leadership development coaching, visualising where we are today and where we want to be tomorrow.
In any business, customer focus is essential because future success is dependent on the quality of your client relationships. In the B2B industry, business changes could impact both your client and your client’s customers.
What’s fundamental here is that, as a leader, you can follow instructions, perform the required tasks, and empathise with your client's customers — while continuously seeking process improvements.
Team Leaders who are directly in touch with the customer-facing teams are high-profile in the eyes of both internal and client leadership structures. Therefore, it’s important to put a strong emphasis on coaching and development at this level.
Front-line team members can leverage their proximity to the end-customer to translate customer needs into internal conversations. Those who realise, and act upon this are potential future management stars.
Here, it’s all about partnership. When considering the requirements of your client, firstly, as a business, you need to understand who your client is.
In B2B, clients want us to be familiar with their industry, their products, and services, and be accountable for helping them succeed. They want us to spot issues before they happen, whether process or people related.
They want everyone they do business with to display the maturity and perspective that inspires confidence that the right context and prioritisation will be applied, orchestrating desirable outcomes.
Across all industries, clients want to feel assured that the right people are in the right roles, and that accountability for those roles is taken seriously.
Client-focused leadership is about identifying and nurturing leaders who demonstrate both client empathy and the ability to drive a team forward with the client in mind.
In a world that tends to revere specialists, I am firm supporter of generalists who can instinctively understand how the business is sewn together, across all functions, and can adjust the entire ‘machine’ to meet client needs.
Emotionally Intelligent Leadership
The ability to recognise and manage our emotions is integral to leadership development coaching. At the same time, we must acknowledge that people are different, and that anyone can have a bad day. Additionally, the multi-cultural, diverse nature of many organisations means there can be heightened complexity in this area.
This means we must continually hone our Emotional Intelligence (EI) skills to bring out the best in others and develop our leaders to do the same, so that everyone is continuously working on understanding and being understood.
Coaching developing leaders is all about providing a valuable space for self-reflection and personal strategy, which is perfect for building EI.
We know from a 2023 survey by Business Solver that 83% of employees say they would consider leaving their job to work at a more empathetic organisation. According to a 2020 Gallup study, organisations that build trust and engagement among employees are 23 per cent more profitable. This makes emotional intelligence a vital ingredient in retention and business success.
True leaders have a continuous vison of a new or better world.
A McKinsey survey of 600 managers and professionals “indicated that the top two motivators of behaviour to promote innovation are strong leaders who encourage and protect it and top executives who spend their time actively managing and driving it”.
Innovation can happen when managers from different companies and backgrounds come together to exchange ideas based on their experiences. Furthermore, in a world where technology changes so quickly, it is unwise to assume that the people who have been around the longest always know best.
I find it useful to consider the following:
- Who is naturally curious, proactive, and enjoys brainstorming and experimentation?
- Who seems to be aiming for a new big picture?
- Who is comfortable managing risk during the change process?
- And who is doing this convincingly and consistently whereby others are starting to pay attention and think in new ways?
To remain innovative as a business, we must spot creative, visionary talent and nurture its growth, creating a culture that noticeably values this skill.
To ensure we focus on results in a disciplined way, leaders must be able to use data proactively to make observations and decisions. Leaders must apply clear problem and question-definition so that solutioning efforts are focused where they should be.
Our experience and gut feeling can tell us a lot, and these factors are highly valuable, but reliable data is also significant in telling us what to prioritise, what matters, and what would be financially or experientially valuable to fix. Moreover, it is a key skill to know whether a decision should be data-informed or entirely data-driven.
Measured solutions and well-understood impact are always vital, and data supports decision-making. Naturally, it is implied that the quality of data used should be impeccable. Strong leaders use high-quality data when making big impact decisions.
Ground Rules Communicate the Path
Before focusing on any individual, it is crucial that the overall team understands behavioural expectations or ‘ground rules’ – this, on its own, can begin to improve confidence and behaviours significantly. For many years, when running business operations, I have followed three mantras that guide my teams towards my basic expectations, even in my absence.
I find this useful in forming a strong, trusting relationship with my teams. I communicate my expectations upfront, allowing some freedom within those outer boundaries, yet continuously encouraging better thinking and better decisions.
If something goes wrong, I can generally point to these ground rules and ask, “Where did it go wrong?” and the answer will be something like “We got caught up in improving our own daily routine and forgot about improving the results”, “We forgot to consider the client’s view in that conversation”, or similar.
Rather than over-reacting, I find that an unspoken tone of “You know this already, strive to be better next time” is often sufficient.
What does this approach offer? Accountability, mainly. And over time, an opportunity to show off their creativity, joined-up thinking and maturity.
Therefore, I put time into coaching developing leaders to express themselves more interestingly and educationally to their teams, in a way that is useful to the business; that is, as a constant coach.
How do you develop a strong Leader for your business?
The language of Leadership is everywhere nowadays, making it increasingly difficult to know what true expertise levels are without longer-term observation.
Add to this the Fluency Effect, or the Allure of Fluency as described in Woo-kyoung Ahn’s “Thinking 101” that the more we are familiar with a word or concept, the more overconfident we become, thinking we can do it, or are already doing it.
Self-Knowledge: The Dunning-Kruger Effect is the idea that people so easily over-estimate (or under-estimate) their abilities in certain areas – naturally, it is preferable that we bring reality to the fore. Ongoing coaching conversations with any individual means that blind spots are gradually found and eliminated, and new knowledge areas can be introduced and refined.
Team Knowledge: At management level, this is more about the purpose of the team than the daily KPIs. Who do you have? What are they doing? What should they be doing? What are the personal and business-related barriers to that? What skills and traits are present (or lacking)? And much more.
Business Acumen: For me, this is about understanding the broader business outside of the direct team, but also showing some interest in the overall industry. There must be a willingness to comprehend and act on a business situation, whether risk or opportunity, in a way that is likely to lead to a successful outcome. Thereby, joined-up thinking is a necessity.
There must be a willingness to comprehend and act on a business situation, whether risk or opportunity...
Davina GreeneHead of Leadership Coaching
How does Self-Knowledge improve through Coaching Developing Leaders?
There are many psychometrics on the market that can serve as useful conversation-starters in relation to individualised coaching for leadership development.
However, these tools are not always necessary. People may not like to be informed about their thinking or behaviours via assessments, despite labelling not being the intent of such exercises, so there can be resistance to assessment outcomes. I find it helpful to consider self-knowledge by looking at specific focus areas.
There are a huge range of subtopics within each area which, when broken down, are quite easy for any coachee to discuss, and can swiftly lead to mini realisations, some eureka moments, and interesting personal goals. This style of conversation can be used to build team knowledge, as the coachee seeks to have better conversations about their colleagues and gain deeper interpersonal understanding.
What is the impact of Leadership Development Coaching on Business Acumen?
My own experience across several companies and industries has brought me to a rolling conversation around five areas and their inter-relationships in Acumen Development:
When the above are in place, I would consider the individual to be a strong Manager, and to have the potential to move towards leadership.
When an individual can add self-knowledge to this more operational expertise and talks about moving forward, continuous improvement, and in essence shares a vision for their team or business — this is when I know I’m talking to a potential future leader.
Leadership Development Coaching & Future-focus
Leadership development coaching enables us to zone in on individual behaviours and skills, with our team members, gaining an understanding of their individual strengths and weaknesses. It also reminds us of the importance of future-focus, the requirement for forward movement — working against our natural tendency to sink into the here-and-now.
Coaching developing leaders helps ensure that a business gets the ‘right people on the bus’ as Jim Collins describes in his “Good to Great” concept, and the right people into the right seats on that bus. I believe that as an organisation you should be proud of every leader you put before your employees and your clients.
Likewise, each leader should feel a sense of pride and confidence within. Without self-knowledge, team knowledge and business acumen under continuous development, this is a challenging position to reach.
I also believe in the rewards that a coaching style of management offers; a cascade of knowledge-exchange, encouragement, challenge, and support that naturally promotes strong general skills. In the world of coaching, “What you focus on, you will develop” is a powerful message.
When our view of leadership requirements is too narrow, we cannot satisfy people or business needs. Learning and growth are meant to be challenging, pushing you outside of your comfort zone. When an individual actively engages in the Leadership Coaching process and demonstrates personal growth and change — you are likely zoning in on a stellar leadership candidate.
Author - Davina Greene, Head of Leadership Coaching, Covalen
- BusinessSolver https://www.businessolver.com/workplace-empathy/
- Gallup https://www.gallup.com/workplace/321725/gallup-q12-meta-analysis-report.aspx
- McKinsey & Company https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/leadership-and-innovation
- Jim Collins https://www.jimcollins.com/concepts/first-who-then-what.html#:~:text=First%20Who%2C%20Then%20What%E2%80%94get,where%20to%20drive%20the%20bus
- Prof. Woo-kyoung Ahn, Thinking 101: Lessons on How To Transform Your Thinking and Your Life, Macmillan, UK, 2022 https://www.panmacmillan.com/authors/woo-kyoung-ahn/42404